Thirty-five black alumni of Liberty University are calling for university President Jerry Falwell Jr. to resign, following Falwell’s tweet last week picturing a mask with someone in a KKK costume and another person in blackface.
Falwell’s tweet mocked Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who had issued an order last week that masks must be worn in public buildings and businesses. The picture on the mask was from Northam’s medical yearbook page and was so offensive that it sparked a major controversy last year, nearly forcing Northam to resign.
In a letter posted as a petition to change.org, the alumni wrote that they have been “deeply grieved by (Falwell’s) incendiary rhetoric over the past several years. . . . While your tweet may have been in-jest about Virginia’s Governor, it made light of our nation’s painful history of slavery and racism.”
I was adamantly opposed to the mandate from @GovernorVA requiring citizens to wear face masks until I decided to design my own. If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!#VEXIT#EndLockdownNow pic.twitter.com/twu7r4rWhd
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) May 27, 2020
The leaders added that Fallwell’s tweet was a “microcosm” of Falwell’s divisive rhetoric over the past several years and does not display the “Christian witness that the Gospel demands of us,” nor the “Christlike leadership that Liberty University deserves.”
“You have belittled staff, students and parents, you have defended inappropriate behaviors of politicians, encouraged violence, and disrespected people of other faiths,” they wrote.
The alumni called on Falwell to delete his tweet and publicly apologize. They also urged Falwell, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, to “leave the position of school president and pursue politics full-time.”
They added that because of Falwell’s “callous rhetoric,” they will no longer donate to Liberty or encourage students to attend the university. They also said they will “actively encourage” Christian leaders to decline invitations to speak at Liberty.
“You have belittled staff, students and parents, you have defended inappropriate behaviors of politicians, encouraged violence, and disrespected people of other faiths.”
The main signatories of the letter were pastors Eric Carroll of Ascension Church RVA and Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church. Pastor Williamson’s wife, Dorena Williamson, who also signed the letter, is the daughter of the vice chairman of Liberty’s board of trustees, pastor Allen McFarland.
Other notable signatories include Latasha Morrison, an alumna who founded the racial reconciliation network called Be the Bridge, pro football player Walt Aikens, and former pro football player Eric Green.
The petition comes after Dr. Christopher House, a black pastor who’s also an online instructor for Liberty, resigned in protest to Falwell’s “blackface” tweet. “These actions are inexcusable and abhorrent,” House wrote in a letter posted to Facebook. “I cannot remain part of an institution whose senior leader would engage in such actions at any time, but then to have the unmitigated gall to do so at a time when black communities are once again grieving over recent incidents of racial violence.”
I reached out to Liberty for comment, but the school did not respond. However, last night, Falwell was defiant.
He tweeted that he would not apologize for his controversial tweet because Northam had “ended tuition assistance grants for the 27% of @LibertyU online students who are African-American.”
People have asked why I won’t apologize for reminding people of the @vagovernor racist past in a recent tweet. It’s because that same Gov just ended tuition assistance grants for the 27% of @LibertyU online students who are African-American! Put your$ where your mouth is Gov. Sad
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) June 1, 2020
In March, the Virginia General Assembly passed a 2021-2022 budget that eliminates a tuition assistance grant for online students at private colleges.
As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, the petition calling for Falwell’s resignation had nearly 3,000 signatures.
The alumni who signed the petition said that even if Falwell decides to remain, they are willing to “provide counsel” on ways Liberty can “best move forward in these racially-charged and divisive times.”
“Our ultimate goal is for Jesus to be glorified in all that we say and do. We pray that is your desire as well.”