Letter to Liberty University from an Alum

Julian TurnerApril 6, 2016

Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.
Liberty University
1971 University Blvd.
Lynchburg, VA 24515

Dear Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.,

I enrolled at Liberty University during a difficult time in my life.  I cannot explain what it meant to receive the warmth and concern from all of the staff that I encountered.  Every time I had a need or concern and called the university, I felt supported.  Representatives were always encouraging and would always remind me of prayer services available.  I was not always a good student, even failing out at one point.  After letters from people that cared to see me succeed, Liberty readmitted me.

God’s call on my life became clear during this period.  Ultimately, I graduated in 2013, with honors.  As part of the 40th Anniversary Class, I earned a B.S. in religion with a minor in counseling.  My journey was just beginning when I was at Liberty.  I am now pursuing a Master’s degree at another Christian university.  I heard your emphatic comments from the convocation on December 5th, 2015, in response to the abhorrent shootings in San Bernardino two days earlier.  You stated that you “always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,… and killed them.”  In my moment of stupefaction, my mind went back to May 11th, 2013 and graduation. I thought back and remembered walking across that stage with my parents and my then-fiancé watching.  That day, I was filled with joy and a sense of completion.  Afterwards, as I shook your hand and shared a few words as pictures were being taken, I had a feeling of pride like never before.  That said, reading and re-reading your concealed-carry statement firsthand left me dumbfounded.

Where was the relational Jesus that dined with tax collectors and talked with prostitutes?  With all the Bible courses and study required of me while attending Liberty, I could not find any biblical justification for your comments.  The exegetical skill that I acquired as a Liberty University student has not enabled me to find any scriptural support for responding to the Muslim community in such fashion.  As believers in Christ we have to seize opportunities to share the love of Christ.  He loves us as His creation even before we choose to be in relationship with Him.  We cannot fulfill the Great Commission without sharing His love.  I dare not question your credentials. I merely want to suggest that perhaps, the example of Christ throughout the New Testament is most important in times like this, times when displaying the love of Christ is most difficult.

As I was reminded in a sermon by my Pastor Chris Johnson recently, Jesus was not born into wealth, prestige, or even comfort.  He was born in a manger, a place of filth.  He came from the bottom of society to save all, not some of humankind.  How that narrative gives way to love being expressed through firearms is incomprehensible.  Did not Jesus heal the ear that Peter so violently removed?  And what of the Muslims in northern Kenya that on December 21st, 2015 risked their lives to save a group of Christians (one of the Muslims, a teacher, Salah Farah, died after being shot as he shielded these Christians)?  Or the Pakistani Muslims that formed a human chain around another group of Christians in 2013 allowing them to worship safely?  Or the Muslims in Egypt that protected Coptic Christians from sectarian violence also in 2013?  Or the young Muslims that protected a group of Christians in Nigeria in 2014?  I could continue, but I think the point has been made.  You’ve acknowledged that Liberty has 15-20 Muslim students.  Have you considered how these comments may impact them?  With nearly 100,000 on-line students, that number is almost certainly significantly higher.

Paul impassionedly pleads in Ephesians 3:14-21:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Now all the glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

I have waited to compose this letter so that it would not be confused with some sort of knee-jerk reaction.  Who would have known in the time that has elapsed that you would endorse Donald Trump, a man that has an agenda constructed on separation and beating the “savages?”  Building walls, having people pledge allegiance to himself while having others forcefully removed from his conventions, all while venomously attacking anyone that disagrees with his point of view.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of the other open letters.  Interestingly, in the few months since the San Bernardino shootings, our nation has experienced two more mass shootings. The first, February 20th, in Kalamazoo, Michigan which resulted in six killed, and two injured, and the second, in Hesston, Kansas which resulted in four killed, and 14 injured.  Neither committed by Muslims.  Both committed by home grown Americans.  So is calling for the arming of more people the answer?  Does it not stand to reason that the increased proliferation of guns will only continue to make these atrocities much easier to commit?

I might also point out that conservative stalwart and icon, Ronald Reagan ushered in stricter gun control laws as Governor of California, and also after his presidency, lending his support to the Brady Bill and an assault weapons ban.  His response to being the target of an assassination attempt was not to push for relaxing gun control laws.  Instead, he realized that with an annual murder rate of over 9,000 people, more gun control was prudent.  Additionally, President Reagan hadn’t forgotten the American creed from Emma Lazarus etched onto the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So at this time, I am returning all of my Liberty University paraphernalia including, but not limited to, my degree.  I encourage all fellow Liberty University alum to do the same, not to show solidarity with me, but to acknowledge that arming everyone, or even every Christian, or every American, is a quick way to leave everyone blind, or worse.  This is a way to demonstrate the relational love of Christ, to live the Gospel.  I appreciate the role that Liberty University has played in my life.  Thus, this is not an indictment or condemnation of the university or any of its faculty and staff.  However, I could not bring my conscious to terms with such harsh, violent, and threatening suggestions in the light of my faith.

Sincerely,

Julian Turner

Julian Turner a Washington DC., native, is currently a graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University pursuing a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies.  Currently he is a volunteer with InterVarsity as a Global Urban Trek co-director.

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5 responses to “Letter to Liberty University from an Alum

  1. I appreciate Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr. Hope you will read my reply / comment on Luke 22:36 & Nehemiah 4:9-23. Harry-Bud

  2. I, too am a graduate of Liberty University with 3 Masters and a Doctorate. I, too was shocked, dazed and confused at the statements from Falwell. I was shocked because I have experienced a richness of God’s glory on the campus of Liberty University. I have been in classes with Muslims and other ethnic groups who have embraced Liberty for its inclusiveness. I once heard a story about a Muslim brother whose family was given the privilege to come to the United States as a result of students from Liberty who were on a mission trip. These students embraced him and his wife, who was sick at the time and gave them shelter until they could live on their own. These students provided them with the tools necessary to apply for school at Liberty University and during class on this particular day, he cried and expressed gratitude to the highest degree. We all wept with him. It was a moving moment. He and his wife are now graduates of Liberty University. I too, have been in class and expressed my gratitude for Liberty University accepting me during a time in my life when I thought my attempts to aspire were futile. When I entered Liberty University, my classes were always filled with the Holy Spirit and people who praised God for everything. My professors were awesome people of God who encouraged us to pray for one another.

    I am in awe of the writer of this article. Julian you have captured the true fabric of what hidden racism looks like when we are among our own kind, or people and places that look like us. It is during this time that our true selves express what we really feel about the world and racism. Perhaps Falwell thought he was among his own people with the same fabric, but shame on him. Shame on him because it is apparent that he is and has not been in touch with Liberty University’s new culture. If he had come to some of the classes we have been in, if he had interviewed some of the many diverse and ethnic groups of people on and off campus, he would know that Liberty University has embraced Corinthians 3:17 which says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”. The students at Liberty University do not reflect the words of Falwell. However, it is sad that his comments are used to portray the vision of Liberty. It is sad that for some of us the light of hope has dimmed to a flicker due to his comments. Shame on Falwell for being so disconnected from a higher education institution that bears his name but does not own his philosophy. Perhaps he needs a lesson of what it means to love thy neighbor as thy self. Awesome article and great reflection!

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