Jerry Falwell Jr and Charlie Kirk announced a new center at Liberty University that advances Christian Nationalism. This is a guest post by Matt Boedy that looks at the issues with this new think tank that deals with Christian Nationalism.
“All of nationalism can be understood as a kind of collective narcissism.”
“Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.“
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
John 10:7 NIV
Jerry Falwell Jr.
There has been some news about Liberty University that raised some concerns. In my own case I studied history at the graduate level and when I heard about the new think tank at Liberty University that will advocate for Christian Nationalism; my first thought was what will the history department think? Matt Boedy did a post about the issues and challenges that exist with Falkirk – a joint effort by Jerry Falwell Jr and Charlie Kirk. Its this blog’s understanding that Charlie Kirk calls Harvest Bible Chapel home. This blog has written quite extensively about Harvest Bible Chapel which has been a sad scandal that continues to take place in Chicago, Illinois. That said I will turn this post over to Matt.
So let me get this straight.
Turning Point USA, the group who prides itself on videos that summarize big concepts in 180 seconds, is starting a think tank? The group that has a “watchlist” of professors who it wants (by implication) fired for teaching the “wrong” stuff in the “wrong” way” with a “wrong” ideology – this groups wants to start a think tank? And Charlie Kirk, Turning Point’s founder, whose often tweets baseless claims and misleading facts, he wants to start a think tank? And finally, Liberty University, where academic freedom is a “no-go” zone, that school led by the not-an-academic Jerry Falwell Jr., that school wants to start a think tank?
I could go on.
All these questions point to one clear truth: Kirk and Falwell don’t want a think tank; they want a thought tank. They don’t want people to think – to explore, to create, to make new knowledge; they want people to agree with their thought.
Falwell made this clear in his comments to Breitbart: Liberty University is doing “what the public schools have failed to do, and that’s teach American history the way it should be taught.”
John Fea, the evangelical historian whose scholarship has been the bulwark against Christian abuses of teaching history, nailed it on his blog: “It’s official: Christian nationalism now has its own think tank.”
Kirk made that clear in his comment to Fox News: “We’re trying to explain the link between the gospel of Jesus Christ and American founding freedom.”
In the genre of think tanks, there are certainly institutions with a declared conservative or libertarian – or even lefty – stance. The Cato Institute comes to mind. Its mission statement is: “The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.”
There are close sisters to FalKirk and its more blatant political agenda already out there. The Leadership Institute comes to mind. Its purpose is to provide “training in campaigns, fundraising, grassroots organizing, youth politics, and communications” in order to teach “conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media.” It is the group behind Campus Reform, the “news” site known as the “conservative watchdog to the nation’s higher education system.” But neither are housed on a campus.
Many institutes and foundations have influenced campus agendas. Money tries to control what is taught, the outcome of scholarship. See the John William Pope Foundation and University of North Carolina, for example.
And sadly FalKirk is not the first conservative think tank to find a home on university campus. The Hoover Institute at Stanford seeks to “improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity, while securing and safeguarding peace for America and all mankind.”
Also of course the Koch Brothers have been funding centers on campus for some time now, causing heavy faculty criticism, but also a privatization of public education in the process. “In all, two of the six private charitable foundations the Koch brothers control and personally fund combined in 2012 to infuse colleges and universities with more than $12.7 million, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Internal Revenue Service tax filings.”
In that frame, FalKirk is not different.
Its only difference may be its vacuity. This “think tank” won’t produce scholarship – peer reviewed or otherwise. It won’t produce research or insights. Apparently it will echo the kind of content Kirk and Turning Point creates. This is made clear in its release statement: “The Falkirk Center will use a diverse variety of advocates and media strategies to promote the core beliefs of America’s Founders…” Fea is correct. This center is a “cultural war institution, not an educational institution.”
In the end, Kirk and Falwell say they want the center to answer one question: ““was Jesus Christ a socialist?”
But they already know their answer – and it is that predetermined end which makes this “think tank” a farce. And with the money from donors already assumedly in or waiting in the wings, this project is different because it is also a grift.
And of course it is not surprising this center will be housed at Liberty. Falwell is a Trump sycophant, like Kirk.
This may be another difference from other think tanks. Here is an academic institution housing a blatant attack on higher education.
Liberty University made that last aspect clear in its comments to The Washington Examiner: “The news media, elected officials, academic institutions and special interest groups have used their platforms to deny America’s legacy of foundational Judeo-Christian principles…”
If that were true, then all those campus-based think tanks mentioned above would be part of the problem, not the solution.
And as you suspect, all that is a myth, lies used to build a sense of grievance, which funds the work of Kirk among others.
Others may do it a bit more implicitly. But like its zeitgeist, Trump, FalKirk can’t be slowed down by facts or academic freedom, the cornerstone of American higher education.
Liberty University is home to historians who have no academic freedom. Fea wonders at their plight: “I also wonder what the Liberty University History Department, which recently started an online Ph.D program in history, has to say about this center? Were they consulted? Will they be involved in any way?”
Karen Swallow Prior, whom Christianity Today called “evangelicals’ favorite English professor,” recently left Liberty because of “mounting frustrations over what she said is an administration-led campaign toward standardization that limits academic independence.” Prior also noted “her criticism of Trump has caused tensions on Liberty’s campus and has contributed to her decision to leave the school.”
The FalKirk Center and Liberty are two peas in a pod, plotting to subvert higher education by claiming it has the answers ahead of time.