For those that don’t know, I attended Liberty University for both undergrad and seminary. About ten days ago, the board of trustees at Liberty University requested Jerry Falwell, Jr take an indefinite leave of absence. The decisions the board has made since Jerry has been on leave have made it fairly obvious there will be no long term change in the leadership of the University. With that in mind, and knowing Jerry will likely be back in his role within the next few weeks or months, I wanted to write an open letter to him on what I hope he can do with the future of the school I love.

Dear Jerry,

I’m not going to start this letter listing all the recent mistakes you’ve made. We’ve all made mistakes and my hopes are this time away is giving you a new perspective on them.

I’m also not going to write you off and believe you’re too far gone, drunk on power and money and fame.

I believe that in part because the Jerry Falwell Jr I met in 2008 was a vastly different man than the one we’ve seen recently. When you invited my friends and me to your house to watch the Super Bowl, you weren’t the man you are today. I watched the Final Four that year on your gigantic theater screen and ate one of the best meals I’d ever had in my life that night. Did you know I’d never had a baked potato before that night but Becki made it and I didn’t want to be rude so I ate it like I’d been eating them for years. Come to find out – I really like baked potatoes.

Speaking of Becki – when I got dumped later that year, Becki listened to my whining as I tried to figure my life out. It might not have meant much to her, but I will never forget the kindness she showed me during what was truly the darkest point in my life.

And that time I flipped your four wheeler and busted up the rear quarter panel – I’m still sorry for that by the way – you didn’t get mad or make me pay to fix it which you had every right to do. Instead, you checked on me to make sure I was okay and wasn’t hurt. You even took the time a couple days later to go out of your way to make sure I was good.

So the guy who the national media has covered recently – and the one I’ve been very critical of – is not the guy I knew.

You probably don’t know this, but seven years ago I made some gigantic mistakes in my career. I got my feelings hurt and torpedoed some relationships, treating people really badly along the way.

Looking back, I’ve seen how the grace Jesus worked in huge ways to bring me through that time and I believe he can – and is willing to – do the exact same thing for you through this time away. It’ll take true repentance and turning from what you’ve been doing, but if Jesus can help someone like me make it through the mess I created, I know he can help you through yours too.

When you come back – whether that’s six weeks from now or six months – I have three requests of you:

Let the gospel unite us, not politics.

You recently said in a statement that “People who should be natural allies, and always were, have been divided in the last few decades.” You even blamed politicians for that division! While I agree with you on both of those things, your suggestion to fix it was more politics.

Politics will never unite us though. They never have and they never will. Even the disciples of Jesus were divided politically. Their unity came in the cause of Christ and following his teaching. They didn’t always agree on government, but they did agree on Jesus.

Our school has always been conservative – and it always will be! Your dad said to burn it down if it ever gets away from that.

You have the unique opportunity in front of you to unite us as people who are theologically conservative but politically diverse. You and I disagree on the role or government in many places. You even commented on my Facebook four years ago acknowledging some of those disagreements. But what we do agree on is the right to life, on God’s design for marriage, a literal interpretation of the Bible, and most tenets of the Gospel. Imagine if Liberty became a university where tens of thousands of students could unite around those ideas and then have the freedom to debate the best way to implement those beliefs into a modern society. We would attract the best of the best and could truly train champions for Christ to the fullest extent of that mission. It would be the ultimate fulfillment of our purpose as a school.

Use athletics as a vehicle, not as an idol.

I fully believe in your dad‘s idea of reaching young people through sports and music. Athletics are a huge part of my story. If it weren’t for Liberty Football, I never would’ve transferred to Liberty and who knows where my life would’ve been today without that decision. I worked for the football team while in undergrad and was a grad assistant for the athletic department in seminary. I started a student fan club to support our teams and led the student section at games. The reason you and I met was athletics.

Athletics are important.

But we have to make sure we don’t let the vehicle we use to reach people become the idol we worship.

In recent years, we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on athletics facilities and increasing budgets all the while slashing programs in the School of Divinity and eliminating the entire Philosophy department. We’ve lost some of our best professors while stretching others so thin they can’t make the impact on students’ lives like they could a decade ago.

I’m by no means trying to say we should spend equal amounts on each of those things, but what good is a first class athletics program to attract new students if the school we’re attracting them to is sub par?

We have the money. Let’s invest in the things that make us a world class Christian university in all facets, not just in athletics.

Value people over profits.

I get your main business attributes are as a lawyer and administrator. You’ve made tons of money both personally and for the university by being a shrewd businessman and making great business deals.

But we don’t change the world through great business deals.

We change the world through great people doing what Jesus has made them to do to the best of their abilities.

For people to do that, they can’t just be an employee ID number that can be replaced at any time by another person who will accept less pay.

We have to value our faculty and staff. We need to make Liberty the place the best and the brightest want to come to so we can train the next generation to be even better. To do this, there will have to be decisions made that don’t make the most business sense. It’ll take investing more in people and less in buildings. We will need to grow the endowment at a slower rate.

Here’s the kicker though:

We’ve got enough money already.

There’s never been a better time in the history of our school for us to turn inward and focus on our people. You brought us from the brink of bankruptcy in the 90s to the prosperity of today. You did that! Now let’s take the next step and use that prosperity to show the people who have sacrificed to get us here that we really do care about them.

You and I have our differences, and we’ll likely never see the world exactly the same.

What we can agree on is we want the best for Liberty University.

If you’re our leader for the foreseeable future, I hope you’ll take into consideration these three things:

Let the gospel unite us, not politics.

Use athletics as a vehicle, not as an idol.

Value people over profit.

I’ve prayed for you more over the last week than in the 12 years I’ve known you and I promise I’ll continue doing so. I trust Jesus is working in you, and I can’t wait to see who you’ll be when he’s done. My hope is we’ll be able to use this set back as a launching point for the greatest days Liberty will ever have.

Here upon this mountain; ever our song shall be:

Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.