I will admit that I went to write this before doing research, because I was angry with Liberty for what the media said that they were doing during this pandemic. But before I felt justified enough to actually write a word about it, I decided to do my research and I learned and unlearned a lot of things regarding Liberty University’s decision to allow students to return to campus during the current pandemic and mandated shelter in place laws. There is a lot of justified frustration with Liberty University’s decision, however, as I recently found out, there is also a lot of misinformation regarding the decision that has lead to unjustified frustration with the decision.
Recently, Liberty University’s President Jerry Falwell Jr. opened up the campus dormitories for up to 5,000 students. He believed that there would be students who would be safer at school where they had room and board then at their home. Once you see the numbers behind this decision it will make the decisions intentions a little clearer and easier to stomach. Still, I fully disagree with this decision on a few key premises but before I share those disagreements I want to share what I have found.
This article by the Independent is similar to many articles I found on this topic. It reads almost like a hit piece on Liberty University that seems to skew facts and leaves out details in order to prove a point. Again, I will discuss that I think Liberty made the wrong decision but I need to clear up some false understandings. My rule of thumb is that if you want to condemn someone, do it for what they are actually guilty for. You should state the facts in context, and offer implications of those facts, without using the facts to push your own agenda. So let’s discuss the facts.
According to this website (and a few more that make this information harder to find) There are roughly 110,000 students at Liberty and more than 60,000 of them are online only students. Of the 40,000-50,000 remaining about 60% of them live on campus. At the worst case Liberty would have 30,000 on campus students returning to campus but, as the Independent article states in the beginning, only 5,000 spots were open to students. In a recent statement Liberty shares that as of March 29th, only 1,045 students have returned to campus. These students, along with the others still at home, are having all classes online to limit the risk of spreading the virus. All these things put together, I believe, contextualize this decision well and make it less of a damning choice. However, as we will see, this poor choice is already causing issues on Liberty’s campus.
The Problems with the Decision
First for the obvious issue: Any amount of travel to campus or on campus creates a massive risk for spreading Covid-19. If there are students on campus walking about then the entire campus can be infected and when more students return there can be a massive health risk. As of today it is being reported that students who are currently on campus at liberty tested positive for Covid-19. However, there is plenty of debate whether this has actually happened with Liberty University sharing an update March 30th that no students on campus have tested positive for the disease. There are, however, a few students who are online students that have tested positive. These students do not have access to return to campus.
Still, should a student get Covid-19 on the campus, there will be massive issues. An infected individual would most likely be touching doors, railing, and university facilities. This effectively means that Liberty’s massive campus would be infected at random places and that it will need to be cleaned and left alone before the rest of the students can return. This will have massive implications for the university and the city the university is in, Lynchburg, VA. Liberty University students are the main life blood of that city and although many will most likely limit their travel, they are putting that city at risk.
The next issue is the seeming disregard for the government’s lock down mandate. The state of Virginia has closed schools for the rest of the academic school year and the state of Virginia has demanded that all students stay at home. Within the context of this request by the government, Liberty’s decision to allow students back to campus is not wise nor obedient to their local government.
Some may say “there is a separation of Church and State so, why would we let the government tell us what to do”? Well first, Liberty University is not a church, second, the separation of Church and state isn’t in the constitution, and third, the thing that should be guiding Mr. Falwell’s decision is the Bible. The Bible teaches us to listen to our local government and their authority in all matters except those that would cause you to sin. I would highly recommend Romans 13:1-7 to anyone who wonders how a Christian should act in the council of their government.
A Closer Look
Why has Mr. Falwell made this decision? On this question there is reportedly at least one true reason, one lie, and one common opinion. First, Mr. Falwell made the decision believing, as many college students did, that Covid-19 mostly affected older populations and that most of his student body would be safe. He is quoted for saying that he believed 99% of his students would not be at risk. This is simply bad information leading to bad decision making which makes this a damning decision for the LU president.
In the Beginning of March there were plenty of people telling the public that the oldest of our population and those who have immune system issues were the most at risk. This seemed to translate, to many people my age, a notion that there is nothing to fear from Covid-19 if you are young and healthy. This is simply not true. Though someone my age, 23, may be safer from the virus, it does not mean I can afford to forgo social distancing and quarantine. This applies to many Liberty University students who should be staying quarantined in their homes.
A common lie that I have heard going around is that Liberty University seems to be saying “We are a Christian School and therefore God will not let us get sick.”. God is a comforter, protector, healer, and provider but this does not mean that a Christian’s actions do not have consequences. Christians are grown through trials and adversity which means God does not often give us an immunity to these sort of things. This view that Liberty is trusting in God to give them any sort of full immunity is often a joke and there is no evidence to suggest that Liberty has said anything regarding them banking on God without taking any necessary precautions.
Their is also a popular opinion that Mr. Falwell is too much of a synchronist for him to follow the government’s instructions to shut down Liberty. A “synchronist” is someone who merges multiple worldviews into one. Many believe that Mr. Falwell often merges his political convictions as a free market capitalist and his Chrisitian beliefs into one worldview. I will not go into great detail regarding accusations against Mr. Falwell’s that seem to indicate that he has a. history of synchronism because there are so many articles and counter articles about him that I honestly do not know what to think.
Evidence for potential synchronism by Mr. Falwell is his large and vocal support for Donald Trump, the Second Amendment, and many other Conservative things. As a Christian you can have political opinions and you can support the decisions of your local leaders but you cannot idolize them. Whether he makes an idol of these things, I’m not sure. I cannot make many assumptions regarding Mr. Falwell because, as I have learned researching for this blog post, the man is attacked for many misunderstandings along with a large amount of fair and due criticism.
I know from listening to the “Southside Rabbi” podcast, which is done by Christian Hip Hop artist “KB” and his friend Ameen Hudson, that Mr. Falwell has a laundry list of personal issues which should stop us from blindly supporting him and everything Liberty University does. I’m a sinner, just as Mr. Falwell, and I will not go into detail nor slander him with things I have not studied. Perhaps in the future I can do a piece on Mr. Falwell’s worldview and how it affects Liberty University but as of now I will admit I am not informed enough to have an opinion on the matter.
I first personally considered Liberty University to to be guilty of synchronism after viewing what makes Liberty University so popular. For being a top Christian school, there is a lot of emphasis on a highly material lifestyle for students. The university is known to be one of the largest Christian Schools in the world that has a beautiful campus, state of the art facilities, phenomenal student leisure activities, and a large amount of wealth overall. These are not inherently wrong things for a Christian University to have, but I can’t quite get out of my head that these are not the things that should mark them as a Christian university. Not to say they do not do a lot of missions, charity work , and work to cultivate the faith of their students.
At times I wonder if the wealth of liberty can work to make the Christians there forget that they are in a broken world where they must carry their cross. If Liberty was living to love their neighbor, respect their government in order to glorify Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31) then I do not think they would have made this decision as publicly as they did.
In the end Liberty University must find a way to always act in accord with the Gospel. To see this broken and damaged world and to show that world that God came in flesh to die for the world to forgive the sins of all the broken people. That one day sin, along with all the brokenness and disease it brings will be brought to destruction. This is a hard, but necessary task.
Some will see Liberty’s decision as ignorant to the suffering in the world around them. Though, it is important to realize the other perspective that this is only a few students have actually returned to the university and that the intent was to help house any disadvantaged students. This issue is not as black and white as we may hope, there is much more gray here then I think any of us care to admit.
I am not writing this as a hit piece for or against Jerry Falwell Jr. nor Liberty University. There was even a time where I considered going to this school, and I have a lot of friends who go there now. I love visiting the campus and attending their sports matches but I chose to not go there for a plethora of reasons.
I hope the facts in this article reveal to you that Liberty’s decision was most likely the wrong decision but that it isn’t as large of an issue as some people are making it out to be. I think only time will tell if I am right in my assertion. Before I close I want to make it clear that Liberty most likely had good intentions for opening their school back up. There are students that come from homes that may not be safe to stay in right now, and they may be safer quarantining in their university dorm. For now let us all be in prayer for those affected by the virus, those serving them, those cleaning the few places we can still go (i.e. grocery stores), and everyone else who is infected.
Grace and Peace