In response to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Convocation address last Friday at Liberty University, Brian McLaren calls Christians to respond “not with the applause and laughter displayed by your students and faculty, but with unequivocal repudiation.”

Brian McLaren’s stirring summons to repudiate Falwell’s words and to “embody a different kind of Christianity,” should be read in their entirety here:

In his “Open Letter to Jerry Falwell Jr, Students and Faculty of Liberty University,” McLaren explains the importance of Christians standing up publicly to distinguish themselves forcefully from the violent rhetoric of Jerry Falwell Jr. McLaren points out that

Just as I appreciate it when peace-loving Muslims, Hindus and others repudiate hostile and reckless statements made by prominent members of their religions, I feel impelled by conscience to repudiate your words as not being representative of authentic Christianity as I, and thousands like me, understand it.

For us, authentic Christianity is the loving, peaceful, justt and generous way of life embodied in Jesus. It is characterized more by self-giving than self-defense, by pre-emptive peacemaking rather than pre-emptive violence….. You are being deeply faithful to a tradition that is deeply unfaithful to the life and teaching of Jesus… not to mention the broader American ideal that upholds the dignity and equality of all people, whatever their religion.

With more grace than I can muster, McLaren attributes a marginally positive motive to Mr. Falwell’s words, suggesting

I don’t doubt that your conscious intentions were simply to protect your students from a terrorist attack.

I expect that Falwell is in fact more deeply motivated by a desire to rally his base, motivate “the troops,” and generate secure funding for his University.

Whatever Falwell’s motivations may be, McLaren goes on to remind Mr. Falwell that words have consequences and we need to take responsibility for the possible consequences our words may have, even if we may not have intended some of those consequences:

it’s the unintended consequences of your words that concern me most. I doubt many if any violent Islamist Fundamentalist extremists woke up one day and decided to become hateful, cowardly, immoral murderers. Instead, they were led down that path by degrees, and those who radicalized them convinced them that they were becoming purer, more faithful, and more orthodox believers in the process.

Your reckless words can easily render your students vulnerable to more extremist influences (perhaps including some who are running for president), and the result could be catastrophic. You could spiritually form a generation of people who think of themselves as “Champions for Christ” but who actually become a mirror image of the violent religious warriors you fear and reject, different in degree, perhaps, but not in kind.

It does not require a great leap to imagine some of the potential unintended consequences of Mr. Falwell’s words. So McLaren asks Mr. Falwell to imagine:

How would you feel if you saw the president, faculty, and students in a radicalized Muslim university somewhere applauding and laughing about killing Christians and “teaching them a lesson?” Do you see how you are helping your students become the mirror image of such a scene? And do you see, apart from any issue of moral conscience, the way that those reckless words could be used by ISIS and other such groups to stir up their apocalyptic us-versus-them fervor? The Bible we both revere has a lot to say about the danger of unwise words.

Words do matter. Jesus pointed out that the words I use reveal the condition of my heart:

out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34b)

And Jesus had absolutely no problem repudiating religious people who use words to diminish or do violence to others. He called them simply,

You brood of vipers! (Matthew 12:34a)

Mr. Falwell does not speak for me. His words do not represent the Jesus in whom I believe. I stand with Brian McLaren and repudiate Falwell’s violent rhetoric. I choose to align myself with the peace that was born in the world on the day we are preparing to celebrate during this Advent season.


Rachel Held Evans on Facebook joins her public voice to Brian McLaren and calls “for all of us to speak up”:

Rachel Held Evans

11 hrs · Edited ·

Time for all of us to speak up. This isn’t a joke anymore.

To the cheers of thousands, Donald Trump has called for committing war crimes against women and children, for banning Muslims (including U.S. citizens) from entering the U.S., for shutting down mosques, and for tracking religious minorities with a database and possible ID badges. (In addition, he shared false information from a white supremacist Web site to spread lies about African Americans and crime, and has called for the deportation of millions of immigrants.) We’ve seen a Christian college president urge his students to take up arms and “end those Muslims before they get here.” And across the country, Muslims report that their mosques are being vandalized, that they are receiving death threats by the hour, and that women in head coverings are being harassed when they go out in public. Needy families fleeing terrorism in their own countries, who have spent years being vetted to receive refugee status and a safe home, are arriving to the U.S. only to be turned away by state governors.

The hysteria and xenophobia has gotten completely out of control, and it runs totally contrary to our country’s commitment to religious freedom and especially to the teachings of Jesus. If a pastor, family member, friend, or acquaintance expresses support for violent rhetoric against minorities, speak up. Call it out. It’s not okay.

We can stop wondering if we would have protested the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. This is exactly how it begins. Now’s the time to speak up and to act.


Jim Wallis adds a strong voice to the growing opposition against a dangerous spirit arising in the US

Leaders from both political parties must denounce Donald Trump’s statements and distance themselves from his dangerous ideology. Journalism must return to the values of truthfulness, freedom, integrity, equality under the law, and religious liberty in its coverage. His toxic message is becoming a dangerous threat to our most basic American values, and it should treated accordingly.