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Liberty University carries on the passion of its founder by supporting Israel
Inscribed into stone above the world’s greatest Holocaust memorial are the Hebrew words “yad vashem.” Literally translated, the phrase reads “a place and a name.” Taken from the Lord’s promise to his people in Isaiah 56:5, these words stand as a testament to the endurance of the nation of Israel.
In its 66 years of independence, the nation of Israel has faced recurring threats of elimination. Since becoming autonomous May 15, 1948, the small country — which is home to 8 million people — has faced attacks and threats from surrounding Arab nations intent on eradicating the Israeli people.
Despite the improbability of the young nation’s survival, the country of Israel has been sustained through each declaration of war.
According to Duke Westover, lifelong friend and former executive assistant to the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, the survival of the Israeli nation is without a doubt due to the providence of God. As outlined in the Abrahamic Covenant — God’s Old Testament promise to protect his chosen people — those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse Israel will be cursed.
“Jerry took that seriously,” Westover said, describing the Abrahamic Covenant.
It was a sincere belief in the covenant that led Falwell to support a country surrounded by Arab enemies. According to Westover, Falwell’s influence among Israeli leadership helped foster good will between Christians and the Jewish people who have historically struggled with the coexistence of religions in their land.
“You go to Israel right now … and the people say the evangelical Christians in America are the only friends they have in the world,” Westover said. “In my opinion, that started with Jerry Falwell.”
Excelling at using the media to amplify his message, Falwell first gained notoriety from his 1956 television show “The Old Time Gospel Hour,” which was broadcast from Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. As his influence grew and he began presenting his views on current events, Falwell became a regular guest on radio and television news networks.
Falwell went on to create the Moral Majority in 1979, an organization that existed to promote four principle beliefs — pro-life, pro-family, pro-national defense and pro-Israel, in addition to several other Judeo-Christian issues.
Despite Falwell’s many appearances in the media, becoming a media personality was never his primary goal. According to Ed Hindson, dean of Liberty’s School of Religion and an advisor to Falwell, it was Falwell’s passions which prompted the widespread media attention.
“Jerry was bigger than life,” Hindson said. “Jerry was a dynamic, powerful leader, period, let alone a pastor. He had great theological concerns that motivated his message, which he expressed through the media. In other words, he wasn’t just trying to be a media personality. He was really trying to say, ‘I’m concerned about abortion and homosexuality, and I’m concerned about Israel, and I’m concerned about the future of America.’”
Falwell developed a unique rapport with international leaders such as former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. His personal relationships with world leaders allowed him to simultaneously support the cause of both Israel and Christianity. His support of Israel was so extensive that in 1980, Begin presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Centennial Medal for friendship to Israel.
“Jerry was a major figure on the world stage,” Westover said. “It’s hard for the people in Lynchburg who knew him as old Jerry to understand the influence that Jerry had on the world.”
Although Falwell died in 2007, and the Moral Majority no longer exists, the concept behind their work is still evident throughout the world.
Johnnie Moore, senior vice president for communications at Liberty, is one of several people in the Liberty administration who is still stressing the need for Christians to be politically active rather than shying away from divisive issues that tend to foster avoidance among the Christian population.
“Christians have to be first concerned about their Christianity — their own heart and the church,” Moore said. “But I believe that Christianity is holistic. It has public policy implications, and Christians that are avoidant of politics are either naïve or they are uneducated when it comes to Jesus’ own political engagement.”
Upholding the tradition of Christian involvement within the political arena is a chief goal of Liberty. In this way, Liberty operates under a belief often demonstrated by Falwell: Christianity and politics are not mutually exclusive.
“I think that if you take your faith seriously, it is not going to be long before you run right up to politics,” Moore said. “And then you have a decision to make — you can shut your mouth and become a part of the problem, or you can open your mouth and become a part of the solution.”
Through Liberty departments such as the Center for Global Engagement and the Center for Judaic Studies, Liberty students and professors have traveled around the world in an effort to both engage new cultures and to spread the gospel message.
“I can’t tell you how many students here at Liberty who were previously uninformed about something that is very important either in history or in the present can (now) talk competently about it,” Moore said, referring to students who have traveled abroad. “They are personal advocates for it, and I believe the world will be better because of it.”
Although Liberty students are provided with the opportunity to travel all over the world, Falwell, Westover, Hindson and Moore agreed that a trip to the country Falwell once called “the most important piece of real estate in the world” is unique in the fact that it will change the way Christians both perceive and practice their faith.
Falwell wrote in the book “Jerry Falwell and the Jews,” a book by Jewish author Merrill Simon intended to clarify Falwell’s views on Jewry, that he believed every Christian should set a goal of traveling to Israel at least once.
This sentiment is one that Westover not only agrees with, but also personally promotes. In the years since meeting Falwell, Westover has traveled to Israel 75 times, leading tour groups of both students and outside interested parties.
“I like to tell people that before you go to Israel, you read the Bible in black and white,” Westover said. “But while you’re there and afterwards, you read it in living color.”
Liberty sponsors yearly trips to various locations around the world. This year, 20 teams will travel the globe, and students will be provided with the opportunity to travel to Israel on three separate occasions through three separate departments: Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, the Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Global Engagement.
“We want our students to be able to study the land of the Bible in the land of the Bible,” Hindson said.
As Liberty continues to follow in the footsteps of its founder, Israel remains a topic of interest on both the spiritual and the political level. Though the region may be one plagued by conflict and perpetual political tension, both the history and future prophecy of the nation of Israel remain rooted in the Biblical promise of Isaiah 56:5 — the people of Israel will receive “an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”