It's midnight at Liberty University, and I’m kneeling on the floor of my dorm room, praying.
This is not a particularly unusual event. Any night of the week, a quick stroll through Liberty’s campus would reveal hundreds of students in the same position, making the same kind of divine appeal. At this school, we pray for everything: good grades, a winning football season, religious revival in America, chicken fingers in the dining hall. Our God is a workhorse God, and as the Bible instructs, we petition Him without ceasing. Put it this way: if prayers emitted light, you’d see us from space.
Our Chancellor, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, always tells us that prayer is the key to a productive Christian life. And, well, he should know. In 1971, Reverend Falwell felt God calling him to start a Christian college in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. He answered the call, and over the next thirty-six years, while organizing the Moral Majority, shepherding one of America’s largest mega-churches, and establishing himself as the father of the Religious Right, he found time to transform that Christian college into what it is today: the world’s largest evangelical university, a 10,000-student training ground for America’s conservative Christian youth. “Bible Boot Camp,” he calls it.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, but a fairly accurate one. Like a West Point drill sergeant, Reverend Falwell prides himself on discipline. His field manual, a 46-page code of conduct called “The Liberty Way,” governs every aspect of our lives and dispenses concrete punishments when we veer off-course. Such as:
- Possession and/or use of tobacco: 6 reprimands + $25 fine
- Improper personal contact (anything beyond hand-holding): 4 reprimands + $10 fine
- Attendance at, possession or viewing of, an R-rated movie: 12 reprimands + $50 fine
- Spending the night with a person of the opposite sex: 30 reprimands + $500 fine + 30 hours community service
Reverend Falwell envisioned Liberty as a Christian safe haven where young evangelicals could get a college education without being exposed to binge-drinking, pot-smoking, sexual experimentation, and all the other trappings of secular co-ed culture. His plan was to make it the evangelical equivalent of Notre Dame or Brigham Young, a university where every student would be trained in the liberal arts, fortified in the evangelical faith, and sent out into the world as a “Champion for Christ.”
The plan must have worked, because today, our school is still a bastion of sparkling Christian purity – sort of the anti-Animal House. On this campus, you’ll find girls who are saving their first kisses for marriage, guys whose knowledge of the female anatomy is limited to the parts you can show on basic cable, and students of both sexes who consider it a wild Friday night when their Bible study group serves Cheetos and Chex Mix.
Of course, you’ll also find Liberty students who aren’t so sheltered, who don’t walk around campus humming hymns and speaking in parables. Like any other religious community, Liberty has its fair share of nonconformists. A few Liberty students, in fact, choose to live relatively normal collegiate lives, even when it means violating The Liberty Way. That’s why I’m praying on the floor of my room tonight – because my friend Dave is in trouble.
It started last Friday afternoon, when Dave, a brawny, goateed shot-putter on Liberty’s track team, approached his friend Wayne with an idea.
“Let’s get out of here for the weekend,” he said.
Dave explained that one of his high school friends, a non-Christian girl named Jessie, had invited both of them to a special party at her secular college, three hours away from Lynchburg.
“A lingerie party,” he said. “Wayne, she invited us to a lingerie party. Like… a party… where the girls wear lingerie.”
Wayne chuckled. “Naw, man. You know we can’t do that.”
He was right. Attending a party of any type is forbidden under The Liberty Way, but a lingerie party would be off-the-charts sinful. Wayne’s two-plus years as a Liberty student had taught him that this was exactly the type of caper Satan would pull. Still, as Dave talked more about the party, and how many beautiful, scantily-clad girls would be there, he felt his resistance weakening. I mean, I haven’t been off-campus all semester. And what harm could one night do? By the time Dave finished his pitch, Wayne’s mind was made up: he wanted to go. The party wouldn’t be holy, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, either. So the two friends signed out on the campus log sheet – to the off-campus apartment of an older Liberty student they knew – and drove to secular school instead.