A progressive Christian author and activist who asked to pray with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. while visiting Lynchburg, Va., for this weekend’s “Red Letter Revival” got an answer – set foot on campus, and you will go to jail.
Shane Claiborne, co-founder of Red Letter Christians, said on Facebook April 5 that two weeks ago he wrote Falwell with “a sincere request to pray with us at the Lynchburg Revival this weekend.”
“I already pray for you, but I would like to pray with you,” Claiborne said in the letter. “I also would like to ask your permission to bring some people from the revival onto campus April 7.”
“What we have in mind is not a protest but an on-campus prayer vigil in the afternoon,” Claiborne said. “Would you join us? If you can’t join us, would you give us permission to come to campus and pray our country, our leaders, for you, and for Liberty University?”
Claiborne posted a letter dated April 4 from the Liberty University Police Department serving notice “that you have been restricted from all properties owned and controlled by Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church.”
“Should you choose to violate this restriction, you will be arrested for trespassing,” warned police Col. Richard D. Hinkley. The officer further advised that trespassing is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and fines not more than $2,500, or both.
Claiborne said he would take the evening to pray and consider “a faithful response” before making a decision about the prayer vigil scheduled 1-3 p.m. on Saturday.
“I was very clear that what we have in mind is a prayer vigil not a protest — no signs, megaphones, banners or chants — just Bibles and candles,” Claiborne said. “We had even hoped to do a communion service, inviting folks who disagree politically to come to the table together.”
Planners say the Red Letter Revival is a counter argument to white Christian nationalism, the driving force behind evangelical support for President Donald Trump. Liberty’s president, the son of Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, is a leading evangelical apologist for Trump’s policies.
“In word, worship and witness, this ‘revival of Jesus and Justice’ will stand in stark contrast to the distorted Christian nationalism that many white evangelical leaders have become known for,” a Red Letter Christians leader said in a statement reported in February by Religion News Service. “It is a gathering for people of faith or no faith who are curious about Jesus and troubled by the state of evangelicalism in America.”
“It’s time for a Christianity that looks like Jesus again,” says a promotional introduction of the revival on the Red Letter Christians website. “It’s time for gospel preaching and prophetic witness. It’s time to return to the things Jesus said. It’s revival time!”
Claiborne told RNS he has heard Liberty students say they want their school “to be known for its love for Jesus (rather) than its love for Trump.” Claiborne said the group chose Lynchburg as a location not “to vilify Jerry Falwell” but “to lift up Jesus.”
“That itself is the critique of toxic evangelicalism,” he said.
It isn’t the first time Liberty University has barred an evangelical critical of Falwell and Trump from campus.
Jonathan Martin, a graduate of Gardner-Webb University and currently teaching pastor at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa, Okla., says he went to Liberty last October to attend a concert and pray with a handful of students the next morning.
After the concert, police escorted Martin outside, took his picture and told him he was barred from the campus for life. Liberty officials called it a security precaution and said the planned prayer gathering would require a permit.