Readers of this blog know that I rarely commit to loyalty. People and organizations who remain sincere and consistent in their principles and values are very rare. Readers have seen me severely criticize the law school I attended for its culture of hypocrisy. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I level similar criticism at the undergraduate institution I attended: Liberty University.
The Liberty Flames finds themselves back in the public spotlight for the wrong reasons. A ProPublica feature story purports to reveal systematic efforts by Liberty officials to discourage reports of rapes among its student body. It does not surprise me that amorous flames rage within the student body and that they spiral out of control at drunk parties. Such is the libidinal rage of young men and women whose emotional maturity hasn’t caught up to their physical age yet.
The stories featured in the ProPublica expose share common themes. Male and female students go to off-campus parties and consume copious amounts of alcohol. At some point, physical contact occurs. What happens next is usually disputed. The women level allegations of rape. The men presumably defend themselves by denying a sexual encounter or presumably arguing that they were led on or that it was consensual.
Liberty’s response is to inform both students that they could both be punished for violating the “Liberty Way” – the student code of conduct forbidding attendance at these parties and premarital sex. It also seems to engage in rigorous inquiries into the women’s ability to properly perceive events because of how drunk they were. More seriously, it allegedly discourages and even prevents women from filing rape reports – either with the school’s Title IX office or with law enforcement.
Nothing in the story surprises me. Liberty has always jealously guarded its public image as a squeaky clean Christian university. It does not surprise me in the slightest that it would value its image over the actual substance of what its students engage in. The end result is that it has created a mess that will take years to unravel in the courts.
My observations take several different courses.
First, I despise Liberty University for its lip-service morality. It has apparently had a serious problem on its hands for a long time. Instead of working to put a stop to it, Liberty has only cared about protecting its image as a leading Christian university. In doing so, it seems to have embraced the belief that, once you attended Liberty University, you have taken on the status of a confirmed Christian incapable of sinning.
Here’s a news flash. Church members sin. In fact, my personal calculus is to distrust church members more than people who are bold about being sinners. At least the confessed sinner is honest about being a sinner. A lying church member will stab you in the back while calling you his or her brother and expounding on “Christian love.”
As I said at a recent press conference when I called the pope’s views on the COVID-19 vaccine irrelevant, salvation and religion are individual responsibilities before God. The same logic applies to Liberty. While it can create rules and conditions for a Christ-like environment, those rules and conditions are irrelevant because people will choose to sin anyway.
Liberty lost the ability to call sin “sin” a long time ago, and it seems totally clueless on how to deal with it.
Second, I disagree with the ProPublica narrative that Liberty has systematically taken sides against women. It appears that Liberty punishes men and women equally for student code violations – e.g., attending booze-infested parties. It also appears that Liberty has conducted rigorous inquiries into women’s abilities to perceive what actually happened. These are all questions that should be asked in Title IX investigations.
Where Liberty has gone wrong is by elevating its image over its legal responsibilities. That’s not systematic hostility toward women. That’s a complete lack of competence – a common theme among Liberty University officials. Instead of finding the moral courage to admit sin in its ranks, Liberty tries to cover it up – not because it has a bias toward women, but because it looks bad for the school.
Liberty’s actions are despicable in that regard, but they do not support starting a gender war at the university.
Third, I think Liberty has taken on the character of the Biblical Pharisees. The “Liberty Way” imposes a myriad of rules that are designed more for appearances than actual morality. Adherence to those rules has become more important than encouraging an individual relationship with God where God inspires sanctified separation rather than a bunch of hypocrites compelling it. While teaching sanctified separation is important and a duty of any religious organization, compelling it defies reality.
In 2013, I entered Liberty University as an undergraduate student. I vigorously and immediately disclaimed any association with a religious denomination, sect, or group. I still do today. When people question me as to what I am, my response is simple: I am a Christian. When I am pressed further, I defy the obligation to associate with a denomination or group.
I have an individual responsibility to my Creator, not to a group’s rules. So does every other living human being. That’s why I can park myself on the front pew for Mass with no hesitation, walk into a synagogue, or attend any church service in America. I don’t live by man’s rules, but by God’s.
Liberty seems to attempt to compel salvation by adherence to its rules. In doing so, it sorely misses the truth of the Scripture.
The end result is yet another scandal and a horrible scandal that will leave a blacker mark on its public image than acknowledging sin in its midst.