Jerry Falwell(1933 - 2007) was born on August 11, 1933. He and his twin brother Gene were the youngest of five children. The family was made up of Carey (his father), Helen (his mother), Virginia, Lewis, and Rosha (who died at the age of 10 in 1931).
He attended Mountain View Elementary School in Fairview Heights, VA starting in 1940. Campbell County schools had no Kindergarten classes and he could not begin first grade until the age of seven. He skipped Second grade and moved into third at the recommendation of one of his instructors. (He points out with great pride that he was subjected to corporal punishment.)
He attended Brookville High School from grades 8 to 11 (there was no 12 grade in the county either) and graduated at age 16 as class Valedictorian (98.6 GPA) in 1950. There he was fullback and captain of the football team and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. He claims that his bad behavior in high school to the reason why he was not allowed to give a speech to his graduating class. He was asked to be the baccalaureate speaker for the graduating Class of 1980.
He began attending Lynchburg College in 1950 and was planning to either to pursue engineering at Virginia Tech or journalism at Notre Dame after the end of the two year stint and Lynchburg College. He underwent a religious conversion on Jan. 20, 1952 and eventually decided to change his prospects and move into religious schooling. He transferred to the Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He also turned down the chance the play with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. He attended Baptist Bible college from 1952 until 1956 when he was ordained as a minister.
He began the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA with an initial congregation of 35 adults and their families. The opened shop in an abandoned building owned by the Donald Duck Bottling Company. The half hour Broadcasts of "The Old Time Gospel Hour" began when the church was only a week old. From this start Thomas Road Church would grow to a membership of 22,000 and the broadcasts, that went national in 1971, would reach millions.
He married the church pianist, Macel Pate on April 12, 1958. He'd met her the night of his conversion in 1952. At the time he'd met her, she was his college roommate's girlfriend.
He has three children, Jerry Falwell, Jr., an Attorney working in, Lynchburg, Va., Jonathan Falwell, the Executive Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Jeannie Falwell Savas, a surgeon practicing in Richmond, Va.
In 1979, seeing the growth of conservative Christian movement, he founded the Moral Majority. It's goal was to lobby the government to "reverse the politicization of immorality in our society" and to force government leaders to "pick a side" on Christian conservative issues. Some of his pet issues included: voluntary prayer in schools, free enterprise, balanced budgets, military strength, aid to Israel, putting down the Equal Rights Amendment, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, parimutuel betting, and rock and roll music. In an interview to Time magazine in 1979 he said: "If a man stands by this book (the Bible), vote for him. If he doesn't, don't." He was also quoted as saying, "The liberal churches are not only the enemy of God but the enemy of the nation."
He founded the Liberty Federation in 1986, to work in a purely political level, that assisted in George H.W. Bush's election to the White House. The Moral Majority had some successes and others used this as a base for change in several other conservative groups, including the Christian Coalition.
The Religious scandals of the late 80's caused a fair amount of upheaval that left many ministries crippled or destroyed. In 1987, Falwell took over the decimated PTL Ministries (once led by Jim Bakker) in an attempt to rescue it. Some within the organization later asserted that Falwell had deliberately mismanaged PTL, his ministry's main competition, to steer it into bankruptcy.
The November 1983 issue of Hustler Magazine featured a parody advertisement of Campari Liqueur. The parody was a fake interview with Mr. Falwell telling of "the first time" he'd had sex with his mother in an outhouse: "we were drunk off our god-fearing asses on Campari, Ginger-ale and soda - that's called a fire and brimstone - at the time. And mom looked better than a Baptist whore with a $100 donation."
Falwell sued for $200,000 in emotional damages. Hustler publisher, Larry Flynt, appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned the previous verdict of a lower court that had ruled in Falwell's favor.
Falwell dissolved the Moral Majority in 1989 claiming that the organization was no longer relevant due to their successes in the 80's. His goals were to focus again on Thomas Road Church and the floundering Liberty University he founded in 1971. Falwell had pushed to expand the university on borrowed moneys and even hawked bonds on his "Old Time Gospel Hour". They defaulted on the interest on those bonds. They also gave out free scholarships from Liberty University and were $110 million in debt by 1990. With contributions dwindling from the scandals in the late 80's and the overspending, the church was strapped. Eventually his "Old Time Gospel Hour" was temporarily forced off the air.
He returned to the political arena in the 90's selling a Clinton scandal video called "The Clinton Chronicles" in which he asserted that Clinton's political adversaries often met untimely and suspicious deaths- as well as other insinuations regarding drug smuggling and put into question the suicide of former White House Council, Vincent Foster. The video, produced by Citizens for Honest Government was co-financed, publicized and distributed by Falwell. It was discovered later that the conservative groups linked to Falwell paid $200,000 to individuals making damaging accusations to Clinton. Citizens for Honest Government paid the money over a three-year period, between 1994 and 1996.
Falwell also appeared in an infomercial for a bible-study course sold by his ministry, in which he asserted that it was possible that human beings and dinosaurs once coexisted. (On a personal note: I recall this idea being taught at Thomas Road when I attended. My question had been on the existence of dinosaurs. My minister at the time had found an obscure biblical passage somewhat supporting this assertion. As a child I didn't question it much - it's so easy to tell children what to believe.)
Falwell preaches the "Fundamentalist" view of Christianity. The main point of the fundamentalist belief is best shown by one of the quotes from Falwell's website under "Ask Jerry".
On biblical truth and accuracy:
"We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men supernaturally inspired; that it is truth without any mixture of error for its matter; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the age, the only complete and final revelation of the will of God to man; the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.
By the "The Holy Bible" we mean that collection of sixty-six books from Genesis to Revelation which, as originally written, does not only contain and convey the Word of God but IS the very Word of God.
By 'inspiration,' we mean that the books of the Bible were written by holy men of old, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, in such a definite way that their writings were supernaturally and verbally inspired and free from error, as no other writings have ever been or ever will be inspired."
The above may explain why many of Falwell's ideas and words bring so much controversy. Falwell preaches from this base point and, although he claims the Bible is the unerring word of God, he picks and chooses his own interpretations of scripture.
His version of choice is the "King James Version" of Holy Scripture. While he does not discourage looking at other translations, it is his assertion that the King James Version stands above all others regardless of what pattern or group of Old Testament or New Testament manuscripts were used.
Jerry died at Age 73, pronounced dead at 12:40pm on Tuesday May 15th, 2007 of Heart Failure. He was found in his office at Liberty University
in Lynchburg, Va
- Clergyman of the Year in America, Religious Heritage of America (1979)
- Jabotinsky Centennial Medal, for friendship to Israel;
Presented by Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1980)
- Christian Humanitarian of the Year, Food for the Hungry International (1981)
- Most Admired Man Not in Congress, Conservative Digest (1983)
- Voted among 10 Most Admired Men in America, Good Housekeeping Poll
- Named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America, U.S. News & World Report (1983)
- Debated New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, defending the "Western Nuclear alliance," at Oxford Debating Society (1985)
- Named the Most Influential Central Virginian of the 20th Century in a survey conducted by the News and Advance in Lynchburg, Virginia (Dec. 1999)
- Named Virginia's most influential clergyman of the 20th Century by the Virginia Historical Society
- Featured on the covers of Newsweek and Time, and on countless print and broadcast outlets
- Speakers at dozens of colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, UCLA, and Notre Dame
- Met privately numerous times with U.S. Presidents George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon
- Met with world leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, South African President F.W. DeKlerk, Jordan's King Hussein, and Israeli Prime Ministers Begin, Shamir, Rabin, Peres, and Netanyahu
- Led missionary and humanitarian efforts in nations around the world including Haiti, Guatemala, Thailand, Sudan, Ethiopia, Romania, Korea, India, Philippines, and the former Soviet Union
Books by Falwell:
- Church Aflame - Impact, 1971
- Capturing a Town for Christ - Revell, 1973
- Listen, America! - Doubleday, 1980
- The Fundamentalist Phenomenon - Doubleday, 1981
- Finding Inner Peace and Strength - Doubleday, 1982
- When it Hurts Too Much to Cry - Tyndale, 1984
- Wisdom for Living - Victor Books, 1984
- Stepping Out on Faith - Tyndale, 1984
- Champions for God - Victor Books, 1985
- If I Should Die Before I Wake - Thomas Nelson, 1986
- Strength for the Journey - Simon & Schuster, 1987
- The New American Family - Word, 1992
- Falwell: An Autobiography - Liberty House, 1997
- Fasting Can Change Your Life - Regal, 1998
I've tried to make this as objective as possible and, in many ways, failed. I can't be objective about this particular human being - as it was through his church I learned a lot of self-loathing and hatred. Going to such a church at such a young age (from around 4th grade to 7th), and being raised in an environment where his teachings are supported, makes it difficult to react to him with anything, anymore, but regret, revulsion and disrespect.
My time at Thomas Road Baptist Church was filled with many good memories and events. The problem is that they were framed by a doctrine that discouraged thoughtful questions and encouraged glib, convenient answers.
It has taken almost 20 years for me to get out of the mindset and fear that was taught at Thomas Road, for there was no true talk of love and acceptance, and even now I find myself reverting back to smaller thoughts born in those days. My thoughts on faith and God do not have easy answers and I cannot accept the single-minded words that Mr. Falwell and his ministry teach.
To Mr. Falwell, the Bible is very clear and very true. While I can appreciate his desire to have answers, I do not appreciate his methods or his words. Men like Jerry Falwell show that it is possible for an intelligent, articulate man to have a strong voice for good but use it instead for hatred, ignorance and intolerance. It is a shame.
Now that I am an adult, and I know more truths about the world, and myself, I hope that I will get a chance to meet him again - and I will not be silent.
Final Note: I was very upset when I learned of his death today, and I have to say that I wasn't happy to hear of it I never got a chance to meet with him again but I hope his passing was peaceful.