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Falwell: By Liberty University’s definition, it’s still the largest Christian university

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during Liberty University's 43rd Commencement Ceremony on May 14, 2016. Photo by Joel Coleman, courtesy of Liberty University

(RNS) — According to data Liberty University has typically used to call itself the nation’s largest Christian university, it has lost that title. Liberty has begun removing the claim from its website.

But after Religion News Service published an article Friday (April 27) in which the university’s executive director for external communications acknowledged that Grand Canyon University had “supplanted” Liberty as the largest Christian university, President Jerry Falwell Jr. sent a statement to RNS questioning whether GCU meets Liberty’s definition of a Christian school.

He also cited a different metric than the one Liberty has used to tout itself as the world’s largest Christian university, and suggested that both schools, by different measures, could temporarily share the claim to be the largest.

“Our definition of a Christian university only includes universities who hire faculty who adhere to fundamental Christian doctrine. GCU does not. Liberty does,” Falwell said in a statement provided to RNS.

GCU officials said they do require faculty to sign a statement saying they understand the school’s Christian values.

When told of Falwell’s statement, GCU officials said they have the “utmost respect for Liberty and its mission as a Christian university,” but disputed Falwell’s characterization of their school.

“As a Christian institution, GCU is committed to distinctively Christian approaches toward education that are grounded in theological conviction, development of sound character, and the capacity to live in ways that honor God, benefit others and contribute significantly to the common good,” reads a statement from GCU.

Falwell said his definition of “fundamental Christian doctrine” was based on his own school’s doctrine of faith, and he “may not understand GCU’s hiring policies.”

He also said “Liberty’s definition of a ‘Christian’ university for identification purposes refers to evangelical Christian universities.”

John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College and an expert on American evangelicalism, said Falwell’s reaction reflects broader debates over the definition of “Christian,” including some evangelicals who “do not see Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or even mainline Protestantism as true Christians.”

“Why would you argue over such semantics?” Fea continued. “Why would it be important to claim that you are the largest Christian university in the world other than to use this as a platform for your own theological and, in Falwell’s case, political agenda?”

Falwell is a member of President Trump’s informal evangelical advisory committee and has been criticized for providing cover for some of the president’s most divisive comments and actions.

Liberty has typically cited its total enrollment as the basis for its claim to be the largest Christian university in the world. It submits those numbers to the Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System database — or IPEDS — a  project of the U.S. Department of Education. The IPEDS reports Liberty’s “12-month unduplicated headcount” enrollment (meaning every student should be only counted once) at 109,921.

GCU’s for the same year — 2015-2016, the most recent available — is more than a thousand students larger: 111,211.

But in a statement provided by Liberty, Falwell suggests that because his school has a larger number of full-time students, it could still claim to be the largest Christian university. For 2015-2016, the IPEDS listed the “12-month equivalent full-time enrollment” for Liberty at 65,290, compared to GCU’s 63,350.

The National Center for Education Statistics ranks universities by “highest enrollment,” a total enrollment metric, not full-time enrollment.

When Falwell was informed that GCU faculty sign a statement acknowledging they understand GCU’s Christian beliefs, he suggested the schools could both call themselves the largest in their category.

“If GCU requires faculty to affirm a strong Christian doctrinal statement and enrolls more students by total headcount while LU enrolls more FTEs (full-time enrollment students), then it would be fair for both schools to claim to be the largest Christian university in the world,” he said in the statement provided to RNS.

“In any event,” Falwell added, “Liberty will remain the largest non-profit Christian university in the world and the most prosperous and successful academically and athletically by almost any metric for years to come in our opinion.”

GCU is a for-profit university, but is applying to regain nonprofit status.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

37 Comments

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  • And by Donald Trump’s definition, he’s a wildly popular, very stable, extra-healthy genius who will live to be 200. This is why realism is so important.

  • 1) Liberty U is not Christian and 2) it is not a university, but a Bible thumping indoctrinating organization AKA a cult.

  • This is why you don’t pass on ministries to your kids as though they were “heirs.”

  • Stan, Liberty University has regional accreditation which is the highest form any college can get, just like with the Univ. of Phoenix, Notre Dame,Harvard, etc.

  • I can agree with Jerry Falwell Jr when he says that GCU (Grand Canyon Univ) is not a real Christian college. Neither the professors or the students who attend GCU have to be Christians. Also, GCU provides health insurance for gay partners, which means a homosexual can either work or teach there, that is not Christian. I believe that the truly Christian university is Biola University in CA, where both professors, staff and students have to give attestation that they have a committed born again experience to Jesus Christ.

  • Not your kind of Christian. But the thing fundamentalists never seem to get is that they are not the sole representation of the Christian faith.

  • True biblical Christianity adheres to the whole Word of God in teaching and practice. At GCU they have chapel every Monday, but students are not required to attend. They have to take just one bible class their 4 years there, that is not being distinctively Christian as they advertise.

  • LOL!

    They have a “Creation studies” department. Evidently they do not teach sciences in a manner taken seriously by the rest of the world.

    They also have one of the worst ranked law schools in the nation.

  • Of course if its your views, its “True Christianity”. No differences can be tolerated or acknowledged. All definitions being self-serving and designed to appeal to a sense of narcissism. You are a “real Christian” everyone who disagrees with you is not.

  • If Jesus hadn’t been resurrected, he would be rolling in his grave.
    It is nothing short of hubris and ego-driven competition – neither of which is very characteristic of what Christ calls us to be.

  • Re. the Ric Grenell case on Washington Blade ; how do you know they’re white and privileged ?

  • Falwell is a spoiled brat who has to be right all the time. He is accustom to ruling Liberty with an iron fist and nobody can question him or his family so when someone does he flips his lid.

  • GOTCHA.

    By my brother in Christ, Jerry Falwell Junior, no less! (No less because I can’t stand the guy or his daddy’s campus.)

    THAT’S JUST EMBARASSING.

    He’s RIGHT. Regardless the size or “semantics” (John Fea’s face-saving, spun wording) Grand Canyon University just can’t be compared to Liberty University, because, like he said:

    (1) “Our definition of a Christian university only includes universities who hire faculty who adhere to FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. GCU does not. Liberty does”!

    (2) “Liberty’s definition of a ‘Christian’ university for identification purposes refers to evangelical Christian universities”!

    HA-HA. Falwell wins!

    THAT’S JUST EMBARASSING.

  • So what, creation sciences are more sound than evolution sciences. Evolution has still not been proven, it is still only a theory.

  • RNS’ big mistake was comparing apples with oranges. Somebody didn’t do their homework. You’re right.

  • Just one problem, though. Falwell IS right in this case. The RNS writer was fighting The Straw Man – who’s fault is that? Not Falwell’s. Readers are now discovering that the GCU v LU bout wasn’t a real match at all. They demand a refund!

  • “[If un-resurrected] Jesus … would be rolling in his grave [because we are not] very characteristic of what Christ calls us to be”? That is, if Jesus were still alive – hence uncrucified – He would be greatly upset, angered, or disgusted by what has happened to us?

    … Uhm you’ve mistaken the Anti-Christ here for THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation. Speak for yourself next time you make accusation of “hubris and ego-driven competition”.

    You should be disturbed by this kind of speculation of yours.

    I just find it weird thinking, is all. What sort of religion is this?

  • LOL! Spoken like a typical dishonest fundamentalist. Creationism is merely lying about one’s faith and science in order to pretend one’s Protestant Christian beliefs need to be taken more seriously than reality can ever permit.

  • BEcause it’s a top-notch university, much better than left-wing state schools or HBC’s.

  • So how many famous scientists graduated from Liberty if they’re so top notch?

  • I spent over 30 years in academia and I know it’s not that difficult to gain accreditation as I’ve been through it several times. For the most part it’s simply a matter of having your paper work in order.

    BTW, your attempt to place Liberty “University” alongside some of the Ivy League schools clearly demonstrates your complete 1) lack of morals & ethics and 2) lack of understanding the difference between education and indoctrination.

  • Not realism. Reality. Realism means something seems real. Reality means it is real. That’s part of the problem. We settle for realism as a substitute for reality.

  • Yeah, spoken by another left-wing ass-kissing elitist from academia where 90-95% of the sheep voted for Hillary.

    You probably worked in a bull**** department like humanities, Englis Lit, sociology, or psychology….black or women’s studies…..loser and useless crap like that.

  • Of course there is. The entire school affirmative action for useless Christian kids. The school grooms grads for wingnut welfare.

  • It’s a college for kids who work in the private sector not an inner-city high school where Moeshas learn they can have 5 kids by 4 sugar daddies by the time she is 22.

    You have them confused.

  • Actually they rely on affirmative action more heavily than many schools. Being more diverse than most you would attack.

    You are not well informed. Racism has made you dullwitted.

  • LOL! You are not racist at all. How can we nazi that?

    You really should not post under the influence of recreational pharmaceuticals. It makes you bitter and combative.

  • I represent The Silent Majority….silent no more !!

    Trump was the first.

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