I first attended Liberty in 2015. I started the year unsure about what I wanted to study and tried a little of everything before settling down as a graphic design major.
I experienced the initial awe like all freshmen not because I wanted to, but because it was just that hard to ignore. I showed my school pride at the American football games, yelled support for those who bravely signed up for open mic, and of course laughed with everyone during the coffeehouse events. Ultimately, Liberty University became home, and I had family away from family. Everything could have been great, and I could have graduated with a sense of yearning for more years like my peers, but sadly it just didn’t work that way and we all know why.
Jerry Falwell Jr. at first seemed like the funny uncle who made awkward jokes and only showed up to special life events. He had no direct impact on my life because my success really had nothing to do with him at all. I’m sure in my first and second year he had no idea who I was because those were the years I didn’t really care. But then he started talking and man did Jerry Jr. really start talking. I vividly remember being unimaginably angry watching a convocation announcement about helping refugees. I remember looking around and seeing people wearing MAGA hats clapping in support of something that in reality they fight against. My friends, professors, and even relatives have shown support for the president who has a certain way of seeing refugees as lesser. Eventually it became too much.
My third and last year was a lot more of a vocal one. Twitter is a double edged sword and where there is good there is also bad. Calling out racist and anti-biblical rhetoric bullshit has been a slowly growing unhealthy hobby of mine. I’ve had discussion with people on twitter (and facebook) about why the approach they have is toxic and 9/10 times they don’t get it.
That school year I was furious with how Jerry Jr. handled things and talked about people. I hated that the institution claimed to train “champions for Christ” because I'm 100% sure being a champion for Christ means respecting women and those we may strongly disagree with. Liberty became a political platform and Jerry Jr. knew that and I wish he didn’t because then it would’ve been a little easier to forgive. But no matter what, his words hurt.
I hurt for the black students who had to sit and watch the school president very vocally support racists by allowing them to come on stage and "pour" into thousands of students. I hurt for the Latinx community that felt afraid to engage with the white community. I hurt so much for the closeted LGBTQ+ community that had to walk a certain to make sure they looked straight or speak in ways that helped them fit into the crowd. I hurt for those who loved the Liberty community and saw the hypocrisy, only to be told by mentors to be silent and obedient to authority.
We hurt and so we said said things, but it felt like we didn’t matter. To Jerry Jr. we were just a few dollar signs - replaceable, temporary, nothing.
Everything for me peaked when the Red Letter Christians came. My anger, hurt, and cynicsm fueled my involvement with the RLC and I poured a lot of my time and energy to make sure that this would be a blow to Liberty’s reputation. The blow wasn’t the strongest, but I think some of the students realized that things weren’t right in the way Jerry Jr. approached anyone who wanted to pray for revival, especially if they weren’t a Trump supporter.
Fast-forward to post grad days spent scrolling through Instagram stories of friends moving back to dorms and preparing for the new school year. Feels weird not heading back, I feel healthier, but also sad that this sort of spiritual war continues to plague Liberty and all of its branches. Being away has cleared my mind, but I’m never truly away thanks to social media. Jerry Jr. still breathes on twitter and truthfully, I think I’ve come to the point where I’m ready to let it go.
I’ve grown tired of praying for peace and strength every time I read his tweets or come across someone who just cannot understand why people like him hurt people like me. I’ve grown tired of losing friends because the fact that I like guys somehow makes me lesser. I’ve grown restless and tired making sure my friends are protected and safe from the encouraged hatred.
I’m tired of whispering. I’m tired of waiting for something that is probably never going to happen and because of that I forgive Jerry Jr.
I forgive him even though he chooses to not see how much hurt he has caused. I forgive him for indirectly telling me that I am sick and that the work that I have been doing and hope to continue doing is for nothing. I forgive him for berating women and people of colour and for judging them because of one thing that they could have or couldn’t have controlled. I forgive him when he feels comfort in the fact that immigrants are locked up. I forgive him when he fires people who disagree with him and I especially forgive him for not even thinking twice.
I forgive him because I know he will not ask for forgiveness and I cannot keep waiting and being angry. I do this because I hope others do too so they can lift their heads up and see that fighting and feeling requires energy and time that we have so little of.
Let anger fuel our decisions but not guide them.
Take a break. Breathe. Forgive.