Let me start by saying that I wholeheartedly regret the words used during Liberty University’s president’s ending note yesterday during the school’s convocation.
“If more people had concealed carry permits,” he said, “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”
When I read that President Jerry Falwell Jr. said that (reported by The Washington Post), I felt fear. It was fear partially in response to the hollers of agreement, the applause from the thousands of students in the arena, and the raucous laughter when the president joked (was he joking?) about taking his gun out of his back pocket to show the student body. It was also fear in response to the words he chose.
I asked myself, “Is this really an evangelical Christian university’s convocation that I’m watching?”
It was. Convocation at Liberty University is a lot like chapel at Wheaton College. It happens three times a week, according to The Post, and it’s when the entire student body meets together to touch base, worship, and pray.
Except while Wheaton’s chapel usually ends with the chaplain’s benediction, Liberty ended theirs with a charge to go out and get a gun license so that they can “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” supposedly referring to Muslims again.
I’m not going to share my thoughts on gun control here. Instead, let me share my main point: Regardless of what the Liberty University president thinks is the student body consensus on how to address mass shootings, and whatever his stance, the way he chose his words was wholly unloving.
I hope the words “end those Muslims” aren’t things that you hear on a regular basis, especially not from a president. Liberty’s president, in a single choice of words, made this what so many people on social media are trying to avoid — another fight between Muslims and Christians in light of immigration crises and ISIS’ increasing influence. And, it wasn’t loving. It was the opposite of loving — the exposition of a generalized hatred towards a people with diverse ideologies within itself.
He later explained to The Washington Post that he would only clarify that he was referring to “Islamic terrorists” when he spoke. But the more than thousands of students and anyone who watched the live stream or video apart from the article didn’t get that very helpful explanation.
And in today’s media environment, with so many extreme points of view being voiced about Muslims as an entire people group, it would not be hard to imagine audience members taking this message at face-value and running with it.
It was his off-script (I really, really hope that he was going off-script) firing from the hip that gets me genuinely scared.
I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I’m scared for my future. I’m scared that people (i.e., future employers) are going to group me with a demographic of Christian that is more likely to fire off unloving quips than considering how they can best love a people group. That people will assume that I’m one of those evangelical Christians who jokes about having a gun in my back pocket and cheers when someone I should respect says that we should “end those Muslims.”
Some might quote Matthew 10:22 to me: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” So, I shouldn’t be worried about my future and what people think because this is what Christians should stand for, some might say.
But this isn’t what I stand for. And are the Liberty University students who hollered in agreement with their president “standing firm” with Jesus? Or is it more machismo?
I know I signed up to be hated by the world for standing with Jesus. And I do hope that the main point of this post wasn’t to align myself with any political ideology concerning gun control. Honestly.
But people are going to start thinking that Christians are all gun-toting bigots who will trade death for death. That’s what I’m scared people are going to start seeing as “Christianity.” We should teach, preach, spread a gospel of self-sacrifice and self-denial with an end goal of saving lives and converting nonbelievers into believers … right?
It’s just that the words we choose, especially as presidents and people in power, mean something. They communicate a message to a degree that sometimes we don’t intend them to, which is what happened yesterday at convocation. I don’t want the president of Liberty University speaking for me, though some might think he does.
I don’t want to “end” anyone. And I think that there are more Christians who think that way too.