Evangelist Jonathan Martin's Crusade Against Jerry Falwell and Liberty University
It has been 11 days since evangelical speaker and writer Jonathan Martin posted his initial series of scathing Tweets about Liberty University. Since then, the former pastor’s self-described efforts to distinguish the culture of Liberty from the rest of the evangelical community have been met with a staunch defense from President Jerry Falwell.
Martin’s first series of tweets posted on Oct. 27 was highlighted by him publicizing his plans to organize a “peaceful protest at one of the most hostile environments for the gospel in the US: @LibertyU.”
He capped off the string of posts by attempting to persuade Liberty students, alumni and local Christian leaders to join him in his efforts to stand against the university.
“We will stand against the idolatry of nationalism & the politics of demonization in the name of Jesus Christ, & stand for the oppressed,” Martin tweeted. “Our goal will not be to antagonize, but see renewal & transformation, to see light pierce darkness. Our prayer will be to #liberateliberty.”
Martin later added on Twitter on the same day and again in an article published in the Atlantic on Nov. 1 that his actions against the university came as a direct response to Falwell’s support of Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News.
Falwell had commented on Bannon’s efforts to oust “fake Republicans” in Congress in an interview with Breitbart. In an article, published Oct. 25 on breitbart.com, Falwell encouraged evangelical voters everywhere to join Bannon’s fight against the establishment figures in the Republican party.
In a follow-up series of tweets Martin posted on Monday, Oct. 30 that he traveled to Lynchburg to attend the JOHNNYSWIM concert that took place that night at Liberty’s Concert Hall. He also posted plans to meet some of his “Liberty U friends” in front of the Jerry Falwell Library for prayer at 7 a.m. the next day.
It was because of the promotion of these unscheduled, publicized plans to meet on campus property without the university’s permission that justified his removal from campus grounds, according to an official statement from Liberty.
“There are facility use protocols for those who are not members of the university community to schedule events on the campus,” the statement said. “Those protocols take into account safety and security, as well as schedule conflicts and costs. Absent such pre-planning and authorization, an event promoted to the general public on social media has the potential to be a security risk.”
Martin was invited by JOHNNYSWIM into their green room following the concert. He was escorted out peacefully from there by officers from the Liberty University Police Department, given a restriction notice and told that he would be arrested if he came on campus property again.
Martin later posted a photo of the restriction notice on Twitter with black markings covering certain pieces of information, causing some to question why the university banned Martin and who gave the orders to remove him from campus.
“All Liberty University police officers are armed,” a comment from Liberty University’s official Facebook page, said. “The concert was open to the public and Mr. Martin had not yet been banned from campus. He was therefore allowed to attend the entire concert, was removed and banned from campus after the concert. Only Mr. Martin can say why he marked out the names of the officers who required his removal. Maybe he was hoping the public would think it was the school’s president or some other top official.”
Falwell told the Liberty Champion that Martin’s removal was not based on their differing political views and broader social media feud – on Twitter, Falwell stated on Twitter he “assume(s) Martin is a globalist,” whereas Martin responded on Twitter that he does not consider himself a globalist, but rather a “kingdom-of-God-ist.”
“My disagreement with this person’s political views had nothing to do with the decision to ban him from campus,” Falwell said. “If the NRA, the Republican party or a pro-life group tried to hold a demonstration on campus without permission, they would be banned as well. It is simply a matter of safety and avoiding the disruption of the educational experience of our students.”
Arguably the most prominent and most recent example of Liberty hosting a speaker who does not agree with the conservative presuppositions of Falwell include Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who spoke at Liberty’s Convocation in September 2015 in the midst of the presidential primary races.
Following the spread of Martin’s removal across news outlets such as NPR and the Washington Post, Falwell also published a second statement on Twitter, further clarifying the university’s reasoning for removing Martin from campus.
“Liberty University has a longstanding tradition of not allowing uninvited demonstrations or protests on campus,” Falwell’s statement said. “Liberty is a private institution and its campus is private property. Our students expect Liberty to protect them from unwelcome disruptions to their educational experience.”
Both Falwell and Martin have expressed their views through a variety of news sources and social media. The Religious News Service published side-by-side commentaries from Martin and Falwell, and Martin’s interview in the Atlantic was coupled by an article from the Christian magazine Sojourners in which Martin was interviewed.
In Falwell’s commentary published in the Religious News Service, he also quoted his wife, Becki Falwell, likening the rights of private property that Liberty benefits from as a private institution to those privacy rights one has in his or her own household.
“What if someone you had never met announced on social media that they were going to come into your living room, invite others, and have a ‘prayer meeting’ after stating publicly that your home is the most hostile environment to the gospel in the U.S.?” Becki Falwell said. “Wouldn’t you call the police and have the stranger removed from your home?”
Since his removal from campus, Martin has also continued to be vocal about his criticism of Liberty on Twitter. He has since posted that he knows people who would be interested in organizing an event at an off-campus location with permits, though he has not publicized any official plans to return to Lynchburg or attempt to host another similar event elsewhere.