Jerry Falwell, Jr. Is Not Jesus.
At some point we must ask ourselves why we let men like Falwell, Jr. use their bloodline to excuse their irresponsible decisions and behavior.
Sickness fell on the campus of Liberty University and a recent expose by The New York Times posits that a decision by President Jerry Falwell, Jr. to partially re-open the school to students is to blame. Liberty, like many universities, shut down after the initial reports of Covid-19’s imminent threat to college campuses. Classes halted and students went home but Liberty drove a different course.
Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Fears, Too
The decision by the school's president, Jerry Falwell Jr., to partly reopen his evangelical university enraged…
Falwell Jr. decided to partially re-open Liberty to students in the beginning stages of a major outbreak of the virus in the United States. Now several students have, “…symptoms that suggested Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. Another eight were told to self-isolate”, leaving the campus reeling and the city of Lynchburg in crisis. [Writer’s note: During the editing of this piece, one student tested positive for Covid-19].
Falwell, Jr. responded to the reports on CNN — and later the Times piece via. his Twitter — saying that he weighed the decision based on fact and determined it to be safe to resume the collegiate year under controlled conditions. To some, Falwell, Jr.’s decision appears to be based on political influence. In a recent interview with Fox News, Falwell, Jr., an avid supporter of the President, said that the response to the virus is “overblown” and this epidemic is being used to score points against the current administration.
The Times story left believers and non-believers reeling. It also confirmed biases that the evangelical community refuses to take Covid-19 seriously at the behest of its de facto leadership — leadership including the President.
It’s been a trying three weeks for the Christian community-at-large with many churches closing their doors and going virtual to stop the spread of the virus, choosing to galvanize their faith communities online around social media to keep a semblance of normalcy about Sundays mornings. With talks of social distancing lasting into May, many churches now face the decision to cancel Easter services. While many congregations cancelled worship services set for April 12th, many hold onto their faith and hope that one of the most important days on the Christian calendar can still be celebrated in its fullness. President Trump even hoped to see “packed churches all over our country.” The White House would later propose a “re-open” date of April 30th.
But as many churches take serious precautions against the spread of the coronavirus, some houses of worship continue to hold services in defiance of state and local law, using “faith over fear”. Congregations rebelling against social distancing orders find themselves ravaged by coronavirus-related disease and deaths plus several pastors were issued arrest warrants for not adhering to “stay-at-home” orders and policies about social gatherings.
This moment in history is becoming another example of many evangelicals posturing God over the general public’s interest, to be self-serving in a time of self-sacrifice. Sadly, this is the theme of many in so-called Christian leadership who ironically — or maybe not — have openly sided with a President. This leadership — not unlike the President — appears Teflon. They exist in power without much conflict. They also seem to hide behind the shield of nepotism to exist.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. is the son of Jerry Falwell, Sr., who founded Liberty University in 1971. Falwell Sr. was one of the leading faces of the evangelical, Religious Right movement of the early 1970s and considered to be one the greatest evangelists of our faith, using that to build an empire that now includes a university. As someone grafted into this community, I don’t have much reverence for men like him and Billy Graham, also considered to be one of the greatest evangelists of our time. This is not from a place of disrespect but rather distance and desire to keep everyone’s call to disciple on the same level. However I am familiar with their sons — Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham — and they haven’t made the greatest impression upon me.
Graham’s tour of the United Kingdom derailed once venues pulled out because of anti-gay comments. He continues to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement and once called for Target to “respect the genders that God created” in response to the brand creating a line of “gender-neutral” clothing. Falwell’s frequently chastises others by way of his Twitter feed, very similar to our current President, calling folks “dummies.” Outside of a roar from mainstream media and what feels like a smattering of crickets from us in the Christian community, he and the likes of Franklin Graham use their last names to peddle power and influence both inside and outside the Christian sphere without much of a fight. The damage spreads beyond what we can control and nepotism — and fear — should no longer cover them. Because if nepotism didn’t ultimately work for a famous son in the Bible, it sure doesn’t work for the Falwells and Grahams of the world either.
In 2 Samuel, God made a promise to King David that his descendants would always rule the throne established by God (2 Samuel 7:16). We first see this with David’s son Solomon, who kept his father’s promise to build the temple and became one of the wisest men in the world. (7:13, 2 Sam. 8). But as things appeared well for the son of the late great King David, Solomon would later marry seven hundred women, some forbidden to marry by the people of Israel, and build altars and temples for other gods (1 Kings 11:7).
God tells Solomon that he can no longer rule over his people and sets the stage for a rebellion lead by Jeroboam, an officer in Solomon’s army, and an ensuing battle between the people of Israel and Judah, besieged by ruling kingships from that moment into the destruction and exile of both kingdoms due to continued disobedience by the kings of both lands (1 Kings 12).
“So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:11–13 NIV)
Despite Solomon’s disposal and the damage done by kings after him, God’s master plan — and covenant with David — continued. We meet that descendant in the book of Matthew, the one who would be the King of kings and will be when he returns. God made it very clear that She can and will execute the plan by any means necessary and us mere humans are not needed to do it. She didn’t need a man basking in the reverence of his father either.
Even though David did “everything right in the eyes of Lord”, that wasn’t enough to save Solomon from his fate. God said to Samuel that as long as the king follows the commandments and decrees, he should rule over Israel. Solomon failed to do so and didn’t get to fall back on the reputation of his father to escape the consequences.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. shouldn’t either.
If Falwell, Jr. goes down because of his own decisions, the work of Jesus will still continue. I feel as if we’re so afraid to appear fractured to the rest of the world that we allow corrupt leadership to exist for appearance’s sake.
We’ve seen since his appointment as president of Liberty University that he’s unfit to be on the center-stage plus the damage he’s done to our witness. God warned the people of Israel to not ask for the king and yet theydid, only to be besieged by leadership who abused their power and privilege for their own personal gain. God was pleased when Solomon asked for “wisdom and discernment” and not power but yet even he fell victim to corruption and had to be dethroned.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. should be too.
We don’t need Jerry Falwell, Jrs. to do the work of building the kingdom. The truth is that God doesn’t need any of us to execute Her greater plan. It is a privilege that God asks us to help Her do the work necessary to take care of the world that She created. We’ve seen in Scripture how God uses Her tools but also destroys them when they are no longer fit to do the job. God started this over on multiple occasions but always kept Her promise.
A descendant of David, a lion of Judah, would still reign despite the workings of the kings before him. That promise that God made to David — that someone of his bloodline would always rule over Israel — never waivered even when all of its participants went wayward. God’s work will continue to be done whether or not these men exist in positions of leadership. God is bigger than their title and status, stronger than the nepotism they fall back on.
If God doesn’t need them to execute Her plan then why do we?