(RNS) — Liberty University has declined to renew the contract for conservative activist Charlie Kirk at the think tank he founded along with Jerry Falwell Jr., the school’s disgraced former president. Kirk has also revealed that he will be pivoting to a new faith-rooted initiative.
Kirk, 27, founded the center with Falwell, then Liberty’s president, in November 2019. Though they described the organization as a think tank, the founders brought on fellows such as Sebastian Gorka, onetime aide to former President Donald Trump, and produced $50,000 worth of pro-Trump digital advertisements for the 2020 election that brought accusations of having “pushed the boundaries” of political activity for a nonprofit university.
Among the center’s other fellows is Eric Metaxas, a conservative Christian commentator who admitted to punching an anti-Trump protester last year and emceed a “Jericho March” in Washington after the 2020 election, at which speakers challenged Joe Biden’s victory based on disproven conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud. Another fellow, former Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, appeared on a Falkirk Center podcast episode in the days after the election titled “Is the Election Really Over?”
During Kirk’s tenure at the school, he challenged faith leaders of a more liberal bent to a debate focused on the question “Was Jesus a socialist?” But the debate never occurred: Invitees — including Poor People’s Campaign co-founder the Rev. William Barber II, who had already challenged Falwell to a debate — could not agree on a topic or date.
Kirk’s aspirations for the center, which its leaders once declared was intended to have “massive culture influence,” were likely complicated by Falwell’s resignation as Liberty’s president in August 2020 in the wake of several scandals.
The center also faced pushback from the student body. In December, a group calling itself Liberty United Against Falkirk published a petition signed by more 400 Liberty students and recent graduates insisting the school shut down the center.
According to the Times, Kirk’s departure does not signal the end of his engagement with overlaps of faith and politics. He is reportedly planning a church-based “field program” known as Turning Point Faith, presumably connected to Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization Kirk co-founded. The effort will seek out church leaders to participate in political actions ranging from the local to the national.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Gorka’s image no longer appears on the think tank’s website, and the page now showcases a banner that reads: “Standing for Freedom Center.”