The web page of Liberty (University) Worship Collective explains that it is
(Rock out with what appears to be its signature tune. Or not.)
Oops. In a story first reported by The Wall Street Journal and not directly related to the Collective, The Daily Beast notes that then-Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen
is made up of the most talented, next-generation worship leaders in the world, selected from over 1,200 competitors annually. The students selected have the privilege of leading worship at the largest weekly gathering of young people — Liberty University’s Convocation. From God-glorifying worship to world-class songwriting, the Liberty Worship Collective is the future of worship — now.
Most are probably quite sincere, and possibly even effective witnesses for their religious convictions. Unfortunately, they appear to have missed a less-than-angelic employee at the University itself. In a story uncovered by The Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast notes that then-Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen
promised to pay $50,000 to the small tech firm run by a Liberty University staffer to help distort online polls on CNBC and the Drudge Report.
Cohen has confirmed the bombshell report to CNN, and claimed it was carried out “at the direction and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump.”
The IT firm doesn’t appear to have been particularly good at the task. Cohen reportedly asked for its help in a January 2014’s CNBC poll to name the country’s top business leaders. RedFinch Solutions founder John Gauger reportedly wrote a computer script to repeatedly vote for Trump—but was still unable to get him into the top 100 candidates.
Gauger is chief information officer at Virginia’s Liberty University, the evangelical Christian college run by Jerry Fallwell Jr., a close Trump supporter. Cohen reportedly helped arrange Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump in January 2016.
If the work performed at those "faith-based" institutions is not what we've been trained to believe, neither are the payment arrangements. When thirteen months later Cohen arranged
for help in a Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates—he only managed fifth place, with about 24,000 votes....
Cohen disclosed the work to the Journal after he received much less money for his efforts than he expected. Gauger said he believed he was due $50,000 for it- alongside a promise of lucrative work with the president-elect- but Cohen reportedly handed him "a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in hash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr.Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial-arts fighter."
An article on Liberty University’s website says that Gauger was hired by the school in August 2012. Gauger’s first role as the Director of Specialized Initiatives. That piece says that Gauger is a Liberty graduate, as part of the class of 2009. Gauger gained an M.B.A. and a B.S. in business from Liberty. The then-chief information officer, Matthew Zealand, said of Gauger, “John has consistently demonstrated a willingness and a drive to accomplish projects of any size. His collaborative spirit and ability to work well with a wide range of people has lead John to being the obvious candidate for this new role on my team. He has a positive energy and creative ability that has proven to be both effective and valuable to IT, and to Liberty University as a whole.”
Gauger claims to be also the chief information officer for a hospital in Virginia, so Liberty University- run by the far-right Jerry Falwell Jr.- was not the only institution to have been conned by him (assuming the University actually disapproves of his actions, which is arguable). Nor is his behavior typical of the Liberty University Worship Collective nor of most evangelical Christian students, who differ from other students in that they are, well, evangelical Christian students.
But we should be wary of "faith-based" institutions of any kind, especially those which solicit government funding for any activity, however charitable it may sound. Most avoid doing so for reasons including a humble recognition of their own imperfections and a righteous desire not to be entangled with the state.
Those which do take money often escape scrutiny by media and others afraid of questioning anything or anyone claiming to be "faith-based." The reticence to analyze their activities is understandable but as the story of John Gauger indicates, is alarming, or should be.