Yesterday, in a speech at Liberty University, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence called the student body to engage in what he called “the great battle for life and liberty and freedom in America. There’s no place for believers on the sidelines at a time like this,” Pence said. “It’s a time for courage.”
The Liberty University students answered the call, although not in the way Pence intended. Responding to campus president Jerry Falwell Jr.’s frequent public alignment with and defense of Trump, a group of students identifying themselves as “Liberty United Against Trump” launched an online statement that says:
“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 student backlash came after Falwell, a long-time Trump advocate, once again came to the defense of Trump following multiple allegations of sexual assault from various women. The allegations come in the wake of leaked audio where Trump brags about sexually assaulting women in a way consistent with the women’s accounts. Falwell was asked recently if these allegations were true would he still support Donald Trump, at which point Falwell indicates he would because Trump is “a changed man.”
In response to the student statement, Falwell replied that the students “seem to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others, but they are young and still learning.” However, the Liberty students’ letter is wiser than Falwell gives them credit. After pointing out that any faculty or student who said what Trump did would be expelled from the school, the letter states: “It is not enough to criticize these kinds of comments. We must make clear to the world that while everyone is a sinner and everyone can be forgiven, a man who constantly and proudly speaks evil does not deserve our support for the nation’s highest office.”
— Graham Moomaw (@gmoomaw) October 13, 2016
Liberty’s internal debate mirrors a larger one happening in some evangelical circles with people like Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson and Falwell claiming Christians should “forgive” while others claim this concept of forgiveness doesn’t equate to a lack of consequences or disqualifying oneself for leadership.
The tireless support of Trump’s small but vocal evangelical defenders has caught national attention. The satirical The Daily Show recently ran a segment showing evangelical leaders contradicting themselves on the importance of character for a presidential candidate, while several reporters on Twitter pointed out that the most vocal defense of Trump following this sexual assault scandal has been from conservative Christians.
According to Donald Wahl, Liberty University junior and author of the anti-Trump statement, this public perception is the reason why students are tired of their school being known as a pro-Trump haven.
“We do not support our president in his endorsement of Trump and we want the world to know because he’s giving Liberty University a bad name,” Wahl said. “It makes it seem like we’re about populist politics when we’re about the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is about gaining the integrity of our school. This is an effort to say Liberty is not Trump University.”