John Welborn of the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island told the Religion News Service that Liberty University needs a fresh start. By speaking against Jerry Falwell Jr he is one of the alumni doing so. But since this blog is focused on the EFCA it wants to camp out on Welborn’s statements. Plus this post also looks at the harm that Liberty University has done to evangelicalism and how its become in issue for those outside the bubble. This writer experienced this in Wisconsin when Jerry Falwell Sr blamed the September 11, 2001 attacks on liberals, gays and more. It became a challenge that a student leader in Campus Crusade for Christ had to address.
“To say nothing is saying something. You must denounce things you are against or one might believe that you support things you really do not.”
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
2 Corinthians 7:1 NLT
John Welborn praying over Eddie Cole at Salem Church in Staten Island, New York.
The denomination that this blog focuses on is the EFCA. This evening I was busy cleaning out my email and working to respond to a few people when I noticed something of interest. It deals with John Welborn of the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York. This blog has written about John Welborn before. This blog visited Salem Church in the fall of 2019 and wrote a review of the experience. You can read that in, “A Visit to the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York and Some Feedback.” In 2019 Salem Church had a situation with alleged sexual abuse at the time. John Welborn reacted swiftly and reported it to the police and handled it well. This blog wrote about it and compared it to a church in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries which had badly mishandled the issue of child sex abuse. You can read both posts in, “How the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York Handled an Alleged Sexual Abuse Situation” and “Child Sex Abuse: A Look at How Two Churches Responded – John Welborn’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York and Mark Mullery’s Redeeming Grace Church (Former Sovereign Grace Fairfax) in Fairfax, Virginia.” John Welborn is back in the news and that is what leads to this post at The Wondering Eagle. He is one of the Liberty alumni who has spoken out about the issues at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Before we get into what John Welborn has said let’s review the issues at Liberty.
This photo was the tipping point with Jerry Falwell Jr at Liberty.
An Overview of the Scandals at Liberty University Culminating in the Final One Abroad a Yacht
In the summer of 2019 this blog wrote a couple of articles and then was approached and asked to write more about Liberty. Traditionally that is not the focus of this blog as I like to stay focused on the EFCA. But, this writer could not say no, and proceeded to pay more attention to the subject matter. Over the last year these are some of the articles that this blog has written about.
- In June of 2019 Jerry Falwell Jr attacked David Platt of McLean Bible on Twitter. He called for David Platt to grow a pair of balls. Meanwhile the Miami Herald published a story and noted that it had in its possession sleazy pictures of Falwell and his wife. You can read about that in, “Telling David Platt to Grow a Pair, Declining Enrollment and Making Illicit Pictures that The Miami Herald Possess – When Will the Board Fire Jerry Falwell Jr at Liberty?”
- The Washington Post did a deep dive into Liberty University culture. The newspaper pointed out the lack of academic freedom, fear, and paranoia that exists which makes education not possible. You can read more about that in, “Fear, Paranoia, Censorship and the Lack of Academic Freedom at Liberty University. A Deeply Disturbing Washington Post Article Raises Many Questions About this Evangelical University.”
- On Facebook a former Liberty staff member came out and spoke about how the university lacks ethics and morals. You can read more in, “On Facebook a Former Liberty University Faculty Member Writes of a School Administration that is Ethically Bankrupt and Shady.”
- An article in the press led to student protests against Jerry Falwell Jr on campus. People involved shared pictures with this blog which published them. You can read that post in, “Pictures of the Protest at Liberty University on September 13, 2019 as Shared with The Wondering Eagle.”
- What triggered protests was an incendiary article by Brandon Ambrosino in Politico. The article revealed how Jerry Falwell Jr allegedly violated the school’s 501(c)(3) status and treated Liberty like his own personal hedge fund. It also discussed his ethical conflicts of interest when it comes to school contracts and business. Then information emerged about how Jerry Falwell Jr boasted about the size of his penis and how his wife could not handle it. You can read this in, “An Explosive Politico Article Raises Questions About Financial and Other Misconduct at Liberty University. In Response Jerry Falwell Jr Attacks and Claims There is a Coup Against Him.”
- Drawing from history this blog (whose author studied European history in grad school) called on Liberty students to use the model that was used in Estonia and the Baltic states to remove a totalitarian regime. In the fall of communism in 1989 the Singing Revolution is perhaps the most beautiful and peaceful one took place in Europe. This blog called for that to be an example for Liberty students. You can read more in, “Remembering the Singing Revolution in Estonia and the Baltics and Why Liberty University Students Should Use it to Peacefully Challenge Jerry Falwell Jr.“
- In the Politico article Jerry Falwell Jr spoke crudely and boastfully about his sex life. Jerry Falwell Jr boasted about the size of his penis and how his wife could not handle it. This blog stepped back and noticed how this seems to be a common thread in autocratic evangelical leaders. After all Mark Driscoll who led Mars Hill Seattle called women penis homes and gave a sermon about how a blow job brought a person to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, I explored that issue in, “From Mark Driscoll to Jerry Falwell Jr. Why the Explicit Sex Talk? Are a Number of Evangelical Leaders Sociopaths?”
- Matt Boedy who told his EFCA/Acts 29 abuse story in South Carolina through this blog wrote about how Liberty stood up a center for Christian nationalism. You can read that in, “Guest Post: Matt Boedy on FalKirk – The Christian Nationalism Think Tank at Liberty University.”
- As the COVID-19 pandemic was breaking out across the United States Jerry Falwell Jr went on Fox News and claimed that the virus was invented by North Korea. In addition he claimed that the coronavirus is another attempt to get rid of President Trump and downplayed it. You can read more in, “On Fox Jerry Falwell Jr Claims that COVID-19 Is a Biological Weapon Created by North Korea and China. Plus The Controversial Liberty Leader States that the Coronavirus is Another Effort to Remove President Trump.” Since we are dealing with Salem Church in Staten Island as of August 15, 2020 this blog would like to point out that 32,414 died of the coronavirus in New York, And close to 2,400 have died in Virginia.
- In response to a story about COVID-19 Jerry Falwell Jr threatened a New York Times reporter. Then Liberty issues a statement that draws the attention of Virginia Tech and the University of California Los Angeles which corrects the school. That can be read about in, “Who Would Jesus Threaten? Did Jerry Falwell Jr Allegedly Threaten a New York Times Reporter? Plus Liberty University Engages in a Propaganda Campaign That Brings a Response From U.C.L.A. and Virginia Tech. Finally a Class Action Lawsuit has Been Initiated Against Liberty.”
- Then in the late spring of 2020 Jerry Falwell Jr tweeted a racial blackface joke. An African-American professor resigned in protest. You can read about that in, “Jerry Falwell Jr’s Racial Blackface Joke with a COVID-19 Mask Results in an African-American Liberty Professor Resigning in Protest.”
- The Underground Railroad which is of mythic status in the antebellum South made a comeback. This time a group is helping African-American staff leave Liberty University. You can read that in, “The Underground Railroad is Active Again in the Old Dominion. This Time Its Saving African-Americans Trapped at Jerry Falwell Jr’s Liberty University.”
- This blog re-told an abuse story that was mishandled at Liberty University. This blog was in contact with the individual for a while. You can read about the tragic story of Sarah Leitner in, “Guest Post: Sarah Leitner is Expelled From Liberty University After Reporting Abuse on an Official School Internship to Jerry Falwell Jr. Liberty Also Denies the Abuse Occurred.”
- News emerged that African-Americans are walking away from Liberty University. This blog wrote about this situation in, “African-American Athletes Are Abandoning Liberty University and Leaving as a Result of Racial Culture Problems and Jerry Falwell Jr’s Racist Tweets.”
- Finally what led to Jerry Falwell Jr’s leave of absence is a picture from a party aboard a yacht. In that picture which is posted above, Jerry Falwell Jr poses with someone who is not his wife and appears to hold alcohol. In the process his zipper is intentionally down. It led to outrage. The original picture was captured by a Houston Chronicle reporter on Instagram. You can read about the scandal in, “An Overview of the Scandal Concerning Jerry Falwell Jr’s Inappropriate Picture with his Zipper Down and Liberty University Placing Him on Indefinite Leave.”
After being placed on leave from Liberty it also emerged that Jerry Falwell Jr was going around on Instagram and liking pictures of females who were wearing bathing suits. One photo is of model Stefanie Gurzanski, who has appeared on the covers of Cosmopolitan Mexico and Maxim Mexico. In the magazine pictures she posed provocatively in a black one piece bathing suits wearing leather high healed boots. Another photo is an ambassador for Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA who wore a swim suit with political commentary. You can read about this in another Religion News Service story.
Salem Church’s John Welborn Speaks Out on Jerry Falwell Jr Not to be Re-Instated
On Friday the Religion News Service published an article about how a number of alumni are calling for Jerry Falwell Jr to be permanently removed from Liberty University. You can read the article in, “Jerry Falwell Jr. needs to go, say Liberty University alumni and Christian pastors.” In the article one of the individuals speaking out is John Welborn a 2004 Liberty graduate who pastors and leads the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York. You can read a biography about John Welborn that was written in another post here. Here is what Welborn said about Falwell in the Religion News Service article. “As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness and redemption. … My prayer for him is that he finds true repentance and confession. But I do believe Liberty University would be well served by a fresh start with new leadership.”
How the Falwell Family and Liberty Adversely Affected Others and Harmed Christianity
The Falwell family and the harm Liberty University has brought to Christianity touches far beyond the rolling hills of central Virginia. The problems of Liberty University are actually exported and cause great harm. Let me illustrate this by sharing two examples from my life. At 27 I was a graduate student living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin working to plant a Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at Marquette University. When I was at Marquette September 11, 2001 occurred. On that dark day in American history 2,977 individuals were killed. I saw a campus go into a shock and mourning by what took place. One day I was walking through the student union and saw one of the television sets established for students to watch the 9-11 coverage. On CNN I watched the news clip that I have above. Jerry Falwell Sr was giving his commentary and claiming that September 11, 2001 occurred because of feminists, gays, the ACLU, People for the American Way and more. I was shocked to hear that information from Falwell. It bothered me deeply. However, what I did not realize as a para-church planter/student leader in Crusade was how much harder Jerry Falwell Sr made my job. When I interacted with some of the students from Marquette a couple of times people asked what I thought about what Jerry Falwell Sr said about September 11 being responsible because of gays and liberal organizations. It killed evangelism and I had to spend time distancing myself from Liberty and keep in mind this was in Southeastern Wisconsin. And in what Jerry Falwell Sr said no one in conservative evangelicalism said that the deaths of people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is not due to people being gay or the ACLU. No one pushed back. Why did all those deaths occur on September 11, 2001? The deaths occurred because 27 hijackers in an extremist Wahhabi mindset who trained in Kandahar, Afghanistan committed an act of mass terrorism due to their ideology that Osama Bin Ladin espoused.
Then when I moved to the Washington, D.C. area the problems only increased. Liberty University after all is now in my backyard. As I went and tried differing churches I ran into Liberty alumni or students and I noticed some of the politicization a couple of times follow people who graduated from Liberty. Before I walked away from evangelicalism at my final church my small group leader was from Liberty University. I heard and listened to him talk about how wonderful the school is and I would sit there in a Bible study and think of what Jerry Falwell Sr shot off on Twitter earlier that day or the previous day. There were a couple of times I wanted to ask my Bible study leader, are we on the same planet? Are you seeing the Liberty that I am seeing? As the problems from Liberty continued to hemorrhage out I began to look at those who graduated from Liberty as persona non grata. It was that toxic. Many people from Liberty and evangelicalism operate inside a bubble. So these views may be hard to process or digest. But to the outsider Liberty became a stumbling block to the Christian faith.
John Welborn Let’s Be Honest In this Thread of Christianity Jesus Died for a Supreme Court Seat
Here is the lesson that I learned from this thread of evangelicalism. I rejected reformed theology because it made the problem of evil worse. I wrote about this using what John Piper said about the Sandyhook massacre in Connecticut in 2012. You can read that in, “How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Make the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut.” I then tried to find a home in classical Baptist or regular evangelical theology. This as I learned in time really didn’t work. In 2016 Christian nationalism emerged on the scene and caught me flat footed. Now I was seeing more and more people attach their faith to Donald Trump. As an evangelical at the time I was in the 17 to 18% who didn’t go down that path. But I increasingly found faith to be harder and more challenging in how such a divisive issue popped up. Even when the Chief Missiologist of the Southern Baptists wrote about how Christian nationalism is harming missionary work abroad many evangelicals ignored it. You can read more in, “When Evangelicals Rejected Bethlehem and How I Walked out of a Christmas Eve Service. Plus is Christian Nationalism Derailing Southern Baptist Missionary Work?”
This strand of evangelicalism is not about faith. John Welborn and alumni of Liberty University need to understand this point. Whereas I thought Christianity was a faith movement and that Jesus suffered and died for my sins the message communicated by this strand of evangelicalism speaks otherwise. Jesus didn’t die for my sins. Instead Jesus was flogged, and carried his cross and was crucified for a Supreme Court seat in Washington, D.C. Jesus suffered and died at Calvary so that evangelicals can control the government and build their kingdom on earth. This form of evangelicalism is exceptionally toxic. The Bible is used as a weapon and faith is weaponized. After my challenges of dealing with this strand of faith I decided to reject evangelicalism as a whole and wrote about this decision in, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.”
While this blog is delighted that John Welborn finally spoke out about Jerry Falwell Jr I also want to ask you what took so long? Why did yourself and so many others allow Jerry Falwell Jr to define what faith is? Why did you allow Jerry Falwell’s corruption to define and harm your own ministry? For the life of me I do not understand why so many evangelicals are just silent about these kinds of issues. The secular world is much better and more caring about these kind of issues. Do you think many companies and organizations would stay silent as they are defined by someone else? This act by John Welborn is a good step in the right direction. My next question is as follows. Is it possible to de-politicize faith? Can American evangelicals divorce the two? Time will tell and this blog will be watching and working the issue.