Opinion

Jerry Falwell Jr.'s false gospel of memes

The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty promises to be a perversion of the gospel it claims to serve

If what you seek is a pseudo-Christian syncretism, a false gospel that supplements the work of Christ with pop nationalism, a catechism of tweets and iconography of memes — well, I've got just the thing for you.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and Turning Point USA (TPUSA) leader Charlie Kirk have a new project: The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, which takes as its aim "equip[ping] courageous champions to proclaim the Truth of Jesus Christ, to advance His Kingdom, and renew American ideals." Whatever it may achieve for American ideals, this endeavor won't proclaim a truth or advance a kingdom its founders demonstrably do not understand.

It is tempting to dismiss the whole thing as little more than a fundraising gimmick, a new coffer to collect cash from white evangelicals of Falwell's generation and older who are worried about their own bank accounts and their grandchildren's souls and dazzled by the reach of Kirk's large online following.

Falkirk is almost certainly that. But it is also a pernicious perversion of the gospel it claims to serve. It mulches the cross and glues it into something nearly unrecognizable, a flimsy particle board politics that can never bear the weight of the deepest human needs it purports to meet. The center's literal name, fittingly, is "fall church," and it offers a shoddy excuse for good news.

Falkirk does not yet appear to have an independent website, so the available specifics of its intended work are few. So far it seems the center's primary product will be argumentative posts on the internet: "The center will use an aggressive social media campaign," the Washington Examiner reports, "to push back against what Kirk described as the Left's effort to ‘try to convert young Christians into socialism.'" A press release announces Falkirk will operate on "all public forums and across all media platforms," and on OANN Falwell touted Kirk's network of "influencers with millions of social media followers that really will be able to get the message out."

So we're probably looking at tweets and memes, interviews with friendly television networks like OANN and Fox News, and perhaps some intentionally provocative events on left-leaning college campuses like Berkeley. This is indistinct from what Kirk already does, albeit with an extra dash of Jesus; the news and campus appearances are a favorite TPUSA tactic, engineered to produce viral video moments to feed the tweets and memes.

I am also not a socialist — in fact, I have criticized the Trump administration, which Falwell and Kirk passionately support, for being too close to socialism — and I'll leave the strictly political content of Falkirk's project to another day. But I must note Jesus did not come to defeat socialism, and to thus frame the mission of Christ and his church is a cosmic exercise in missing the point.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Falkirk crew has done. "The church is a voluntary organization of citizens who are making a difference in their society," Falwell said in his OANN interview introducing Falkirk. No! This is a lie, and a devilish one at that.

The church is the whole congregation of God's people, rescued by God's mercy. In Jesus our old national identities and the hostility they engender are demolished and we are built into one new humanity. We are "fellow citizens with God's people" before we are citizens of any nation, and our calling of imitating Jesus and building the kingdom he inaugurated cannot be reduced to something so trivial as "making a difference" in service of any one political perspective. Jesus triumphed over sin, evil, and death itself. That is the gospel the church preaches, not Falkirk's pale admixture of Christ and the local civic paganism. By thus adding to the good news, we can only make it less.

A church which is merely "a voluntary organization of citizens who are making a difference in their society" is no church at all. It is a political party without use for Christ. The reality is "Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political program," as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity. "It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another."

This is not to say Christians' faith should not shape our politics, as Lewis promptly adds. Of course, it should (and, if it is actually Christianity providing this influence and not our own predilections trussed up in church clothes, we will probably find at least some of the implications very uncomfortable indeed). But it is to say that a project like Falkirk, which cloaks a very ordinary political agenda in "thus saith the Lord," is trafficking at best in a well-meaning error and at worst in hucksterous blasphemy. It makes Christianity a means to a far lower end. It announces a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.

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