Back in January, it seemed like Jerry Falwell Jr. hit a kind of moral nadir when he endorsed Donald Trump in glowing terms shortly before the Iowa caucus. Falwell, the president of evangelical Liberty University, called Trump “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father, and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.” That was before he posed with Trump in the casino magnate’s office in June, both men grinning and giving a thumbs-up with a framed copy of Trump’s 1990 Playboy cover in the background.
Then last week, Falwell blamed a “conspiracy” of Republican establishment leaders for the leak of the repugnant Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. After the debate Sunday night, Falwell tweeted that he was proud of Trump, and that “No Republican could do better.” When a man is burrowing into muck eagerly enough, every day is a new low point.
Which brings us to Wednesday night. Here’s Falwell on CNN’s “Erin Burnett Out Front,” joining the chorus of spinners willing to lay their own reputations on the line for a lying fraud. If the new flood of accusations from women who say Trump groped them are true, Burnett asked, will Falwell still vote for the man? “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump because I believe that he’s the best qualified to be president of the United States,” he said. “I’m not going to say anything to besmirch the character of these women…everyone’s in a frenzy.” He believes the Trump campaign’s statement denying the allegations, and anyway, Trump is a “changed man.” It’s unclear why Trump would have to change if the groping never happened, but never mind.
A Liberty student named Tyler McNally posted a lengthy response on Twitter last night, calling it the first official statement from “Liberty United Against Trump.” It began:
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 goes on to reference the Access Hollywood tape and chastises Falwell for taking sexual assault lightly—particularly since it has become such a serious issue on college campuses, including Liberty’s. “Any faculty or staff member at Liberty would be terminated for such comments, and yet when Donald Trump makes them, President Falwell rushes eagerly to his defense —taking the name ‘Liberty University’ with him,” it reads. The statement asserts that a majority of Liberty students, faculty, and staff agree.
If they oppose their president’s role as toady to a lecherous wannabe dictator, however, they’ve been awfully quiet about it. Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty, wrote a recent piece for Christianity Today in which she denounced the dismissal of Trump’s so-called “locker room talk,” but her piece does not mention Falwell.
There may be a reason for the near-silence of the university’s faculty and staff: Back in March, Liberty board member Mark DeMoss told the Washington Post that it had been a mistake for Falwell to endorse Trump. DeMoss was a longtime chief of staff to Jerry Falwell Sr., and considered him a second father—that would make Falwell Jr. his “brother.” In April, he was asked to resign from the executive committee of Liberty’s board of trustees, and days later he resigned from the board itself.
Perhaps this sent a clear message for others thinking of dissenting. And while Falwell makes the rounds on cable news defending the man “who can lead our country to greatness again,” there must be many who are quietly wondering if anyone can do the same for Falwell’s own university.
Update, Thursday, Oct. 13, 12:54 p.m.: Falwell responded to student objections with a statement:
I am proud of these few students for speaking their minds but I’m afraid the statement is incoherent and false. I am not ‘touring the country’ or associating Liberty University with any candidate. 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. This student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning.
Meanwhile, a junior at Liberty, Dustin Wahl, told the Washington Post that so far more than 1,300 students, alumni, and faculty have signed onto the Liberty United Against Trump statement.