December 9, 2015 : By Drew Menard - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
While many associate the holidays with joy, the reality for some Liberty University students is that looming family and relational drama, as well as the pressure of exams, can make the season feel overwhelming. So, for the last Convocation of the Fall 2015 semester on Wednesday, Vice Provost for Academic Administration Dr. Ben Gutierrez brought some Christmas cheer to the student body via a powerful message on Christology.
After expressing his love for the most wonderful time of the year, including Christmas music and movies (“the cheesier the better,” he said), Gutierrez asked the crowd to not take the beauty of the Christmas story for granted. He also reminded any who were struggling that they are surrounded by a loving God and a supportive community: “Liberty University is big, but Liberty University is a big family, and you have other people who will point you to God, too. And you can make it.”
Gutierrez used Scripture to illustrate a beautiful picture of the juxtaposition between Christ’s humanity and His deity — saying that even as He was entering the world through the birth canal as a man, Jesus was commanding the universe.
“There is not a moment that He is not sustaining you and holding the world,” he said. “There is not a moment when He does not hold the world together and hold your world together. There is not a circumstance too colossal or cataclysmic that could ever shake Jesus. There is nothing more cataclysmic than a part of the godhead wrapping Himself in flesh to die on a cross and rise again. He certainly, certainly can take care of you.”
Before the message, President Jerry Falwell, joined by Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser, clarified some of the comments he made last week that have garnered national media attention. He said he knew that the student body largely understood them as he intended, despite several media reports that took them out of context.
First he asked Nasser, a native of Iran who converted from Islam to Christianity at age 18, to share a bit of his story.
“What I remember about the Christians who led me to Christ was the fact that they had a towel in their hand — they served,” Nasser said, explaining that many from a local church would work at his father’s restaurant without pay, simply as an act of kindness.
“The reason I got to go to church the first time I was ever invited was because a bunch of believers loved my dad,” he said. “I think we are known for that at Liberty University. We are known for having the towel in our hand, you know that’s our greatest weapon for fighting the good fight — serving people. … I want to remind all of you that you served 600,000 hours of community service in this city. That is the greatest imprint we have. As an Iranian who came to Christ because of a bunch of Christians who served my family and me … that is ultimately what we are about here. I am proud of you because you go further than anyone I have ever seen in that attitude of service.”
Nasser also reminded the student body that their safety is always a primary concern. Liberty University’s Police Department (LUPD) maintains several uniformed and undercover officers at every Convocation, and security plans that are constantly evaluated are in place.
“Sometimes we do not give you the entire plan because we do not want to also give someone else the playbook,” he said.
Furthermore, Nasser said, he is thankful that though Liberty is large, it is a family. And a community like that looks out for one another, which is a strength in itself.
Falwell then thanked the student body for their support while some have sought to take his remarks out of context.
“You know the context of my remarks was the vicious killing of the 14 innocent people in San Bernardino,” Falwell said. “We know the two primary perpetrators of California were radicalized Islamic terrorists. You know my comments, and I really want to thank all of you. Some of my comments were taken out of context — they only used part of my quote in some of the news reports. The support and love and messages that I received from all of you meant the world to me, and I just want to thank you very much for that.”
He reminded the students that on Friday he had expressed how he was actively reaching out to the first responder and other victims.
Falwell said that yesterday he made contact with a man whose wife was slain in the shooting. The family had emigrated from Iran and has three children (ages 10, 12, and 15).
“When he answered the phone, he said, ‘I can’t believe that Liberty is calling me, because all of our family have become Christians since we came to the U.S.’ He broke down in tears on the phone because he had been searching for years about how they were going to obtain a Christian college education for those three kids. So if that’s the only reason that all of this has happened, then I think that’s a wonderful thing. At least three of the victims’ children will be sitting out here with you in not too many years, and we were so thrilled to hear about that.”
Falwell continued to clarify his comments from Friday:
“As the president of this university community of nearly 15,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, I take very seriously my responsibility to keep you safe in an increasingly dangerous world. That’s why in 2011 I asked our Board of Trustees to consider a concealed carry policy. It wasn’t because of Islamic terrorism, it was because what happened (just) up the road at Virginia Tech. More than 30 innocent students and faculty were murdered viciously and none of them had the ability to protect themselves. The day that happened, I thought we needed to do something different here at Liberty. We needed to have a way to protect our students, our faculty, so we instituted this free course in 2011. We were part of only a handful of schools in the United States that had taken that position at that time. Now many schools have followed suit. There are dozens and we have had 1,600 people take that course, 950 here now with concealed carry permits, and after I made those remarks on Friday we had 240 sign up for a course tomorrow night.
“I want to applaud you and thank you for taking steps to make our campus more safe. I recognize that not every one of you will (carry); it’s only for students 21 years and older.&
He added that Liberty has changed its policy, at the request of several students, to allow concealed carry permit holders to carry in residence halls, since they are a significant distance from many parking lots.
Falwell again emphasized how important campus safety is to the administration at Liberty.
“We’re working more and more closely with our campus police,” he said. “I just can’t help but think if … some of those 14 killed and 17 injured, if just one or two or three or four of those victims had carried permits and guns, maybe there only would have been three or four deaths. I don’t know who in this country could say that it was not a good thing if 10 lives were spared. It just boggles my mind that anybody would be against what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 22:36: He told them if they had to sell their coat to buy a sword to do it because He knew danger was coming, and He wanted them to defend themselves.
“So with those comments made, I just want to say as a Christian university community, we must trust God and pray for His protection on this campus, but we must also look out for each other and report suspicious activity and be alert. We just need to be supportive of those who choose to carry concealed permits and be supportive of those who don’t.”