A lot of religious right leaders have remained loyal to Donald Trump in the face of the almost daily outrages from his administration. That includes perhaps the biggest outrage of all that isn’t Russia-related–his equivocating stand on the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
One of those so-called leaders is Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. He was one of the earliest evangelical leaders to get on the Trump train. He was so enthralled with Trump after he took office = that he said–with a straight face–that the Donald was his “dream president.” That enthusiasm hasn’t waned one bit, even post-Charlottesville. On Sunday, he said–again, with a straight face–that Trump had secret tapes suggesting there really were “fine people” marching alongside the Nazis and white supremacists.
This stance proved beyond any doubt that Jerry Jr. is his father’s son in every way. After all, Jerry Sr. was willing to support any schmuck with an R next to his or her name as long as that Republican made the right clucking noises on social issues But while it may play well with those who believe Jerry Jr. is upholding Jerry Sr.’s legacy, it’s not likely to play well with several Liberty alumni. They’ve started returning their diplomas in protest of Jerry Jr.’s continued support of Trump.
There had been festering discontent at Liberty’s campus in Lynchburg, Virginia over Falwell, Jr.’s boisterous support of the Donald for some time. A number of students circulated a petition condemning Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tapes came out–somethign that would have been unthinkable in Jerry Sr.’s day.
But Trump’s nonsense about there being “blame on both sides” for what happened in Charlottesville was the last straw for a number of alumni. NPR reported on what they’re doing about it on Monday’s “Morning Edition.” Listen here.
Soon after Trump’s bizarre press conference, several alumni drafted a group letter to Jerry Jr. and several other university officials announcing that they plan to return their diplomas. The letter also urged Liberty’s brass to denounce Trump’s remarks. They were particularly angered by a tweet Jerry Jr. fired off after that infamous press conference.
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) August 16, 2017
The alumni didn’t see those comments that way. They saw it as “incompatible with Liberty University’s stated values” and “a Christian witness.” They have felt “outrage” and “sorrow” at Jerry Jr.’s obstinate support of Trump for some time, but that tweet pushed it “to a boiling point.”
The next day, Jerry Jr. tried to put out the fire.
The truth as stated by @realDonaldTrump is that violent white supemacists, Nazi, KKK and similar hate groups are pure evil and un-American.
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) August 17, 2017
It was too little, too late. Several alumni had already made plans to return their diplomas to Liberty. Many of them have organized a Facebook group, “Return your diploma to LU,” which calls for members to send back their diplomas by September 5 and let it be known that they are renouncing “all ties, support present and future.”
Among them was Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president. The 2006 graduate said that by continuing to stand by a president who was “defending Nazis and white supremacists,” Jerry Jr. was making both himself and Liberty “complicit” in Trump’s behavior.
Gaumer went further on Instagram.
Fellow 2006 graduate Georgia Hamann, now a practicing lawyer in Phoenix, helped draft the letter. She believes that Liberty is going into “dark places” by bowing to Trump, and wants its leaders to realize where they’re going “and really repudiate that.”
Rebekah Tilley, a 2002 graduate who now works in higher education in Iowa, isn’t willing to put Liberty on her resume because of the “strong affiliation” between Trump and the school. As she sees it, the Liberty name has become “loaded.” Doug Hatlem, a 1999 graduate who pastors a Mennonite church in Ontario, was dumbfounded that Jerry, Jr. could support Trump when Trump was unwilling to make “an unconditional condemnation” of the bilge from the racists in Charlottesville. To his mind, anything less “is just completely anathema.”
The leaders of the effort are going further than just returning their diplomas. If Jerry Jr. isn’t willing isn’t willing to condemn Trump, they want the Board of Trustees to fire him.
For his part, Jerry Jr. told Todd Starnes that the plan to return their diplomas is “grandstanding.” Hmm, perhaps he’s not used to seeing students stand up to their leaders. After all, he grew up in a world where you were expected to do as you are told. Or maybe it’s a generational gap. It’s been obvious for some time that younger evangelicals are not as willing as their parents and grandparents to simply walk in, pull the Republican lever, and walk out.
Regardless, these Liberty alumni should be applauded for taking a stand. It’s past time someone did so, because it’s obvious that what passes for leadership in the White House, and at Liberty, isn’t willing to do so.
(featured image: screenshot courtesy WDBJ)