The sixteenth century father of Protestantism, Martin Luther, knew that human beings simultaneously crave and rebel against freedom. We find it difficult to be free even when freedom is the very thing we are in search of: we enslave ourselves and others with all kinds of dictates and systems of oppression- sometimes in the name of liberty itself. Which is why we need Jesus.
In “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” (known more famously as “Freedom of a Christian,” Luther sought to remind his readers that ”the one thing, and only one thing necessary” for Christian life and freedom in the Spirit of Christ was “the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ.” In other words, knowing Jesus and His Word is the only thing necessary to live freely, abundantly and ethically in and for the world around us. Nothing else is required. No secret handshake, no country club pass, and certainly not any one political party platform.
Centuries following Luther, it appears that at least one influential segment of modern-day Protestants has been challenging the view that Christian freedom could be so simple and unrefined. Liberty University, founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell and self-described as “the largest Christian university in the world,” was in the spotlight recently when presidential hopeful Rick Perry visited. The school’s chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., took the opportunity to clarify that the university’s strong Christian credentials do not mean only Christian candidates are eligible for admission.
“We don’t encourage our students to have a litmus test based on a candidate’s theology,” Falwell said, in an interview Wednesday with National Public Radio. “But the issues are what we care about, where they stand on all the issues that matter — social conservatives to fiscal conservatives — and that’s always been our position.”
Which leaves me a bit confused: is or is not Liberty University a “Christian” university, as opposed to a university for “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives” (“Republicans” in other words)? If the key criterion for admission is actually where candidates “stand on…the issues that matter” to social and fiscal conservatives, as opposed to faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ, would it not be better to change the university’s motto from “40 Years of Training Champions for Christ” to “40 Years of Training Champions for the Republican Party”? The university might even consider dropping the adjective “Christian” wherever it appears in their public relations materials and maybe replacing it with “Republican.” Just a thought.