Perhaps nothing better symbolizes the political maturity of Liberty University than its flip-flops.
In the summer of 2005, the Lynchburg, Virginia, school made national news when it announced the most drastic change in a slowly evolving dress code: Flip-flops would be permitted in class. It was a watershed moment for the university. Severe side parts, collared dress shirts, and ties for men; knee-length skirts, lace-panel dresses, and poufy hair for women were out. Flip-flops, jeans, and capris were in.
The symbols reflected substance: since the school's inception, its business-attire dress code had been as much a part of its identity as its controversial founder, Jerry Falwell, and its rules against drinking, dancing, and (according to legend) going to the movies. Notably, along with flip-flops, "movement" and movies are allowed now. (The teetotaling stands.) Clearly, there was more afoot at the university than a simple sartorial rule.
Administrators knew that the university couldn't meet the goal of its founder of becoming a "world class" evangelical university by requiring its students to dress like Mormons on mission. More important, it was clear that changing the world for Christ would require more than a handful of well-placed politicians from among its graduates. Instead, it would take an infusion of "Champions for Christ," as the school calls its students, working in every vocation. The flip-flops, then, exemplified the late Jerry Falwell's ability to leverage politics to achieve greater aims.
Falwell's national and international reputation stemmed from his political activism, but his real focus was both narrower and broader: his heart always lay with the local ...