Et Tu, Falwell? The Left's Playbook at Liberty U
Jerry Falwell, Jr. is one of Donald Trump's most vocal evangelical supporters. He did something foolish, posting a tasteless photo on Instagram. Now he will take an indefinite leave of absence from his presidency and chancellor's position at Liberty University. The original announcement by Liberty University has been taken down, but a screen shot exists on Twitter.
Controversy has mounted for over a year. On September 9, 2019, Politico published an article by gay Catholic writer Brandon Ambrosino, casting Falwell in a negative light. In the aftermath, many people, including Liberty deputies, noticed "'an attempted coup' that sought to unseat President Falwell and seize control of the school."
Ambrosino's friends include pro-gay Jesuit priest James Martin and bespectacled professor Karen Swallow Prior. Prior, a pro-LGBT feminist, claims sometimes to be a conservative Baptist. She roused thousands of Baptist women in the successful ouster of Paige Patterson two years ago. She also launched memorable salvos against Trump, Roy Moore, Eric Metaxas, and a Republican prayer breakfast attended by Falwell (her boss).
Earlier attempts to unseat Falwell failed. Finally came Falwell's kryptonite: a salacious photo of himself with unbuckled pants standing next to a woman who was not his wife. He struts on a yacht at a trailer park–themed party holding a dark-colored drink. Apparently, Falwell posted the pic on Instagram and then took it down. A screenshot fell in the hands of a man named Robert Downen. Downen tweeted the photo on Sunday, August 2. This set off the events leading to Falwell's suspension the following Friday.
The Left's "Cancel" Playbook for Christians
What looks like a case of "caught with his pants down" also looks like another setup by the anti-Trump Deep State. Let's break down the playbook. The best place to start is the "tweet heard round the world" from Robert Downen.
Who is Downen? A Houston Chronicle reporter. He made a name for himself by exposing abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. He also made my "Twenty Biggest Virtue Signalers of 2019" list. I gave him the #16 spot because his reportage kept sidestepping key scandals about the way the Convention dealt with sex abuse.
He somehow missed the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention sank the resolution on sex abuse and whistleblowers just as Downen's story on sex abuse in the SBC was hotly trending.
The killing of that resolution will allow untold numbers of abuse cases to stay covered up. The resolution was killed by the "woke" SBC resolutions committee appointed by [SBC president] JD Greear, not macho wildlife hunters tied to Paige Patterson. Downen also showed no interest in reporting on the new Southwestern firing a full professor for writing about same-sex sex abuse.
So Many Hit Jobs, So Few Backbones
I had watched many hit jobs against conservative figures: Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, Roy Moore, Paige Patterson, to name a few. In all these cases, leftists saw a right-wing enemy gaining traction. They "degraded" their target by discrediting him publicly and removing him from power. The playbook was so familiar that I tweeted out their step-by-step cancel method. See the whole thread below. (Please click on it and ask Twitter to show you the whole "thread.")
A quick guide to how cancel culture works. (From someone who's been to this rodeo many times.)— Bobby Lopez (@RLopezMission) July 16, 2020
It begins with a quest for power. Someone stands in your way because they make persuasive statements that you fear other people will take to heart. So what happens to Mr. Target?
Was the photo a dumb move on Falwell's part? Yes. Should he be removed from office? No. I've seen the conservative Christian world from corner to corner. Like all men, our leaders have feet of clay. They commit errors, sometimes unforced. The ones who don't leave traces are no better than the ones who do. Admonish, exhort, and move on. Don't turn your keys over to your enemies in a fit of indignant outrage.
Falwell's "indefinite" leave may result in a return to power, but that appears unlikely. More probable: he'll be succeeded by someone far worse.
Update: The "Acting President" Announced
Liberty University recently announced that the troublemaking Jerry Falwell, Jr. will take an indefinite leave of absence. Now, moving at nearly warp speed, the university has announced an "interim" president. As reported on CNN:
Chairman Dr. Jerry Prevo will now serve as acting president effective immediately, the university announced Monday. He has served on the Liberty University Board of Trustees since 1996 and has been the Board Chairman since 2003, and he recently retired as the Senior Pastor of Anchorage Baptist Temple in Anchorage, Alaska, after serving there for 47 years.
Liberty's press office filled its announcement with a lot of winsome verbiage. It sounded warm and conciliatory. For conservatives outraged over the photograph of Falwell's partial undress, this may sound comforting. It looks as though an experienced Alaskan pastor will calm the waters after a scandal.
Before you think this will have a happy ending for conservatives, consider history. In a similar shakeup at Southwestern Baptist Seminary two years ago, a colorful president got fired. A hurricane of snark and pompous outrage had leveled the school's morale. Amid the turmoil, Jeff Bingham was appointed interim president. Bingham was well liked and politically mild. He had come from Wheaton College. He worked on campus, and people knew him. After the firestorm that ousted Paige Patterson, he felt like a calming option.
But he was only an "interim" president. At Southwestern, this "interim" served to lull the campus into a false sense of security for eight months. Things seemed relatively calm while a "search committee" appointed by the Southwestern trustees worked quietly on finding the next president. Most of us thought Bingham would be picked and would stay as long-term president. We did not even think about the search committee.
Then the search committee announced their pick for president: Adam Greenway. He seemed to come out of nowhere. His assumption of the presidency in February 2019 began a reign of terror described at length here.
The Falwell scandal looks increasingly like part of a pattern. The pattern is stealth takeovers of conservative institutions by shadowy leftists through dissimulation, plotting, and Machiavellian stagecraft.
Takeover culture is more insidious than cancel culture
Unlike FDR liberals, today's leftists don't like to build. It's too much work. It's not even that they want to destroy, either. True demolition of the opposition would be twice the work. They would have to build their side up after destroying their opponents' infrastructure.
By infiltration, the left gets a double-jackpot. Right-wing institutions have assets, personnel, and money. Leftists steal valuable resources from the right to use for their own agenda. Their conservative enemies lose access to their own resources, leaving them with no supplies for their political battles.
"Takeovers" are a win-win for the left.
Subversion of the right's home base looks like general cancel culture, but with a twist. The left needs to preserve the operational integrity of the conservative institution. Leftists must hide how much they're changing its mission. They can't attack constituents who donate their time and money to it. Instead of arguing ideology, they use personal vendettas to smear an executive and create a leadership vacuum. That way, they can nonchalantly install leadership beholden to them.
To do this, they must mount a personal attack against a key leader: Mr. Target.
While the masses discuss the terrible things Mr. Target has done, key deputies are fired. Often non-disclosure agreements get signed in exchange for severance buyouts. Middle management and/or oversight boards are stealthily transformed. Such feints allow the cancelers to evade public scrutiny even as they loudly condemn such ill practices in others. Stephen Baskerville explains some of this process in New English Review.
New deputies come in under the radar and quietly purge strong conservative voices. Sudden hiring sprees or internal promotions shift power into the hands of (1) "down-low" woke people who feign outward conservatism or (2) skittish conservatives who won't speak out.
Such takeovers require startup money. Funds from corruptible sources like George Soros, Paul Singer, and the Koch Brothers poured into the right wing during the 2010s. The goal was usually to move staunch rightist groups toward:
(1) a leftward or libertarian position;
(2) a hybrid position consisting of staunch anti-socialism mixed with softened positions on social issues; or
(3) a mole/double-agent position, publicly supporting conservatism while secretly sabotaging it.
The election of Trump in 2016 gave anti-conservative funders added urgency. Liberal media like the New York Times realized that Trump's conservative Christian base had helped him win. The subversion tactics that were already in motion became accelerated.
Some takeovers are blatant, like the ones in Southern Baptist institutions. Discretion leaves others impossible to verify as takeovers.
Note a partial timeline of right-wing organizations that changed management since 2012:
- In 2012, Jim Daly assumed leadership of Focus on the Family, which had formerly been run by James Dobson.
- In 2013, Russell Moore took over the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Also rising in the ERLC was Joe Carter, who had ties as well to the Gospel Coalition.
- In 2013, Exodus International disbanded. Soon plans for "Revoice" took shape.
- In 2015, the Chuck Colson Center announced a new leader, John Stonestreet.
- In 2016, the NeverTrumps appeared.
- In 2017, Rod Dreher's Benedict Option counseled Christians to withdraw from politics.
- In 2017, Michael P. Farris became the new leader of the Alliance Defending Freedom. Farris is chancellor of Patrick Henry College, from which conservative author Stephen Baskerville vanished last year.
- In 2017, the Heritage Foundation "ousted" Jim DeMint as its leader. Half a year later, Kay Cole James replaced him.
- In 2017, upon Phyllis Schlafly's death, a battle broke out over who would lead the Eagle Forum.
- In 2017, the Museum of the Bible opened with a succession of leaders until settling on the current Harry Hargrave.
- In 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention shifted with the election of J.D. Greear as a president with ties to 9 Marks and Acts 29. Critics such as Tom Littleton say these groups gerrymander the Convention with politically progressive church plants.
- In 2019, Oliver North had to resign from the National Rifle Association after longtime leader Wayne LaPierre accused him of plotting an ouster based on threats amounting to blackmail.
- In 2020, Tom Littleton says the Singer-funded Alliance for Lasting Liberty launched, bringing into its orbit the Mormons; the Seventh Day Adventists; the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; and, it appears, the National Association of Evangelicals.
- In 2020, Janet Parshall resigned from the chairmanship of the National Religious Broadcasters, one year after Jerry Johnson resigned as president and CEO.
We would need multiple articles to detail similar shake-ups of pro-life groups, Catholic organizations, veterans' organizations, supposedly right-wing media, Tea Party groups, campus conservatism, and of course the entire GOP.
Because of non-disclosure agreements, "discretion," and general secrecy, we cannot know what all these changes entailed. Some might have been harmless, others malicious. What we can say with certainty is this: Christians have noticed all their trusted organizations becoming less stable and more liberal. They wonder why. It occurs piecemeal, one takeover at a time. Each institution has its particular constituency and requires a tailored overthrow.
The upheaval at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary serves as the classic example of the takeover pattern. In smaller doses and with minor timeline adjustments, we see this strategy across the right. The takeover artists have patience and endurance, things that conservatives often lack. The only way to reverse the trend is to become vocal, vigilant, and shrewd. And don't sleep.
Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at bobbylopez.me, on Twitter, or at his podcast, Big Brown Gadly.