Charlie Kirk, left, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Kirk photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons; Wilson-Hartgrove courtesy photo

Charlie Kirk, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove float debate on Jesus and socialism at Liberty University think tank

(RNS) — Was Jesus a socialist?

Charlie Kirk says no. But the Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says Jesus is more complicated than that.

Kirk and Wilson-Hartgrove may square off soon at a proposed debate to be hosted by the new Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty at Liberty University. 

On Thursday (Dec. 12), the Twitter account of the newly created conservative think tank posted a challenge to Wilson-Hartgrove, a progressive faith leader in North Carolina, offering to host a debate over whether Jesus was a socialist.

The tweet stipulated that the debate would be conducted between Wilson-Hartgrove and Kirk, the 26-year-old co-founder of the Falkirk Center and head of the conservative group Turning Point USA.

The tweet said both parties would also include one other participant of their choosing.

Wilson-Hartgrove, a pastor and author of "Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good," responded by accepting the challenge and offering up prominent progressive activist the Rev. William Barber II as his partner.

However, he also appeared to reject the premise of the debate.

"Socialism emerged in the 19th (century) as a critique of capitalism, which didn’t exist in 1st century Palestine," he tweeted. "But if (Charlie Kirk) & Falwell are up for a public conversation about what the Lord requires of us in public life, (the Rev. William Barber) & I are ready."

A representative for the Poor People's Campaign, which Barber leads, told Religion News Service the pastor and activist is willing to participate if the Falkirk Center makes good on the challenge.

Wilson-Hartgrove later tweeted that he is planning to lobby to expand the debate to allow each side to field three participants each and potentially include the Rev. Bishop Yvette Flunder, pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California.

Wilson Hartgrove told Religion News Service that a Liberty University official has already reached out to him.

"I’ve told him we’re glad to talk details," Wilson Hartgrove said.

The debate challenge comes more than two years after Wilson-Hartgrove, Barber, and others published an open letter challenging Jerry Falwell, Jr. to a "peaceful debate" about Christian teaching at Liberty University. Both Wilson-Hartgrove and Barber hosted a revival near Liberty a few months later, where faith leaders voiced numerous criticisms of Falwell and his leadership of the school.

It is unclear whether Falwell, a close ally of President Donald Trump, will participate in the debate.

The creation of Liberty's Falkirk Center was announced in late November with the goal of defending "Judeo-Christian" beliefs. At the time, Kirk told the Washington Examiner that the group hoped to “play offense against the secular Left.”