Opinion

Why I was banned from the campus of Liberty University

(RNS) — I went to Liberty University a few days ago for two reasons: to see my friends Johnnyswim in concert and pray with a handful of students.

These are students who have consistently expressed concern about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support of the politics of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, especially with regards to race and the conflation of Christianity with nationalism.

The response of the university was to send five police officers to come get me out of Johnnyswim’s greenroom on Monday night (Oct. 30) after the show, escort me outside, photograph me, and tell me I was barred from the campus for life — subject to arrest “if I ever put one foot on the property.”


JERRY FALWELL, JR.: Why we banned Jonathan Martin from Liberty University


Falwell openly encourages his students to carry guns, but fears public prayer from Christians who openly embrace nonviolence. A thin-skinned man like the president for whom he serves as an apologist, Falwell does not easily tolerate robust dissent.

Liberty later released a statement saying that this action was necessary because of security concerns, that a small prayer gathering we had planned for the following morning would require a permit. Sending armed police officers to remove me from a concert the night before was evidently “the only effective way to prevent the unauthorized event from happening.”

Evidently, simply telling me that I could not pray with students on campus, or that the meeting could not occur without submitting paperwork, was not considered. Removing me from Johnnyswim’s greenroom where I was a ticketed, invited guest of the band had nothing to do with stopping the prayer the next morning from happening. The move was designed to bully and intimidate, to send a message.

But this is the irony of Jerry Falwell Jr., an authoritarian leader who censors his own university’s student newspaper: He shills for the president weekly in front of cameras on cable news, but when anyone criticizes or contradicts him (such as the Liberty University graduates who sent back their diplomas to protest his alignment with Trump this year), it’s “grandstanding.”

The notorious media hound dismisses any meaningful dissent as merely a plea for publicity. The unnecessary way I was removed was a stunt, but Falwell says it’s a stunt for anyone to tell about it.

Falwell himself is a master at self-generating publicity — the president of a Christian institution of higher learning defending President Trump’s “fine people on both sides” equivocation after Charlottesville or last week publicly calling for evangelicals to partner with the white nationalist Steve Bannon to oust “fake Republicans.”

His views do not represent those of many of his students or faculty, and directly harm the witness both of the Liberty University community, as well as the larger church he ostensibly represents.

The response of his administration only exposes the problematic nature of the far-right Frankenstein’s monster Falwell Jr. has helped create out of Christianity, nationalism and civil religion. And as much as he wants to, this time I don’t think the Liberty community is going to let him change the subject.

Falwell has promoted the doctrine of “America First,” instead of the Christian message of “Kingdom of God first.” He has put allegiance to a nation-state ahead of the allegiance to the kingdom of heaven that Christ taught, in which the last are first.

Photo by Taber Andrew Bain via Flickr creative commons.

He has attached himself to a movement that demonizes refugees and immigrants instead of welcoming them, and has encouraged people to compartmentalize their faith from their politics in favor of the crass political pragmatism of Trump and Bannon that has no grounding in Christian faith. Instead of embracing the political implications of “Jesus is Lord,” he has embraced Trump’s politics of fear and demonization.

We have come a long way from “let-my-people-go” religion to Falwell’s “the-important-thing-is-to-be-polite-to-Pharaoh” religion. His sort of religion has all too often made the captives mannerly, whereas Jesus came to set the captives free.

What excites me now, is that Liberty students, the ones I planned to pray with — like so many Christian college students I meet across the country — are starting to rise up. The cultural earthquake that is shaking the foundations of both church and empire is actually setting them loose.

Unlike many of their fathers and mothers, they will not bow to the idols of nationalism. They will stand with Jesus, alongside those who are marginalized and oppressed.

(Jonathan Martin is a writer and speaker and founder of The Table in Tulsa, Okla. The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not reflect those of Religion News Service, which has invited Jerry Falwell Jr. to write a response.) 

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Jonathan Martin

49 Comments

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  • Jerry Springer…never cared much for that news show. Can’t believe he has his own university and is a consultant to the president now…

  • There will always be people who need the psychological security of being obedient, so Falwell and people like him will always have a market.

  • I recently saw this quote on Facebook, it is almost as though Barbara had read this story! “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar”

    Barbara Brown Taylor

  • Why is RNS inviting Falwell to respond? He’s got a platform of his own. No need to give him another one.

  • I always love when a new site posts a disclaimer that hte views are the “author’s own and do not reflect those of…” fill in the blank.

    But yet they saw a reason to distribute those views. I don’t see much of a conservative nature on this news site.

    Sorry, but the disclaimer just does not hold water.

  • Maybe the author with his amazing intellect and insight can elaborate on just how people are marginalized and oppressed in this country. Seriously. Marginalized. Oppressed. This is a narrative of fiction that shifts the responsibility for one’s own poor behavior and poor decisions onto those outside. No longer is it the devil made me do it. Now it is “fill in the blank” is the reason I don’t have “fill in the blank”.

    Now I’m not discounting that racism and just plain meanness exists. But there is an absolute and complete out of balance narrative developing. For instance that somehow it is oppressive and marginalizing to have serious national security and serious vetting of immigrants from areas that generate radicalized Islamic militants. But folks like this author will cry oppression and create things like lottery visas. And in the meantime the dead lay in the streets.

    There are real consequences to trying to live in fairy tale land and trying to live based on narratives whose only reality exists in the mind of the creators who share them.

  • They invited a response from Fallwell. If he responds and they put the same disclaimer will you say the same thing?

    Also, did they claim to be conservative?

  • I like how the author creates this weird dichotomy between “nonviolent” and “violent” individuals as if people are pro violence. Absolutely ridiculous straw man. Furthermore Falwell is a kook and his theology is flawed. But this author with his worry about pushing his chosen social ideology has also chosen a flawed theological outlook. So while I can empathize and agree that he should not be removed or banned from Liberty, I do question his ideological bend. Based on his Twitter page it appears he’s more concerned with social activism than being true to the gospel.

  • I think you’re right, to a certain extent you can say the same thing about a gang psychological security.
    In the end it becomes a protect the group, don’t trust anyone outside the group, the group will protect you mentality.

  • Having read both statements by the principals involved, and without taking a position for one or the other, I applaud RNS for allowing both parties to present their view of the incident in question without prejudice.

  • Isn’t the narrative you’ve painted just as suspect? For example, when more people die daily from gun violence in the US than they do from terrorism, wouldn’t it make sense to put more energy into dealing with the gun violence instead of the terrorism? I know it doesn’t fit your or Trump’s narrative, but it’s what’s actually going on in the world instead of your frightened mind.

  • Thank God, that He has appointed someone to eradicate white nationalists off the face of the earth. It’s the only Christian thing to do. Will Jesus come to set the captives of their ideology free. Of course He will.

  • I read the blog from “The Table” which has in a way an introduction to his understanding of what being a Christian means with both a Pentecostal background (preceded by 3 preachers) but in particular also Stanley Hauerwas from Duke Divinity influencing a theology that sees Christians as learning the practices of following Christ in order to form a community of character of people being transformed inward out. I think he sees himself as being true to the gospel and a radical alternative to both conservative and progressive Christianity.

  • What is the “true gospel”? I don’t know how it can be divorced from what we would today call social activism. I’d be interested to know how you see it possible for those to be pulled apart.

  • The claim of personal responsibility carriers a lot of judgment. The poor are poor by choice, sick are sick by choice, blacks shoot by police by choice, etc, etc. While all people have choice and agency, there are a great many in the USA whose choices are limited and whose agency is constantly infringed.

    It may not be oppressive or marginalizing but its wildly discriminatory to blame millions for the acts of a few. Its horrific to have live and opportunities for those whose lives have been destroyed and say “no, because I fear your kind” The fairy tale is that immigrants are to be feared while most violence these measures are to stop are in the USA are perpetrated by American Citizen, most white males.

    All live with narratives that live in the minds of those who hold and create them. The question is how much of our own can we see?

  • I have never had a gun owner try to take my life in the United States. In fact every single time (numerous) that someone tried to take my life it was a radicalized Islamic terrorist.

  • “His views do not represent those of many of his students or faculty, and directly harm the witness both of the Liberty University community, as well as the larger church he ostensibly represents.” Gosh, he knows a lot of people intimately, eh? I don’t think he would submit lies, do you?

  • If you are speaking of radicalized terrorism, it is hardly a few.

    Some people are poor because of their choices (not taking advantage of education, becoming addicted to drugs, and so forth). Some are sick as a consequence of their actions (poor diet, obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, drugs, not taking their medication or doing what they need to do to manage chronic illness).

    Anyone can decide to study hard and take advantage of educational opportunities. Anyone can do what is needed to better themselves if they are willing to make the sacrifices. (For example I lost over a hundred pounds to join the military to fund my way through college for my first degree). Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

    Oh, and the color of my skin did not inhibit my choice and did not stop me from getting in shape, finding a job, enlisting, going to school, making honor roll, getting a commission, pursuing higher education, making a difference, getting married, staying with my spouse through thick and thin, and so forth.

    Some people shot by police are shot because the officer made a mistake. The vast majority are shot because they made a poor choice and presented a threat and getting shot was the consequence as the officer is asked by the public to protect public safety but we want them to go home to their family at night. So if a person presents a threat and is not complying but indeed appears to be a threat to the officer or the public, I have no problem with the use of force.

  • And I agree gun violence is a serious problem. This is why I also advocate for increased policing and strong enforcement of our gun laws.

    I do not advocate the restriction of guns from law abiding citizens. The vast majority of gun owners by far will never commit a crime with a gun. Only the criminal element. Is the problem the gun or whatever it is that is present in society that moves a person to pull the trigger and kill an innocent person.

  • Yes some can, but the realities of opportunities, choice, and support are not the same. It is not a function of effort at a system level, that’s the issue.

  • In addition to journalistic fairness, when you invite proponents from both sides to comment, a side that has crackpot or dishonest arguments reveals those arguments to all, so it’s really a service to readers to invite both sides to comment. (Tho people who approach such a situation with minds made up, of course reject dishonest or illogical arguments.)

  • What about white Christian citizens? Any of them ever threatened you in any way, i.e. guns or otherwise?

  • Seems to me everyone would be better off without religious nonsense clouding what might otherwise be good judgment

  • “in the United States.” A condition you left out of your second sentence. You being a member of the US military, were these attacks by Islamist terrorists overseas, in theaters of war?

  • Is there a “larger church” Falwell Jr. “ostensibly represents,” other than the community of believers as a whole? I ask because unlike his father, he’s not, as far as I can tell, a pastor or minister. I first realized this last year when Falwell Jr., attempting to defend his Lord and Savior (Donald Trump), made an analogy in which he conflated the Samaritan Woman at the Well and the Woman Caught in Adultery into one incident.

  • Jerry Falwell Jr, IS NOT A CHRISTIAN in the cense that Jesus wanted us to love each other, only those that think (if you call that thinking) like Jerry Falwell Jr are saved.

  • It doesn’t take “the vast majority” to kill 60 and maim more than 500. It just takes one. It doesn’t matter if they’re law-abiding or not. Absent a gun, these crimes would simply not occur. Sensible limits on gun ownership in the United States would bring our gun-death numbers down closer to other civilized nations’ numbers, if only we had the will to do what’s right.

  • Finished reading. And you’ve got the quiz ready for me, brother Jonathan Martin? Alright! So, yeah, let’s get this over with!

    TRUE OR FALSE: “I [Jonathan Martin] went to Liberty University a few days ago for two reasons: to see my friends Johnnyswim in concert and pray with a handful of students.”

    FALSE. According to John Thomas Vence, “Pastor plans protest against ‘counterfeit faith’ at Liberty University”, Medium, October 28, 2017: Jonathan Martin was quoted as saying that he wanted not only to hold “a time of … peaceful protest”, but also – given “the stakes here” – to “strike while the iron is hot … [with] leaders with influence” at his side. Until then, Jerry Judas Falwell Jr. better not “spend all 30 pieces of silver in one place”!

  • … except Jonathan Merritt’s spin got published elsewhere. Cf. Jonathan Merritt, “Why Liberty University Kicked an Anti-Trump Christian Author Off Campus: Jonathan Martin was removed by armed campus police officers and told never to return”, The Atlantic, November 1, 2017.

    What does that mean?

    Even GetReligion dot org got hot & bothered by this journalistic move on RNS’ part. Cf. Bobby Ross Jr., “More intrigue at Liberty University over free speech, followed by more blurring of news and opinion”, Get Religion, November 1, 2017.

  • Check too jonathanmartinwords something something. Someone at Daily Caller pegged him as an Emergent Church-man. Nothing these days is ever what it seems, not Falwell, not Martin, not you, not me.

  • Religion News Service hasn’t changed name to ProgReligion News Service, has it? Latter’s their calling, but they’re doing us all a great service by letting it all hang out, as it were. Got problem wit dat?

  • Mr. Martin wanted to go where he was not welcome, to throw a tantrum.
    If I wanted to go to Mr. Martin’s house to throw a tantrum, would he permit me to do so?
    I think not …

  • I certainly feel safer since Rosa Maria Hernandez was arrested by ICE. /snark

    Rosa is 10 years old. She has cerebral palsy. She has been in the US since she was 3 months old. She was in an ambulance. She was being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery when Immigration Officers detained her for being in the country illegally.

    Do you feel safer now?

  • Christianity, in and if itself, never drove me away from any of it’s organizations, sects, etc…rather it’s followers did. Those who readily judge, display behavior of zealots, or are increasingly self righteous, drive me far, far away.

    Somewhere along the lines, I ran across a saying: “Jesus, protect me from your followers.”

    While I recognize the tongue in cheek and sarcastic nature, it’s a maxim I have adopted more and more.

    There’s no compassion, understanding, or other values cherished by Christ on display.

  • You are projecting- eradicating off the face of the planet is what white nationalists want for others- see what happens when you allow your hate to become your worldview? i’d be all for banishing white nationalists to some safe space, just so i don’t have to read the endless stupid circular-logic garbage reasoning spewed over the internet anymore (“white genocide!!1! darn women!!” lol). but rounding people up for the camps is just not how this country works, much as you want it, “Bruce.”

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