Last Monday I received an email from the president of Rice University in Houston, Texas, where our son is attending school. President David Leebron communicated his decision to maintain Rice’s policy of a gun-free campus. This choice was made by exercising the “opt out” provision of a new Texas law passed last spring, which allows individuals with concealed handgun licenses to carry a weapon on college campuses.
Five days later, only a few days after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., I read a Washington Post article about Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., commenting on the San Bernardino incident at convocation. Falwell Jr. told students, “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.” Falwell went on to claim he was carrying a weapon “in my back pocket right now.”
In essence, the president of the largest evangelical, Christian university in the United States was recruiting a student militia on his campus. This seems to me a strange way to achieve the university’s goal of “training champions for Christ.”
I know the phrase well because, some 25 years ago, I attended Liberty as a journalism student. Recently, with our children all nearly out of high school, I’d begun registering to complete my unfinished degree through Liberty’s online school. In the process I’ve frequently encountered that motto — “training champions for Christ” — but I’ve begun to wonder if it would be more honest for the university to say it is “training champions for the Republican party” or “training champions for Ted Cruz” or “training champions for the NRA.”
Ultimately, however, the issue for me is not about concealed handguns on campus nor is it about political allegiances. It is that Falwell, a Christian leader of young, impressionable Christians, chose to use a religious convocation ceremony to spin a (not-so) subtle message of hatred and violence, summarized by this call to action: “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
The difference between Leebron in Texas and Falwell in Virginia is especially shocking considering that one is president of a Christian university and the other is not. Leebron’s announcement was marked by simple, clear humility, stating facts and valuing feedback. Falwell, who is in a position to catechize young men and women on what the Bible says about life, death, love, hate and self-defense, instead adopted a posture best described as juvenile. Instead of taking the opportunity to lead young people through an exchange of ideas, he seemed to become one of them. The louder the students cheered, the more bravado Falwell displayed.
As a Christian, I expect more from an institution committed to following the Christ of the Bible. As a parent of college students, I would demand it.
If any of my four, college-aged children were in mandatory attendance at the convocation, I would be asking Falwell the following questions: Do you feel that a call to carry weapons is the best way to train champions for Christ? If so, how do you reconcile Christ’s teaching about loving enemies, praying for those who persecute us and laying down our lives for the sake of the Gospel? How will you help your students gain an understanding about the Christ who is a Savior for all people — including Muslims?
Most importantly, especially in this season when we remember the humble birth of Christ the King, how will you train young people to place their hope in something other than a weapon that will one day be destroyed by the Prince of Peace?
I cannot ask these things of Falwell because, as it turns out, I am not a parent of a Liberty University student. As of Friday, I’m no longer a prospective student, either.
Falwell, who is in a position to catechize young men and women, instead adopted a posture best described as juvenile.