Have you followed the spat between Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Shane Claiborne?
Falwell is the head of Liberty University, a school that conservative evangelicals hope will serve as a pipeline to government positions, including judicial appointments. He is an unabashed Trump supporter and a generally hateful, hypocritical person. Definitely the kind of religious leader you can imagine Jesus calling a viper, a wolf, and an empty vessel.
Claiborne, who has spoken directly to Mennonites at our national convention, is part of an intentional community in Philadelphia and a key part of the New Monastic movement. There is a lot I like about his work and a some things that really bother me (It’s the dreadlocks. I haven’t read enough of Claiborne to know is defense of them, but I know that they hurt his witness with many African Americans. And, yes, I fully understand what it means for me to say that someone’s hair interferes with their “witness,” so the fact that I’m saying it anyway should tell you what a big deal it is for me.)
Anyway, Claiborne has been an outspoken critic of empire-loving Christians in general and Falwell in particular. Despite/because of this he issued an invite for Falwell to join him in prayer when Claiborne comes to Lynchberg, Virginia, where Liberty is headquartered, to lead a two-day “revival” this weekend among students who oppose Trump. Liberty University is not just an accidental target: Claiborne is calling out Falwell and other Christians like him who support Christian nationalism.
In the planning process, he asked Jerry Falwell, Jr., to join the revivalists in prayer. In response, Falwell, Jr. had Liberty lawyers write a letter to Claiborne warning him to stay off the campus–which is, after all, private property–or Liberty would sic their lawyers on them. This, in turns, is being used as evidence that Falwell isn’t a real Christian, doesn’t care about Christian unity, is a hypocrite about the free expression of religion, etc. It doesn’t help that he then censored an effort by the university newspaper to cover the off-campus event.
Which is all true. Falwell IS angry, power hungry, and vacuous. I suppose God loves him, but that’s mostly because I’m not a Calvinist yet, though Falwell could push me over the edge. When I look at his life, I don’t see any fruit of God’s presence in his life.
Above, a 2017 tweet in which Claiborne says “Yes, I’m troubled by Trump. But I’m more troubled by the Christians who support him. Trump’s gospel is so different from the Gospel of Jesus.” In the accompanying photo, Trump holds an issue of Playboy that also appeared in a photo of him, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s wife. Falwell himself circulated the image of him standing with the president in front of a framed copy of the pornographic magazine.
I think he was mostly right to reject Claiborne’s offer. Obviously, it was a set-up. I have no idea what these two men could meet to pray about. When each prays the Lord’s prayer–“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”–they mean entirely different things. Their heavens are different, and their Gods are different. And, like Mark Twain says, you can’t pray a lie.
I don’t think that his legal threats anything about Falwell’s character that we don’t know. I don’t think that there is a single issue on which Falwell could honestly pray with Claiborne. Claiborne cares about peace, but Falwell promotes war. Claiborne wants people to be treasured as creations of God; Falwell is on an advisory council for a pornography promoter. Claiborne wants an end to the death penalty; Falwell wants our enemies blown to smithereens.
Not praying with Claiborne might be the most honest thing a man like him could do.