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Give me Liberty and give me death

NOTE: This is an opinion piece. I realize not everyone will agree with me, and some may harbor completely different opinions. That's fine. I definitely respect everyone's perspective on this matter.

Patrick Henry's alleged words before the Second Virginia Conference in 1775 have been immortalized in the canon of American culture: "Give me liberty, or give me death." Obviously, Henry's intent was to catalyze dissent against British rule and to advocate liberty under a new form of colonial government--one far more representative of the people. His claim was simple, yet profound. He preferred death to continued tyranny under the British crown. Indeed, anything short of absolute freedom from oppression--whether individual, political, or religious--was unacceptable to Henry.

Today, we stand in awe of the courage and resolve Henry and his compatriots mustered in order to stare the Lion in the eyes and not blink. We bask in the sunlight of modern-day political and social freedom in America. We thank the Lord that He graciously gifted us with birth or naturalization under the watchful gaze of Lady Liberty.

But all is not well in America. There exist among the amber waves of grain tufts of chaff with which we must grapple...clumps of oppression that all Americans should examine closely and, when their rotten wheat-heads are exposed, work to eliminate or, if possible, revitalize. To do otherwise is to risk choking out the healthy wheat and ruining the entire crop.

One such tuft exists within America's most notorious Christian institution of higher education: Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Founded as a Christian liberal-arts college in the early 1970s by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Liberty began of humble means and with generally pure motives. Although the university went through some troubling financial times in the 1980s and 1990s, and even though Rev. Falwell was by no means a perfect man, the institution thrived spiritually and idealistically under Rev. Falwell's leadership and until his untimely death in 2007. Through those years, many loyal followers dedicated their lives to Liberty's oft-quoted mantra: "Training Champions for Christ." And, indeed, such training occurred on an impressive scale. Rev. Falwell and his band of countercultural evangelicals (i.e., faculty, staff, students, parents, patrons, and other supporters) went forth to fulfill the Great Commission with the greatest of zeal. For this wonderful Kingdom work, Liberty should be applauded.

And much of that work continues in the classrooms of Liberty University today. I know firsthand the high-caliber character of the faculty there. I once led a portion of them as an associate dean and dean. They are dedicated, loyal, intelligent, diverse, and Christ-centered. They come from around the world, hail from some of the finest institutions of higher education in America, and teach with conviction that is second to none. I am proud to have once called these fine men and women of faith and learning my colleagues.

I'm not proud, however, of those who form the executive core of the university, principal of whom is Mr. Jerry Falwell, Jr., Rev. Falwell's eldest son and successor. If the countless news stories over this past year are true, then any reasonable person would conclude that Liberty's upper-administration is hemorrhaging both morally and ethically, and Jerry Jr. is holding the bloody knife. From accusations of sexual scandal to questionable financial dealings to political corruption, Jerry Jr. has found himself enveloped in the heavy smoke of controversy. And as everyone knows, when smoke begins to billow, there is definitely fire that could lead to innocent loss of life.

Which brings us back to the faculty. The culture of fear that exists at Liberty is palpable. As several articles have already reported, faculty members and lower-level administrators are hesitant to voice concerns or "make waves" for fear of losing their jobs or having their reputations smeared. This, of course, negatively impacts academic freedom...that coveted "liberty" that all academicians should possess in the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and critical thought. At Liberty University, academic freedom is a phrase used only notionally to fulfill accrediting requirements or as a politically correct sound bite. Anyone who works at Liberty knows that true academic freedom is seen as a threat by upper administrators and is discouraged in many unspoken--yet very clear--ways.

The result is a faculty that is oppressed...a faculty that cannot reach its highest potential in terms of emotional well-being, professionalism, or scholarship...a faculty that exists under a burdensome cloud of discontent and uncertainty...a faculty riddled with fear. In this environment, there is a stench of spiritual death in the air...a smell I remember quite well...a smell that would probably motivate a modern-day radical like Patrick Henry to make a similar declaration to the one popularized in 1775. This new declaration, however, would replace or with the more appropriate coordinating conjunction and as well as make liberty a proper noun: "Give me Liberty, and give me death." That is to say, it would replace an iconic call for freedom with a genuine cry for help.

NOTE: This is an opinion piece. I realize not everyone will agree with me, and some may harbor completely different opinions. That's fine. I definitely respect everyone's perspective on this matter.

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