To quote Alice in Wonderland, the Christian political landscape is getting curiouser and curiouser.
Donald Trump looms as the presumptive nominee of the GOP for the general election—a fact that has split evangelical circles both wide and deep. I’ve written before about the reason why I believe evangelical leaders are wrong to endorse him (let’s just start with the fact that he’s never felt any need to repent, despite claiming the mantle of Christianity, and go from there).
I’m one in a sea of voices who have called out evangelicals to a higher standard of political candidates only to feel the repercussions of Internet vitriol, fights at rallies and, in the case of Dr. Russell Moore, being called out by Trump himself as a nasty guy with no heart.
However, things seem to be reaching a new strangeness and it involves Jerry Falwell Jr. and Mark DeMoss, a board member for Liberty University and one of Jerry Falwell Sr.’s advisors. Last week, DeMoss claimed that he was forced to resign from Liberty’s board because of his public opposition to Falwell’s endorsement of Trump.
The public fallout started a few months ago, when, in DeMoss’ interview with The Washington Post, he expressed concern about the endorsement and what Trump’s nomination would mean for the nation.
“I’ve been concerned for Liberty University for a couple of months now, and I’ve held my tongue,” DeMoss said. “I think a lot of what we’ve seen from Donald Trump will prove to be difficult to explain by evangelicals who have backed him. Watching last weekend’s escapades about the KKK, I don’t see how an evangelical backer can feel good about that.”
In that same interview, DeMoss was ill at ease with Falwell’s endorsement, stating that Trump’s bullying tactics were the exact opposite of the Christianity and behavior that Liberty has worked so hard to hold up for the last 40 years.
For his part, Falwell seemed confused at DeMoss’ objections, telling the Washington Post that his endorsement was not on behalf of Liberty University, but was personal in nature. He also stated that he was disappointed in DeMoss and thought that Liberty’s faculty and students were smart enough to make their own decisions regarding endorsements and political candidates.
“Any time you support a candidate, and you’re an official at a university, you just have to accept the fact that a large percentage of the community is not going to agree with you,” Falwell Jr. said. “I think our community is mature enough that they understand that all the administrators and faculty have their own personal political views.”
The public tit-for-tat continued in late April when the executive board of trustees, of which DeMoss was chair, voted to ask DeMoss to step down from the board. He sent in his resignation Monday, April 25.
In a statement to Warren Throckmorton of Patheos, Mark DeMoss stated that the board of trustees expressed disappointment that he had publically disagreed with Falwell’s endorsement of Trump in the press and had voted to ask for his resignation.
Liberty responded, stating that DeMoss was contradicting what actually happened, stating:
While members of the Executive Committee individually asked Mark DeMoss to resign from the Executive Committee, no vote was ever taken by the Executive Committee to ask Mark DeMoss to resign. On Thursday, April 21, he was encouraged by members of the Executive Committee to remain on the Board and apologize to the Board. At the Board of Trustees meeting the following day, Mark DeMoss offered an apology to the Board and tendered his resignation from the Executive Committee. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept the apology of Mark DeMoss in the Christian spirit of love and grace. Mark DeMoss sent an email with his resignation on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, four days after the Board of Trustees meeting. He was not removed from the Board of Trustees nor did the Board of Trustees ask for his resignation.
As Throckmorton points out in his post, there appears to be a double standard at Liberty University, where the president is allowed to endorse one of the most polarizing political candidates in recent history, while a board member is not allowed to express his disappointment or disapproval.
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, the fallout at Liberty University only serves to show what a lightning rod Donald Trump is in the evangelical community and that the divide over him will only deepen differences, not unite us in one common cause.