Tolerance and Academic Freedom

By   •   July 24, 2013

The name Jerry Falwell still evokes strong feelings among many people, six years after his passing. Mainstream media typically portrayed him in an unfavorable light; those who saw him close-up knew him as a compassionate, caring man who believed and taught that the Bible is the Word of God. Recently Decision spoke with his son Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of Liberty University, about the concepts of tolerance, intolerance and academic freedom.

Q: Why does the Gospel of Jesus Christ seem to bring out intolerance among people who generally consider themselves tolerant of opposing views?

A: My father, throughout his whole career–because of the stand he took for Christ and for family values–was constantly maligned and vilified by the mainstream media and others.

Jesus had the same problem. The Gospel is revolutionary; it makes people uncomfortable, and for that reason it evokes the reaction it does.

Liberty University is known as the world’s largest Christian university, and we encounter intolerance at every stage. When we first became an accredited school, there was a movement to keep our education graduates from teaching biology in public schools because of the belief in creation. We had to spend a year or two convincing the powers that be that you can be open-minded and you can teach both sides of every issue. Teach evolution and creation; let the students decide for themselves.

Today, people try to say Liberty is homophobic, that Liberty doesn’t allow homosexuals. What our rules actually say is that no student can have sex outside marriage while a student at Liberty. That’s always been our policy. If a homosexual student comes to us and asks for help, we counsel them. But we don’t kick anyone out because of weaknesses they have. We’re all sinners saved by grace, and we treat heterosexuals and homosexuals just the same.

But because we take that position, which is consistent with Scripture, we’re called homophobic.

Q: Many of those people would accuse Christians of being intolerant. How would you respond to that charge?

A: Brandon Ambrosino wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly about his experience as a gay student at Liberty. He talked about how loving the professors were, and he said that while he never told my father he was gay, he wouldn’t have been afraid of his response if he had, because of the loving spirit here.

My father always said, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” and that’s the way he lived his life. He often said if he learned that any of his children were homosexual, he would not disown them but would continue to love them like a son or a daughter. That’s just like in the Bible, how the prodigal son was treated by his father after the son came home. That spirit filters down to the faculty and staff here at Liberty. We try to restore students and bring them up instead of kicking them out and throwing them to the wolves.

But as far as the people who hate Christianity most, after a Christian leader makes a statement, you would not believe the hatred that is spewed out on the atheists’ websites and blogs. It seems like the people who preach tolerance the most are the most intolerant. It’s because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to those who don’t believe it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). So it is something He knew would happen.

Q: What other examples do you see of supposedly tolerant people being intolerant?

A: The articles in the Wall Street Journal recently about Bowdoin College, a liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, make it clear that many secular universities talk about academic freedom, but they don’t allow anyone to say anything that’s not politically correct, anything that is conservative, anything that is Christian. At Liberty, we pride ourselves in looking at both sides of every issue in true academic freedom. We have students who transfer here all the time and tell stories about how they were ridiculed in the classroom for having views that went against their secular professors. We just don’t see the same tolerance toward us that we are told we should display toward everyone else.

Q: Your father’s Moral Majority was able to galvanize Christians and other conservatives to make a big impact on society. Today, Christians seem to be a marginalized minority. What suggestions do you have for those who want to stand for biblical values today?

A: We are teaching students to go into every field, every profession–we train champions for Christ. When Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21), we think that means we should be good citizens: We should pay taxes, we should vote, we should use our brains and decide where we stand on the political issues. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We shine a light on the right course of action in human affairs, and as the salt of the earth we help preserve what is good.

That’s what we teach here at Liberty. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty getting the work of Christ done in society. We teach our students to become engaged at every level, to help the poor and to make a difference in public affairs.

I think if Christians continue to do that in big numbers, we’ll see a revival like we have seen at several points in our history. And I think that’s what America needs at this point.

©2013 BGEA
Interviewed by Bob Paulson, editor, Decision magazine.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.