Two days after the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings last week, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. called on students to arm themselves with concealed weapons and be prepared to use them. The occasion was the school’s regular Friday evening convocation on Dec. 4.
“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” Falwell said. The leader later clarified via Twitter that he referred to “Islamic terrorists,” not all Muslims.
Fallwell urged students to take free classes provided by the university’s police department to obtain a concealed weapon permit, The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va., reported.
“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” he said.
According to the school’s website, Liberty University is a private institution with about 14,500 students taking courses on campus and another 95,000 enrolled online. Founded by fundamentalist pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., the university obviously influences thousands and thousands of impressionable students and a lot of other people, including church and denominational leaders.
Falwell is free to say whatever he wants and to urge students to do whatever he says, so long as it is lawful. But his remarks lacked wisdom; they were downright careless.
From a distance, it appears that the leader took advantage of the tragedy in San Bernardino to “lather up” students and supporters in opposition to Muslims in America and followers of Islam in general with potentially deadly consequences.
Considering the subject, the content of his convocation message should have been carefully planned with the wording as precise as it could be. To tweet later that what he really meant when he said “Muslims” was “Islamic terrorists” suggests that he is not just careless in his characterizations but that he personally sees little difference between Muslims in general and Islamic terrorists in particular.
Like his late father on occasion, Falwell has made a splash with careless statements that may wind up coming back to haunt him, students and the university in tragic ways. Surely a large number of parents of current Liberty students are alarmed at the thought that their children will be buying handguns and toting them to class and elsewhere, ready to use them — just as the president urged them.
What was the university president thinking?
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.