I graduated from Liberty University December 2007.
For my friends who are proud LU alum, I admit wholeheartedly that I learned and grew spiritually at LU and made amazing friends. I’d even go as far as to say that I am a better person for my years at LU.
But, still, when I get asked where I studied, I usually say, “Oh, just a small Christian school in Virginia.” Or, if it looks like they’re going to figure it out, then I say, “Liberty University, but please don’t put me in that box.”
For better or worse the associations are usually that I am fundamentalist, that I think issues of morality are more important than economic issues and caring for the poor, or that I own, or at least would be willing to own, a gun. I am none of those things. But I still believe in Jesus and the Bible and the things that unite us as Christian – things that can be found at LU.
So when I read that President Trump was going to be the commencement speaker this year at Liberty’s Graduation I was extremely disappointed. And when I read this article describing that he was introduced as the ‘man who bombed the Middle East’ and the crowd went wild I wanted to crawl into a hole.
Perhaps the school has changed a bit since I was there, though I’ve only been to visit once since I graduated, years ago, so I really can’t say for sure. But I was there while Jerry Falwell Sr. was still around. He preached to all of us almost every Wednesday.
I was there during the 2004 election cycle. I remember my freshman year, in 2004, an acquaintance saying how she and her roommate had put up a John Kerry sign in their dorm room window as a joke. But they received so much flack and push-back over it, and so many people were utterly offended, that they took it down.
Over and over Falwell Sr. would tell us, “Don’t vote Republican. Don’t vote Democrat. Vote Christian!” And while it was over and abundantly, extremely obvious who he was voting for and wanted us to vote for, and on other platforms he was extremely vocal about it, I will at least say, that from what I remember, when he preached for the students, he at least didn’t shout the name of the candidate he wanted us to vote for at us. There was at least some semblance that he was happy with whoever we chose so long as we used our Christian conscience – however limited his particular definition of it may have been.
Growing up, my household was not one that talked politics, and I was never very politically minded. I still wasn’t so much in my time at LU. After I graduated, though, I started doing a bit more political reading. I read “Jesus for President” (Shane Claiborne) and “The Politics of Jesus.” (Obery M. Hendricks, Jr.) After years of being around those who thought the obvious conclusion in being a Christian was also being a Republican, I learned there was a lot missing from that story. And when I read “Thy Kingdom Come,” and learned that the Religious Right was originally founded in the 70’s, not in response to the Roe v. Wade decision, but because the IRS was going to rescind tax-exempt status from Bob Jones University because of their racially discriminatory policies.
Yes — the Moral Majority was founded so Christian colleges could keep practicing segregation. The pivot to abortion occurred later as a strategic move for the movement. And what is uniquely ironic in this picture is that, in defending the rights of the unborn, many in the movement refer to themselves un-ironically as ‘the new abolitionists’ – ignoring their own history in opposing the old ones.
Lord have mercy.
I think it is all too easy, once we identify one side as ‘wrong’, as the side we don’t want to be on, to identify the other side as ‘right’ and explain away their faults. People do this with Trump – just look past the sexism and racism. People did it with Hillary – just look past the e-mails. Yet for Christians to play this game is incredibly dangerous.
We are more than a political affiliation. And the neighbors that we love, or maybe even consider enemies, are more than their affiliation too. In the name of a more righteous government, Christians on both sides of the aisle are guilty of hurting and even hating their neighbor, under the logic of ‘just look past…’ whatever evil is taking place. As Arun Gandhi said, “People of the Book risk putting the book above people.”
I believe Christians should be actively engaged in the world. I believe we should advocate and fight for issues that will improve society, improve equality, heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and care for the poor. But we cannot fully place our hope in a system that is broken, corrupted, and could never resemble Christ’s kingdom on earth. We are to live toward this kingdom in every arena, but we must do it without forgetting that our loyalty is to no worldly entity, political party, person, or power – it is to Christ’s kingdom. The Good News of the Kingdom is that Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t.
The church exists to heal the wounds of the world and not contribute to them. And if we find ourselves, in the worlds largest Christian University, cheering on the bombing of civilians in faraway lands – surely we have to ask whether our Lord is really the Prince of Peace.
This cannot be the kingdom Jesus talked about. And if it isn’t – well, what are we doing here?
“Most of us like thinking we are God’s only children…At least one of the purposes of church is to remind us that God has other children, easily as precious as we.” Barbara Brown Taylor