Campolo, Claiborne promote Lynchburg event protesting 'toxic evangelicalism'

The home town of Liberty University, whose president Jerry Falwell Jr is a leading supporter of Donald Trump and firebrand conservative, is to host a different sort of Christianity in April.

Progressive evangelicals and others will be putting on an event described as a 'Red Letter Revival' in Lynchburg, Virginia. The faith leaders responsible, who include activist and author Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo and William Barber, say they are 'concerned that much of evangelical Christianity has lost its focus on Jesus, and forgotten the things that Jesus was deeply concerned about, like the poor and marginalized in our society'.

ReutersDonald Trump (right) shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr, president of Liberty University, at a campaign event.

Their statement continues: 'In word, worship and witness, this "revival of Jesus and Justice" will stand in stark contrast to the distorted Christian nationalism that many white evangelical leaders have become known for.'

The free gathering will take place on April 6 and 7 and is described as 'for people of faith or no faith who are curious about Jesus and troubled by the state of evangelicalism in America'.

Claiborne told Religion News Service he had heard Liberty University students say they want it 'to be known for its love for Jesus (rather) than its love for Trump'.

He has repeatedly challenged Falwell to debate with him, in one Facebook post writing: 'Dear Jerry Falwell Jr, Will you have a public conversation with me about whether or not Jesus would support Trump? I'm serious.'

Claiborne and Barber were signatories to an open letter to Liberty University calling on it to 'engage in peaceful debate' after an anti-Trump author and pastor, Jonathan Martin, was removed from the University campus by armed police and banned from the premises for life.

Notoriously, Falwell addressed students at the university after the mass shooting at San Bernardino in 2015, carrying a concealed weapon. He said: 'I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.' His comments were denounced as 'rash and repugnant' by Virginia' governor Terry McAuliffe.

Claiborne told RNS that although the event is being held near Liberty University, 'We're not there to vilify Jerry Falwell (Jr), we're there to lift up Jesus – and that itself is the critique of toxic evangelicalism.'

He also stressed the Red Letter Revival event was being organised with local Lynchburg clergy.