At a time when fear of Muslims is smoldering in the U.S., one Christian leader has generated controversy with his statement about Muslims. During a convocation speech on December 4th, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. made controversial comments about the Muslims and the San Bernardino shooting, according to the Washington Post. In an excerpt of his speech captured by CNN, Falwell argued that if more people were armed, they could "end those Muslims before they walk in and kill."
"It just blows my mind when I see the president of the United States say that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control. I mean, if the people--if some of those people in that community center had had what I got in my back pocket right now. Is it illegal to pull it out? I don't know. Anyway.Falwell's claim that an armed populace could stop terrorists, while facile and naive, was not what offended me. What disturbed me is Falwell's reference to "those Muslims", which could be construed as Falwell lumping law-abiding Muslims into the same category as the San Bernardino shooters. Why did he feel compelled to slam "those Muslims", rather than "those terrorists" or "those murderers"?
I’ve always thought if more good people had conceal-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill. I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course, and let's teach 'em a lesson if they ever show up here."
Falwell soon came under fire from political leaders. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called his comments "deplorable" and "hateful" during an appearance on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe warned that his "reckless" statements could jeopardize Virginia's business relationships, according to the Roanoke Times.
Some Christians denounced Falwell's comments. For example, in an open letter published in the Wheaton Record, Wheaton College student leaders condemned Falwell for his intolerance. (Hat tip to the Washington Post.)
"While these sorts of remarks epitomize the ever-growing fear and hostility directed toward Muslims, we as Evangelical Christians hold that Christ calls us not to react with religious oppression or violence—instead, we have the responsibility to live out fearless love in order to pursue unity. We, therefore, reject the ideology espoused by Chancellor Falwell in his recent remarks to the Liberty student body, and we invite you to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who share our human dignity."Liberty University student Moriah Wierschem expressed her displeasure in a commentary piece at Christianity Today. Wierschem was disappointed by Falwell's comments and the enthusiastic cheers he received from his audience.
"There are people at Liberty who believe carrying guns to protect ourselves against attack makes a statement about what our school stands for. As a Christian who values life in all circumstances, I simply cannot agree. The cheers in the stadium that morning contradict our claims to valuing every life on this earth. Applauding while someone speaks about killing anyone—even Islamic terrorists—is unacceptable when we believe that every life is valuable from the point of conception into eternity."Other Christians defended Falwell's controversial statements. Daniel Howell, a biology professor at Liberty University, defended Falwell's comments in a December 7th statement. Howell claimed that Falwell's comments were about self-defense, and that his critics misinterpreted scripture.
"A lot has been said this weekend about remarks Jerry Falwell Jr. made in Convocation Friday morning. Some authors have accused Christian leaders like Falwell of making proclamations appealing to religious authority but lacking biblical reflection. Christian antagonists often use Scriptural misinterpretations to lambast self-defense in general and gun ownership in particular. When unbelievers in his time tried to ensnare Jesus with his own teachings, Jesus replied, “You are mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” I believe the same can be said today of Christians and non-Christians alike who misuse Scripture to deride self (and national) defense.
Unbelievers and others lacking knowledge about the true character of God sometimes refer to Christ’s moniker as the Prince of Peace to conclude Christianity must be a wimpy, defenseless teaching. Of course, this is one of many titles for Jesus, another being the Lion of Judah. While Jesus was exceptionally mild and meek at his first coming, we are assured by Scripture that he will not be so at his second coming. He is described in Revelation 19 as the King of kings who leads the armies of heaven on a white horse and utterly destroys his enemies with the word of his mouth (visualized there as a sword). In a world littered with violence, the Prince of Peace knows that real tranquility is only obtained through strength."
During a later speech on campus, Jerry Falwell Jr. defended his statements. "Some of my comments were taken out of context. They only used part of my quote," he insisted at the 7:42 mark of this video. At the 6:11 mark, he claimed that Liberty University offered educations to the three children of a Christian convert who was killed in the San Bernardino rampage. The relevance of Liberty University's offer to Falwell's comments about Muslims escaped me.
"I want to give you an update on what's happened since Friday. You know, the context of my remarks was the vicious killing of the fourteen innocent people in San Bernardino, and I told you on Friday that we were actively reaching out to the first responders and to the families. [Director of Spiritual Programs] Dan Bolton reached ... them yesterday. It was a family with three children, ages ten, twelve, and fifteen, who had emigrated here from Iran. The mother was killed in the shooting, and the father took the call, and when he answered the phone, he said, 'I just can't believe that Liberty University is calling me, because all of our family have become Christians since we came to the United States.' ... He broke down in tears on the phone because he had been searching for years about how they were going to obtain a Christian college education for those three kids. So if that's the only reason all this press and everything that's happened this week happened, I think that's a wonderful thing. At least three of the victims' children will be sitting out here with you in not too many years."When WSLS 10 asked Falwell about his statements, he insisted that he was referring specifically to the San Bernardino shooters, but reminded the reporter that the shooters were motivated by Islam. "I just wish I'd said it louder," he told WSLS.
REPORTER: Why the word "Muslim" instead of the word, perhaps, "terrorist"?Second Amendment rights notwithstanding, a heavily armed populace (or campus) will not instantly stop terrorism, and neither will unthinking comments about the Muslim community. Preventing terrorist attacks will require nuanced thinking and realistic solutions. It will require us to develop more sophisticated prevention strategies than "everybody just go get a gun". It will require us to distinguish between law-abiding Muslims and Islamic extremists. I wish Falwell and his supporters understood this.
FALWELL: "Terrorist" would have been a good word to use too. I just was referring to those particular people, and they were motivated by their religion, so it was a relevant term for that particular event.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Talk to Action: Armed And Dangerous?: Falwell Suggests That LU Students Get Guns To Fend Off `Those Muslims'
Religion News Service: Who would Jesus shoot — and why?
The Atlantic: Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Troubling Remarks on Guns