Dear Dr. Falwell,
I’m writing to you today as a follower of Jesus, a faith leader, a peacemaking practitioner, and a father of three. I understand what it’s like to stand on a stage in an auditorium filled with impressionable young people. I know what it’s like to get caught up in the emotions of the moment and say something that I shouldn’t have. I know that you know what you said, but let me quote it here for the sake of those who read our correspondence:
“If some of those people in that [San Bernardino] community center had what I have in my back pocket right now (cheering)…. Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know.”
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in (cheering)…and killed them.”
“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course…. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here (cheering).”
I’m familiar with the hangover that accompanies such gaffes as well as the outpouring of criticism that emerges from friends and foes, alike. I also recognize how good it feels to receive accolades from people who think just like me. I understand how their applause seduces me into believing in both the virtue and accuracy of my comments.
You’ve celebrated that your remarks calling for “good people” to arm themselves against Muslims were the most praised of your tenure. But you’ve also clarified your encouragement to “end those Muslims,” as referring only to radicalized Muslims like the San Bernardino shooters.
Your clarification indicates to me that there’s a small part of you that regrets what you’ve done. It’s to that part of you that I appeal through this letter.
With your words and the applause of thousands still ringing in my ears, I wonder how it’s possible that the president of the world’s largest private Christian University could say something so obviously contrary to the teachings of the One you claim to follow. Others have been quick to point out that Jesus had nothing to do with your teaching that day, but I imagine you would suggest that Jesus had everything to do with what you said.
The question I have for you is this: Which Jesus?
Which Jesus informs your theology?
The expression of your life, your teaching, and your leadership pour out of your understanding of who God is, how God works, who you are, and whom God is for. Any theology divorced from the God we see in Jesus…a God who taught beyond love of neighbor to love of enemy…is incomplete at very least and dangerously broken at most. The God we see in Jesus is armed, not with a gun, but with love and a cross.
Dr. Falwell, if the Jesus you follow is armed with anything other than self-sacrificial love, then I invite you to reconsider your Jesus.
Which Jesus informs your teaching?
As faith leaders, our responsibility is to draw attention to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The instruction we offer must have its start in the person of Jesus who promoted reconciliation, restoration, and human flourishing. The content of our teaching must not ooze from our own personal fears, biases and prejudices.
Your teaching that day was radicalizing hate speech. It’s the very tactic being utilized by ISIS to recruit young, disenfranchised, conservative, idealistic men and women to take up arms against those they consider their enemies. Any teaching that incites fear, encourages suspicion, and promotes violence is a departure from the heart of God. Whether it’s ISIS hate speech or your own, it is anti-Christ and will lead to hate action.
Dr. Falwell, if the Jesus you follow teaches anything other than self-sacrificial love of neighbor and enemy, then I invite you to reconsider your Jesus.
Which Jesus informs your leadership?
As demonstrated in Jesus, faith leadership is a daunting task that requires wisdom, courage, and humility. In your case, there are currently 100,000 young people following your lead. They, as well as the watching world (Muslims included) are observing your leadership. What did they see last week? Did they see the wisdom, courage, and humility of Jesus or did they see foolishness, fear, and arrogance? Did your leadership cause Jesus’ fame to increase or did it mar His reputation?
Your gun-toting leadership just gave permission to and encouraged 100,000 young people who identify as Christian to be suspicious of Muslims at the very least and to take up arms against them at the tragic worst? Do you understand that, from the perspective of the global Muslim community, you are actively seeking to militarize and radicalize the largest Christian student body in the world? Please understand that your leadership just sent a very clear message to the Muslim community: American Christians hate you; we are armed, and we will aim to kill.
Dr. Falwell, if the Jesus you follow leads with anything but wisdom, courage, and humility, then I invite you to reconsider your Jesus.
Which Jesus informs your dream?
From the moment we picked the fruit in the garden, God’s dream has been to fully reconcile and restore all things to Himself. His dream is that all of humanity would bend their knee in humble worship of a God who so loved us all that His Arab-looking flesh bled on our behalf. His dream came true in Christ and continues to come true, not through war making, but through peacemaking…not at gunpoint, but at the point of love.
Dr. Falwell, if the Jesus you follow has any dream other than restoration fueled by love and manifest by peacemaking, then I invite you to reconsider your Jesus.
The bottom line is this – The Jesus foretold of in the Hebrew Scriptures, portrayed in New Testament writings, and made real by His Spirit does not endorse our theology nor our political preferences. He isn’t driven by the fears, biases, and prejudices that seem to fuel us. Rather, He is the embodiment of an enemy-loving God. He loves us and is longing to usher in a Jesus-looking world through us.
In light of that good news and for the sake of the watching world, I invite you to take the following six actions:
- Offer a public apology to your student body.
- Offer a public apology to the Muslim community.
- Develop real relationships with Muslims in your context. Listen longer than feels comfortable to them and be changed by what you hear. Then, go public with how Jesus is finding you and forming you in the relationships.
- Replace your conceal & carry coursework with free coursework on peacemaking as the mission of God and vocation of God’s people.
- Invite a community of Jesus-followers who are bold enough to tell you the truth to help you discern how best to steward your leadership moving forward.
- If you cannot do numbers 1-5, then I encourage you, for the sake of the Gospel, your student body, the Christian & Muslim communities, and the world, to resign your position.
Yours with hope in His restoration.