Liberty University is ending a ban on firearms in residence halls, the president of the conservative evangelical Christian school announced Wednesday. The change in policy, said Jerry Falwell Jr., is aimed at keeping the Virginia campus safe from terrorist attacks such as the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
First up from the God Machine this week are some unexpected developments at one of the nation's highest-profile evangelical universities.
Liberty University, an evangelical school in Virginia founded by the late Jerry Falwell, has already played an important role in this year's presidential campaign. About a week ago, the school found itself back in the headlines when university President Jerry Falwell Jr. urged Christian students during the school's convocation to carry concealed weapons.
The Washington Post quoted Falwell, using alarmingly violent rhetoric, saying, "I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in." Though the rest of his sentence was drowned out by loud applause, he added, "and killed them."
Five days later, NBC News reported that it wasn't just Falwell's rhetoric raising eyebrows.
Keep in mind, Liberty has permitted students, faculty, and staff with gun permits to carry concealed weapons since 2011, but the dorms were excluded from the policy -- until this week.
And while that may seem remarkable on its face, to fully appreciate the significance, consider the bigger picture. As we discussed in February, the restrictions placed on Liberty's students are the stuff of legend -- its code of conduct dictates that students are prohibited from seeing R-rated movies, listening to music that is not "in harmony with God's word," drinking alcohol, dancing, or kissing. Women on campus are prohibited from wearing dresses or skirts "shorter than the top of the knee."
In practice, we now see a dynamic in which Liberty students cannot have a "Mad Max: Fury Road" DVD in their dorm room, but they can have a loaded semi-automatic near their bedside.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A nativity scene at a private home in Ohio is causing a stir because it features Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and zombies (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the heads-up).
* Evangelist Franklin Graham not only endorsed Donald Trump's anti-Muslim plan this week, he also criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for denouncing Trump's bigotry. "Politicians in Washington seem to be totally disconnected with reality," Graham argued via social media.
* On the other end of the spectrum, three Democratic members of Congress -- Reps. Don Beyer Jr. (Va.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) -- attended services at a mosque last week, despite not being Muslims themselves, as a way of extending support to the American Muslim community.
* Ole Miss this week renamed its annual holiday celebration "Hotty Toddy Holidays," from "A Grand Ole Christmas," in order to be more inclusive. Not surprisingly, the American Family Association was not pleased (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
* And Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz told an audience this week that a teenage girl was threatened with jail time for "saying the name of Jesus" during a commencement address. In reality, that never happened.