Liberty University students are standing by their public criticism of school president Jerry Falwell, Jr., for what they say is “inexorably associating” the school with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
On Thursday, a group called Liberty United Against Trump released a nine-paragraph letter rebuking Falwell for his enthusiastic backing of Trump and carrying the name of Liberty University with him.
“In the months since Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed him, Donald Trump has been inexorably associated with Liberty University. We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him, the statement begins.
“Associating any politician with Christianity is damaging to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But Donald Trump is not just any politician. He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose,” the statement says.
Liberty United Against Trump spokesman Dustin Wahl says students, who firmly rejected Trump in the primary, are fed up with Falwell associating them with Trump.
“It’s about the fact we don’t want to associate Donald Trump with Christianity, most importantly, and then also with Liberty University,” said Wahl, noting that Falwell has traveled to campaign for Trump and also spoke at the Republican National Convention.
“He carries the banner of Liberty University when he goes. That’s why people know who President Falwell is,” said Wahl.
Wahl acknowledges and seems to largely agree with the argument that Hillary Clinton will be aggressively hostile to the values Liberty holds dear. However, he says the amount of passion Falwell has for Trump’s campaign is troubling to him.
“There’s quite a difference between casting a ballot for the lesser of two evils and being kind of frustrated about it than what Falwell has been doing, which is loudly and proudly supporting Donald Trump,” said Wahl.
Wahl says students have been frustrated with Falwell since the primary season, but Trump’s comments about women in the recently released Access Hollywood tape from 2005 demanded the group dissociate from Falwell. who continues to back Trump.
“Our motto is ‘Training Champions for Christ,’ and that is supposed to be our message. Our message isn’t supposed to be endorsing any political candidate, but especially not one who directly opposes everything that we’re taught and everything we’re supposed to stand for and believe,” said Wahl.
And while stating the gospel of Christ cannot be stopped by any man, Wahl says Falwell’s actions make the work more difficult.
“It’s difficult to advance the message of Jesus Christ of salvation from our sins when we’re tying ourselves directly to a man who is not only sinful, because we’re all sinful, but who proudly preaches his sin,” said Wahl.
He says Falwell and others who defend Trump risk being branded as hypocrites.
“It’s pretty disappointing when the same people who used to say that character matters when Bill Clinton has his problems are now saying that character doesn’t matter when it comes to voting for the highest office in the land,” said Wahl.
Falwell quickly responded to the student statement.
“I am proud of these few students for speaking their minds. It is a testament to the fact that Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out. However, I am afraid the statement is false in several respects,” stated Falwell.
Falwell stated that Trump has much more support on campus than his critics are willing to admit. He also says many of the people in Liberty United Against Trump aren’t even students and that he is always clear that he is not speaking for the university when he advocates for Trump.
He also claims his actions are biblical.
“I am only fulfilling my obligation as a citizen to ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ by expressing my personal opinion about who I believe is best suited to lead our nation in a time of crisis,” stated Falwell, referring to Mark 12:17.
Wahl is not impressed.
“I’m not a biblical scholar but I think there’s a strong argument to be made that’s he’s maybe taking that verse out of context. I believe that had a little more to do with taxes than , not so much with endorsing a specific presidential candidate,” said Wahl.
He says even Trump supporters on campus are applauding Trump opponents for speaking out.
“We’ve received word from all kinds of Trump supporters here on campus and other places that are proud of what we’re doing. Even though they’re voting for Donald Trump, they say, ‘Look, we don’t want Liberty to be associated with a man like Trump. I personally think Hillary Clinton is worse. But I don’t want my degree tied to someone like Donald Trump even though I’m choosing to vote for him for president,'” said Wahl.