Up In Flames

Michael Metzger

I was going to comment on the Jerry Falwell Jr. scandal but then I read Kaitlyn Schiess’ piece in the New York Times. She says it better.

This past week, allegations of a series of scandals rocked the evangelical faith community. Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University, resigned amidst allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. He claims he’s done nothing wrong (while collecting a +$10,000,000 payout).

This should grieve us. Liberty’s men’s sports are the Flames, so it’s tragically ironic to see this as another instance of American Christianity going up in flames. The problem is a faith tradition formed on this side of C. S. Lewis’ Great Divide – one that focuses on the brain over the body.

I’ve written about this over the last seven weeks. I was going to connect Falwell to the inefficacy of Think right, act right. I was going to note how evangelicals on this side of the Great Divide falsely believe that if we know the right information, we will act rightly.

Then I read Kaitlyn Schiess’ op-ed piece in the New York Times. Schiess, a recent graduate of Liberty, says the root of the problem at Liberty is its approach to education. Think right, act right. She says better what I was going to say. Read her column. Or at least read these excerpts.

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There is a long history in Christian education that focuses on the formation of the affections, alongside the training of the intellect. This reflects one of the religion’s foremost insights about human nature. Augustine famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” That is, humans navigate our way through the world via the things we love – the stories about the world that captivate us, the desires that motivate us, the material or spiritual goods that attract us – and we need guidance to make sure that the things we love are ordered beneath our ultimate love of God. Christians have often described sin as misdirected love – loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.

Christian education, then, has historically focused not merely on delivering the right information, but also on giving students the tools – music, prayer, storytelling – to shape our loves. Yet evangelicals – and Liberty, in particular – have often neglected this focus, falsely believing that if we know the right information, we will act rightly. What we’re seeing in Mr. Falwell now are the consequences of that neglect. How does a man who knows all the right answers come to do so much wrong? By underestimating the power of the loves in our lives – in this case, political power – to shape our actions and alter our moral commitments.

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Kaitlyn Schiess reflects a view of Christianity and education on the far side of the Great Divide, before 1816. Educators on this side can have a lot of good content (I’m sure Liberty does) but Schiess writes that “our hearts were being trained to love wrongly.” She’s right.

The good news is that Scheiss has not left the faith. She’s not become a religious “none” and or exile. She’s being undeceived. That’s healthy, as the repudiation of our idols is “the beginning of being undeceived.”[1] Pray that Falwell follows suit. Pray that we evangelicals follow suit.

 

[1] Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Simon & Schuster, 1993), 403.

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5 thoughts on “Up In Flames”

  1. She’s spot on. .. heart (affections) rule. The education “system” has bought into the ‘left brain” only paradigms. The Church has bought it, too. That is ironically an amazing denial of scripture.

  2. Michael Metzger

    I agree Kathrine. And to think that Jerrry Fallwell, Jr.’s stated aim at Liberty was to make it “the Notre Dame of evangelicalism.” Doesn’t seem he knows much about Catholicism’s approach to education.

  3. I admit I am brain over body kind of Christian. I search for a nugget of truth that would draw me closer to God and His love. I feel uncomfortable with giving my emotions control in my relationship with God. I hate the idea of losing control like some “Holy Roller”. I have been reading more C.S. Lewis writings in order to find a better balance.

  4. Thanks for highlighting the most salient points of Ms. Schiess’s essay. Especially meaningful to me was that she is being given a forum even while not becoming one of the “nones” or “former believers” that are more often given the stage. Kudos to her and to you for giving us this opportunity to see her words.

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