On Monday night, Liberty University campus police barged into the green room for a Johnnyswim concert and escorted Christian author Jonathan Martin off campus. They told him never to return, or he would be arrested for trespassing.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the current president of Liberty, emphatically endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 primary and has proudly stood by him since. In May, Falwell called Trump a “dream president” for evangelicals. Last month, Falwell endorsed Steve Bannon and pledged to help him oust “fake Republicans.”
Martin, by contrast, has previously written against Trump, and lamented Falwell’s endorsement of Bannon. The author was on campus for the Johnnyswim concert, and his presence was not a secret. Last Friday, he tweeted, “I feel led to organize a time of praise & peaceful protest at one of the most hostile environments for the gospel in the US: Liberty U.”
I feel led to organize a time of praise & peaceful protest at one of the most hostile environments for the gospel in the US: @LibertyU.
— Jonathan Martin (@theboyonthebike) October 27, 2017
Martin referred to Liberty as “ground zero for the counterfeit faith that is sweeping many evangelical churches right now.” He did insist, however, that his meeting would focus on prayer. He said “it will be humble, joyful, respectful, but strong & clear, & there will be zero hatred on display toward anyone. No one will be mocked.”
Given this announcement, Falwell or Liberty staff could have asked Johnnyswim not to bring Martin. Instead, officials sent force after Martin had already arrived.
“Tonight after a beautiful show, I was standing in the green room talking to Johnnyswim when Liberty University police department came & escorted me off campus (with 3 armed police officers, & I think 2 additional officers not in uniform,” Martin posted on Instagram. He added, ” They served me papers & took my picture. I was told that I was never to return to Liberty University’s campus, that if I did I was subject … to immediate arrest.”
More details from us later. But here’s the story from our guest who was escorted out of our dressing room & of campus by 5 armed officers pic.twitter.com/wArbLG2uQt
— JOHNNYSWIM (@JOHNNYSWIM) October 31, 2017
The author insisted that he was only at Liberty to sing with the band and to lead a prayer group on Tuesday morning. “We were gathering to ask for divine guidance as to what faithful, humble, yet clear resistance might look like,” Martin added. “What does it mean for a college administration to be this afraid of free speech? What precisely do they fear?”
“This confirms everything I’ve heard about the authoritarianism of Falwell,” the author quipped.
In a statement to The Atlantic, Falwell denied attempting to silence Martin, insisting the forced removal was all about safety. “Mr. Martin is not a student, faculty member, or employee,” and those outside of the Liberty community are required to organize events according to “facility use protocols,” which Martin did not follow, Fallwell argued.
“It may be possible that Jonathan Martin knew his unauthorized event would ultimately not be permitted to occur on the private property of Liberty University but he simply hoped to garner more attention to his cause by having his efforts stopped,” the Liberty president said. “The judgment was made that it was safer to stop the event before it started than to attempt to turn away an unknown number of people who traveled to Liberty’s campus.”
Amanda Ramirez, one of the lead singers of Johnnyswim, told her side of the story in a string of tweets.
“I was aware of how some faculty/staff felt about [Martin]’s tweets but assured them he was coming in peace as our guest,” Ramirez said. “They had no reason to worry. We were all enjoying each other’s company when the cops came. They didn’t issue a warning or even say they would prefer him not to meet students for prayer the next day. Their 1st recourse was a permanent ban from the campus and threatened arrest!”
Students for prayer the next day. Their 1st recourse was a permanent ban from the campus and threatened arrest!
— amanda grace (@amandasuramirez) November 1, 2017
Ramirez added, “They had all day to pass a message to us since he was our guest. I never experienced anything quite like it.”
Falwell’s support for Trump has cost him and the university support. Last May, one of the school’s longtime donors, Mark Demoss, resigned from Liberty’s board of trustees following Falwell’s endorsement of Trump. Last October, an editor at the college’s official newspaper alleged that Falwell killed an article criticizing Trump’s Access Hollywood comments.
In August, Falwell praised Trump’s remarks after the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville. More than 500 alumni responded by mailing back their diplomas.
After news of Martin’s removal from campus broke, Townhall’s Larry Provost attacked the author’s “Leftist Christianity.” Were Provost actually interested in Martin’s past, he might have discovered many things that would unsettle evangelical Protestants. Martin attacked the timing of the Nashville Statement, and suggested the leaders behind it struggle with racism and sexism. While he stopped short of endorsing the LGBT movement, he did not endorse traditional biblical sexual morality, either.
Rather than addressing this, Provost ground his axe mercilessly. “Martin, who preaches and has written books, has been against President Donald Trump for a long time. Apparently he would be happier if Crooked Hillary Clinton would have been elected President,” the Townhall writer declared.
“Where were you Martin when Crooked Hillary’s campaign mocked Catholics?” Provost asked. “Why aren’t you protesting leftism’s hatred for Christianity in our nation and leftism’s increasing intolerance towards Christianity’s parent, Judaism?”
Rather than revealing anything about Martin, the article reveals a great deal about Provost. Like Falwell, he seems to have gone “all in” on Trump. Any criticism of Trump translates into support for Clinton, which translates into hatred for Christianity.
None of this is necessary. It is possible for someone to criticize both Trump and Clinton. It is also logically consistent to condemn Clinton as a threat to traditional Christianity and lament the Trump hero worship that has infected many parts of the church — and arguably Liberty University.
Martin need not be a Democrat to notice Liberty has gone off the deep end. Many Christians might not consider it Falwell’s place, as head of the largest evangelical university in America, to partner with Steve Bannon in targeting “fake Republicans.”
Indeed, Falwell’s delay in attempting to remove Martin from the campus suggests Liberty’s president — not the anti-Trump author — was trying to make a statement. The message translates loud and clear: If you intend to criticize Trump, you are not welcome on the campus of America’s largest evangelical university.
After all, on Wednesday morning, Anthony Scaramucci (Trump’s 10-day communications director) preached at Liberty’s mandatory convocation.
Falwell has every right to remove Martin from campus, just as he would have had every right to ask Johnnyswim not to bring him along in the first place. Instead, he waited, and had Martin forcibly removed, and that sends a chilling message. Perhaps Martin is right that Falwell has a “counterfeit faith” in Trump. This event did nothing to disprove such a notion.