This is a guest post about how Liberty University changed Charlie Kirk. This blog would argue that Liberty is not training people in the Christian faith. Instead it creating warriors to fight the culture wars. From 2018 until today Charlie Kirk’s views moved considerably as Matt Boedy writes about.
“History is a better guide than good intentions.”
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5-8 NIV
From the former Falkirk Center which has been rebranded.
Charlie Kirk has been associated with Liberty University for some time, through its former FalKirk Center. However this past March he left Liberty very much a changed individual. Liberty is doing more than training up “Champions for Christ.” In the view of this blog its also exporting Christian nationalism, and in the process corrupting people. Charlie Kirk is living proof of that fact. This is a guest post from Matt Boedy that looks at how Charlie Kirk’s views have changed, from 2018 until today. For me this shows how much Liberty has failed as a Christian institution. Liberty is not like Trinity International University, Wheaton, BIOLA or other similar schools. Its not about bringing people deeper into faith, instead Liberty is about building up an army to fight the Culture Wars.
One might think that Liberty University rebranding the Falkirk Center is a snub to Charlie Kirk, one of its founders. Not at all, the school says. Kirk, the well-known founder of Turning Point USA and white evangelical Christian, leaves the center well-liked, The New York Times reports.
Kirk also leaves a changed person. He has changed in the same way many pastors are seeing some of their congregants change in recent months, especially after the election and insurrection. Kirk has moved from a small government, free speech anti-culture warrior Christian conservative to Christian nationalist.
Kirk’s personal change has also meant a change in his organization. From his short stint at Liberty, Kirk learned what was needed to sustain TPUSA beyond its first decade spent on issues like capitalism and free speech.
In its DNA it always had less government. Now it needed more God.
And now the nation’s churches will see this change up close and personal. Recently Kirk and TPUSA created a slew of vacancies for Turning Point Faith, a new national network of field staff who will engage church leaders and congregants on issues of faith and freedom. It is the first non-campus expansion for TPUSA since its founding in 2012.
Turning Point USA also is expanding in another way. On Thursday Nick Surgey at the corporate watchdog group Documented reported on Turning Point Academy, a move by Kirk and TPUSA to train k-12 teachers in curriculum that mirrors the 1776 Commission by President Trump. Kirk was on that commission.
The Turning Point Academy summary on the TPUSA website claims this new curriculum and training will “help transform the way our young people” view ideals such as free enterprise. TPUSA already has hundreds of high school chapters in the US. This will extend its reach into all grade levels.
The benefits for TPUSA are clear: more ears for its message. The benefits of the expansion into churches are the same but also help solve a problem TPUSA has faced in its growth. By creating Turning Point USA chapters in local churches, the organization can keep within its influence former students who spent their formidable college years in the organization.
For Kirk, the move is the outgrowth of that profound personal change that Liberty University played a significant role in. In fact, this change dates back before Falkirk began in November 2019.
In an interesting coincidence, this change had likely started as Kirk was given an honorary degree from Liberty in May 2019. In other words, while he didn’t take any classes at the school, its network of pastors and political operatives taught Kirk a valuable lesson. While the center was started to influence Christians and churches, Kirk learned from his time at Liberty he could do that himself. He didn’t need the “institutional credibility” of Liberty, as the Times described Liberty’s role in the center. Turning Point USA could walk into churches and sell itself.
This is what Kirk has been doing in recent weeks. On the weekend of March 7, he spoke at Legacy Church in Albuquerque. In January he was at Calvary Church San Juan Capistrano in California. Later that month he famously tried to “cancel” the Christian rapper Lecrae while speaking to Calvary Chapel in Chino, California.
There is of course the possibility that like actual graduates of colleges, Kirk used the brand of Liberty conferred on him with that degree to gain more influence. Maybe indeed that was Kirk’s plan all along. Whatever the calculus or psychology or even marketing done during Kirk’s time at Liberty, the change in Kirk is apparent.
For evidence of the change, consider this chronology.
In a January 2018 recorded conversation with Dave Rubin, Kirk claims that Christianity politically went wrong or “crossed a line” in the 60s and 70s and 80s when “we tried to impose our beliefs through government policy where people then inherently have a rejection to it…” The error of religious politics in these decades is why Kirk says he tries to advocate for his political positions “through a secular worldview.” He does this for two other reasons, he notes: 1) most Americans are secular and 2) the government as set up by the founders is also secular. Kirk suggests arguing for a law because it is the “Christian thing to do” has turned people off in the last 30 years.
A year later there is a slightly more religious tune. In May 2019 Kirk began his podcast. The second episode was titled “Why I believe what I believe.” He borrows a phrase from Dennis Prager: the American Trinity. The three pillars of the trinity are: 1) “out of one, many,” [e pluribus unum] 2) liberty, and “in God we trust.” They roughly also link to three words — in this order — that Kirk describes himself as in the episode: Christian, American, and conservatarian (a combination of conservative and libertarian).
With all this ‘God talk’, yet Kirk adds that “I’m very careful not to have my religious views and my faith inform my political decisions.”
A year later, Kirk has turned 180 degrees from that statement.
In August 2020 Kirk appears on the radio of James Dobson. Kirk tells Dobson he started TPUSA after noting the “crisis” in American culture. Kirk’s answer to that crisis are to spread the gospel but also “harmonizing” the gospel with “first principles” of the Constitution such as freedom of speech, dialogue, and religious liberty. Kirk goes even further when he in his continual reference to a coming renewal or awakening in this country, he argues Christians need to stop being passive or silent in the face of government “tyranny.”
In the midst of a global pandemic where public health guidelines called for social distancing and no mass events, Kirk has turned his attention to pastors who “have abdicated their role and their responsibility to shepherd their flock and to create disciples….” by not meeting in person. “I think it’s long past time now that the church rise up, reopen their doors safely and correctly and be able to give people ecclesia, the gathering of believers,” he said to Dobson.
It may have been gradual but clearly something changed for Kirk in 2019.
That change was likely given its first seed when Kirk opened Turning Point USA’s headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona in September 2018. That led him to Rob McCoy, megachurch pastor in Orange County, California, whose church is a center for Christian nationalism.
Before that, Kirk was tied to Chicagoland megachurch leader James MacDonald. Kirk grew up in that area and gave the 2018 commencement speech to Harvest Christian Academy where he said he attended the Rolling Meadows Harvest campus.
Kirk sat down with the church’s then-executive pastor Luke MacDonald, son of James, to talk about his faith in August 2018.
Kirk suggests that Christians should learn how to talk about politics from “a position of love and understanding and empathy.” Kirk then says he never shouts people down, use pejoratives, or accuse.
If you have seen any video of Kirk on campus or on Fox News, you know his last statement is false.
In that conversation with MacDonald, Kirk tells the story of how he got to Harvest. He says he grew Presbyterian but “drifted away” and then heard about Harvest seemingly during his high school and young adult years around 2008-2012. Kirk said James MacDonald as preacher “resonated” with him because of the pastor’s “life is suffering” mantra.
MacDonald, no matter his many faults that led to his downfall, cannot be called a Christian nationalist.
McCoy on the other hand is. He is also Kirk’s “personal pastor,” according to both.
A scholar of the religious right Peter Montgomery in a post for Right Wing Watch recounted 2019 comments by McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel church and former elected official in Thousand Oaks, California. McCoy notes he has worked for years to register more evangelicals in California and the nation through his work with the American Renewal Project.
Montgomery notes McCoy disagreed with the apolitical nature of the founder of Calvary Chapel movement, Chuck Smith:
As he did at a pre-election rally in November, McCoy acknowledged that the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, Chuck Smith, believed in teaching the Bible and staying out of politics. That may have been understandable in 1968, McCoy says, but not today. It’s the lack of evangelical political participation, he says, that has led to “awful things” like no-fault divorce, transgender “bathroom bills,” and abortion. McCoy urged listeners to encourage their pastors to get more involved in politics; if the church they attend is politically apathetic and abdicates its political responsibilities, he said, “find another church.
McCoy’s work in 2016 sounds very similar to what Kirk plans for Turning Point Faith: “We go into key battleground states and we invite pastors and their wives and put them up in a hotel… we educate the pastors on their responsibility in a constitutional republic to educate their constituents to participate…”
The clearest evidence of influence of this kind of teaching on Kirk can be seen in his 2020 CPAC speech: “Finally we have a president that understands the seven mountains of cultural influence.”
This line was first noted by Montgomery who explains the significance of that theology: Its proponents “argue that God wants a certain kind of Christian to be in charge of all the ‘mountains’ or spheres of cultural influence: government, media, education, business, arts and entertainment, church and family.”
Montgomery notes that this theology is associated with the New Apostolic Reformation and has been “adopted across the religious right even by leaders who may not share NAR’s theology, but find the concept a convenient lingua franca for encouraging conservative evangelicals to get more involved in politics.”
One of the pastors who uses that rhetoric is Jack Hibbs, whose Calvary Chapel Chino Hills Church Kirk has spoken to several times.
Kirk appeared at Hibbs’ church on stage with McCoy in February 2020. There, Montgomery notes, McCoy offered a specific politically based translation of a key Bible verse used by Christian nationalists. “McCoy told congregants that King James wrongly translated the term ekklesia [in the famous dictum by Jesus that Peter was the rock of the church] as church…”
Montgomery: “Dominionists who believe conservative Christians should be running things on earth frequently use the word ekklesia to refer to the church acting with governmental authority, as God’s legislative body bringing kingdom rule to the earth.”
In October 2020, Kirk was using that same dubious translation at a speech at the Tennessee megachurch pastored by Greg Locke. Kirk defined ekklesia as a “civic political gathering” centered on freedom and equality.
Montgomery notes that Kirk’s turn to this kind of Christian nationalism also may be the influence of Christian nationalist political operative David Lane. His group hosted a “pastor and pews” event at Liberty University in August 2019. One of the goals of the event was to encourage pastors “to use their pulpits for political organizing and, ideally, to run for office themselves.”
In and around 2019 there was a host of influences upon Kirk. And they all have a connection to Liberty University. It seems from the evidence that while Kirk didn’t take any classes at Liberty, his college experience taught him a lot.