The president and vice president of Liberty University's student body are speaking out about a center created by former University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. and an ardent Donald Trump supporter, Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist and talk-show host.
They say that the school's Falkirk Center think tank has allowed politics to supersede the Gospel message and that it negatively impacts the university's reputation, Christian Headlines reported Dec. 28.
The fight has brought the Gospel, Trumpist populism, and Christian belief into collision at the private evangelical Liberty University as student leaders have said the Gospel comes first and not "conservatism" which Donald Trump espouses.
THE FALKIRK CENTER
Falwell's think tank calls itself "The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty."
Its website says it "exists to uphold the Christian faith and defend America's Constitution. We honor human dignity, individual liberty, limited government, and free markets."
More than 400 students have signed a peteition calling on the university to shut down the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liber, the Christian Post reported.
The petition, titled "Liberty United Against Falkirk," asserts that the think tank has "waged war against decency, respect, and Christian charity, all while misrepresenting Liberty students and the Christian church."
Falwell resigned as president and chancellor of Liberty in August when allegations of an extra marital affair surfaced and he is said to have used the university's funds to set up the campus 'think tank' in 2019, Politico reported.
The university student body president Constance Schneider and student body vice president Joel Thomas commented on social media posts.
According to the school's website, the two represent students in interactions with the university's administration as leaders in the Student Government Association.
"Our job is to represent the students of our school. When an organization like @falkirk_center is attached to liberty, it impacts the reputation of not just our school, but our students as well," Schneider wrote in a tweet.
"We have had dozens of conversations with students who are embarrassed to claim the name of our school due to the rhetoric that comes from this center."
Schneider said, "I am concerned with the rhetoric, tone, content, and association the Falkirk Center has with Liberty University, specifically when it comes to our greater, crucial mission to further the kingdom of God," Thomas tweeted.
"Freedom of speech and sharing of ideas are extremely important, yes ... yet our priority must remain fixed on what truly matters: exalting the cross of Christ through the witness we bear.
CONSERVATIVE SUPERSEDING CHRISTIAN
"Conservative must never supersede Christian. If allowed to supersede, this can erode and shift our very identity and dilute and distract from the message of the Gospel we claim to champion. All other ground is sinking sand."
Schneider @constansceider tweeted, "We have had dozens of conversations with students who are embarrassed to claim the name of our school due to the rhetoric that comes from this center."
The matter has received national media attention.
Falkirk's fellows include Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of Turning Point USA; Eric Metaxas, a Christian radio host; and Jenna Ellis, an attorney who has represented the Trump campaign in post-election lawsuits.
Politico had reported on Dec. 14, "After shocking many in the evangelical movement by endorsing Donald Trump over other Republicans for the 2016 presidential nomination, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. pumped millions of the nonprofit religious institution's funds into Republican causes and efforts to promote the Trump administration, blurring the lines between education and politics.".
"The culmination of his efforts was the creation of a university-funded campus "think tank" -- which has produced no peer-reviewed academic work and bears little relation to study centers at other universities," wrote Politico's Maggie Severns.
"It ran pro-Trump ads, hired Trump allies including former adviser Sebastian Gorka and current Trump attorney Jenna Ellis to serve as fellows and, in recent weeks, has aggressively promoted Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.
"Liberty's actions, detailed for the first time by POLITICO, suggest the university is pushing the boundaries of its status as a nonprofit organization under Section 501c (3) of the U.S. federal tax code."
The code forbids spending money on political campaigns. Liberty's actions also go well beyond the traditional role of a university as a politically neutral institution of higher learning.
"The apparatus of the university has turned more and more towards political ends and concerns," said Marybeth Baggett, a Liberty graduate who taught at the school from 2003 until the early party of this year.
"Obviously, the school is conservative, yes. But I don't feel like it was ever so agenda-driven as it was in the last four of five years," she said, according to Politico.
Student leader Thomas tweeted, "I am concerned with the rhetoric, tone, content, and association the Falkirk Center has with Liberty University, specifically when it comes to our greater, crucial mission to further the kingdom of God."
His tweet said, "Freedom of speech and sharing of ideas are extremely important, yes ... yet our priority must remain fixed on what truly matters: exalting the cross of Christ through the witness we bear. Conservative must never supersede Christian."
Liberty University, also known as LU, is a private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was founded by Jerry Falwell and Elmer L. Towns in 1971.