Jerry Lamon Falwell, Sr. (August 11 1933 – May 15, 2007) was an American evangelical Christian pastor, televangelist, and a controversial conservative commentator. He was the founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lynchburg, Virginia. He founded Liberty University in 1971 and co-founded the Moral Majority in 1979.
Falwell led services at Thomas Road for many years. During his tenure, it changed affiliations from Baptist Bible Fellowship International to the mainly conservative Southern Baptist Convention, and Falwell himself ended his self-identification with fundamentalism in favor of evangelicalism.
Falwell's legacy today is strongly mixed, and often a source of heated controversy. Supporters praise his advancement of his socially conservative message. Many of his detractors have accused him of hate speech and an "agent of intolerance", finding fault with his views on LGBT people, Judaism and Islam, his support of racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movement, and his controversial statements blaming gays, feminists, pagans and abortionists for the September 11 attacks. These controversies, however, never bothered him during his lifetime, and he often stated, "I'm not called to be popular; I'm called to be faithful."
Falwell was born in Lynchburg, Virginia
to Helen and Carey Hezekiah Falwell. His father was an entrepreneur
and one-time bootlegger
who was agnostic
. His grandfather was a staunch atheist
. Falwell was born with a twin
brother, Gene. Falwell married the former Macel Pate on April 12
, and had two sons (one, Jerry Falwell, Jr.
, is a lawyer
and the other, Jonathan Falwell
, a pastor
) and one daughter (Jeannie, who is a surgeon
Prior to the founding of his church, Falwell attended Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia, but left during his sophomore year. He then transferred to and graduated from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri in 1956. This Bible college was unaccredited until 2001.
Falwell held no earned doctorate, but did hold three honorary degrees (and sometimes used the title "Doctor"): an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple Theological Seminary , an honorary Doctor of Letters from California Graduate School of Theology, and an honorary Doctor of Laws from Central University in Seoul, South Korea.
Thomas Road Baptist Church
In 1956, at age 22, Falwell became the founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church of Lynchburg (TRBC).
In 1971, Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University, a Christian liberal arts university in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Liberty University is now the largest evangelical Christian university in the United States, with over 11,000 residential students plus more than 25,000 distance-learning students.
The U.S. News and World Report ranked Liberty University a "Tier-4" (bottom 25%) school.
In 1979, Falwell founded the Moral Majority
, which became one of the largest political lobby groups for evangelical Christians in the United States during the 1980s. The group is credited with delivering two-thirds of the white, evangelical Christian vote to Ronald Reagan
during the 1980 presidential election
Social and political views
Falwell strongly advocated beliefs and practices he believed were taught by the Bible. He believed in the quintessential patriarchal family in which, ideally, the father is the primary bread-winner and the wife takes care of the home and raises the children until they’re old enough to leave the home. The entire family was expected to play an active role in their local church. Falwell's company "The Moral Majority" was founded on four basic tenets, 1) pro-family, 2) pro-life, 3) pro-defense and 4) pro-Israel.
The church, Falwell asserted, was the cornerstone of a successful family. Not only was it a place for spiritual learning and guidance, but also a gathering place for fellowship and socializing with like-minded individuals. The dialogs started one-on-one after service among parishioners would often build into more focused speeches or organized goals Falwell could then present to a larger audience via his various media outlets.
During an appearance on MSNBC
, Falwell said he was not troubled by reports that Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts
had done volunteer legal work for gay rights activists on the case of Romer v. Evans
. Falwell told MSNBC's Tucker Carlson
that if he were a lawyer, he too would argue for civil rights for gays. "I may not agree with the lifestyle, but that has nothing to do with the civil rights of that part of our constituency," Falwell said. When Carlson countered that conservatives "are always arguing against 'special rights' for gays," Falwell said that equal access to housing, civil marriage, and employment are basic rights, not special rights. "Civil rights for all Americans, black, white, red, yellow, the rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, et cetera, is not a liberal or conservative value. It's an American value that I would think that we pretty much all agree on.
Falwell supported Anita Bryant's 1977 "Save Our Children" campaign to overturn an ordinance in Dade County, Florida that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and a similar movement in California.
Falwell strongly supported racial segregation. In 1965, he gave a sermon at his Thomas Road Baptist Church criticizing Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil rights movement, which he sometimes referred to as the "Civil Wrongs Movement". On his Evangelist program The Old-Time Gospel Hour in the mid 1960s, he regularly featured segregationist politicians like Lester Maddox and George Wallace. He said this about Martin Luther King: "I do question the sincerity and non-violent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left wing associations.
The Anti-Defamation League
, and its leader Abraham Foxman
, have expressed strong support for Falwell's staunch pro-Israel
stand, sometimes referred to as "Christian Zionism
," despite repeatedly condemning what they perceive as intolerance towards Muslims in Falwell's public statements.
Falwell repeatedly denounced certain teachings in public schools
and secular education
in general, calling them breeding grounds for atheism
, and humanism
, which he claimed to be in contradiction with Christian morality
. He advocated that the United States change its public education system by implementing a school voucher
system which would allow parents to send their children to either public or private schools. Jerry Falwell wrote in America Can Be Saved
that "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.
Falwell supported President George W. Bush's Faith Based Initiative, but had strong reservations concerning where the funding would go and the restrictions placed on churches. "My problem is where it might go under his successors... I would not want to put any of the Jerry Falwell Ministries in a position where we might be subservient to a future Bill Clinton, God forbid... It also concerns me that once the pork barrel is filled, suddenly the Church of Scientology, the Jehovah Witnesses [sic], the various and many denominations and religious groups — and I don’t say those words in a pejorative way — begin applying for money — and I don’t see how any can be turned down because of their radical and unpopular views. I don’t know where that would take us.
In the 1980s Jerry Falwell was critical of sanctions against the apartheid
regime of South Africa
. He feared that sanctions would result in what, he felt, would be a worse situation, such as a Soviet
-backed revolution. He drew the ire of many when he called Nobel Peace Prize
winner and Anglican
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
a phony "as far as representing the black people of South Africa. He later apologized for that remark and claimed that he had misspoken. He also urged his followers to buy up gold Krugerrands
and push U.S. "reinvestment" in South Africa.
The Clinton Chronicles
In 1994, Falwell promoted and distributed the video documentary The Clinton Chronicles: An Investigation into the Alleged Criminal Activities of Bill Clinton
. The video connected Bill Clinton
to a murder conspiracy involving Vincent Foster
, James McDougall
, Ron Brown
, and a cocaine
operation. The theory was discredited, but the video served as effective exposure, and it sold over 150,000 copies.
Funding for the film was provided by "Citizens for Honest Government," to which Jerry Falwell paid $200,000 in 1994 and 1995. In 1995 Citizens for Honest Government interviewed two Arkansas state troopers regarding the murder conspiracy about Vincent Foster. These two troopers Roger Perry and Larry Patterson also gave information regarding the allegations in the Paula Jones affair.
Falwell's infomercial for the 80-minute tape included footage of Falwell interviewing a silhouetted journalist who claimed to be afraid for his life. The journalist accused Clinton of orchestrating the deaths of several reporters and personal confidants who had gotten too close to his illegalities. It was subsequently revealed, however, that the silhouetted journalist was, in fact, Patrick Matrisciana, the producer of the video and president of Citizens for Honest Government. "Obviously, I'm not an investigative reporter," Matrisciana admitted to investigative journalist Murray Waas. Later, Falwell seemed to back away from personally trusting the video. In an interview for the 2005 documentary The Hunting of the President, Falwell admitted, "to this day I do not know the accuracy of the claims made in The Clinton Chronicles.
Comments about LGBT people
Falwell has been called an "agent of intolerance" and "the founder of the anti-gay industry" for statements he's made and for campaigning against LGBT social movements
. Falwell supported Anita Bryant
's 1977 "Save Our Children" campaign to overturn a Florida
ordinance prohibiting discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation
and a similar movement in California. In urging the repeal of the ordinance, Falwell told one crowd, "Gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you." When the mostly gay Metropolitan Community Church
was almost accepted into the World Council of Churches
, Falwell called them "brute beasts" and stated, "this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven." He later denied this and was sued and lost the case. Falwell also regularly linked the AIDS
pandemic to LGBT issues and stated, “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” Amongst many remarks over the years he is probably most known for statements attributed to him about a Teletubby
being a gay role model for homosexual recruitment
and stating that gays and lesbians were amongst those in some way responsible for the September 11 attacks
. Ironically, he condemned Fred Phelps
' controversial Westboro Baptist Church
, on the basis of believing that abortion clinic bombings
were harmful to the furthering of the pro-life
After Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian, televangelist Jerry Falwell referred to her in a sermon as "Ellen DeGenerate." Ellen responded dismissively: "Really, he called me that? Ellen DeGenerate? I've been getting that since the fourth grade."
In February 1999 an unattributed National Liberty Journal article that media outlets attributed to Falwell, claimed that Tinky Winky, a Teletubby
, was intended as a gay
role model. A 1998 Salon.com
article previously had noted Tinky Winky's status as a gay icon. In response, Steve Rice, spokesperson for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment, which licenses the Teletubbies in the US, said, "I really find it absurd and kind of offensive." The immensely popular UK show was aimed at pre-school children, but the article stated "he is purple
- the gay pride
color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle
- the gay-pride symbol." Apart from those characteristics Tinky Winky also carries a magic bag which the NLJ article said was a purse. Falwell added "role modelling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children."
September 11th attacks
After the September 11, 2001 attacks
, Falwell said on The 700 Club
, "I really believe that the pagans
, and the abortionists
, and the feminists
, and the gays
and the lesbians
who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU
, People For the American Way
, all of them who have tried to secularize
America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" Fellow evangelist Pat Robertson
concurred with his sentiment. After heavy criticism, Falwell apologized, though he later said that he stood by his statement, stating, "if we decide to change all the rules on which this Judeo-Christian
nation was built, we cannot expect the Lord to put his shield of protection around us as he has in the past."
Falwell has also said, "Labor unions
should study and read the Bible instead of asking for more money. When people get right with God, they are better workers.
In an interview with radio
presonality Michael Savage
, Falwell said that only people who believed that Jesus Christ
is the Son of God
could go to heaven, a belief Savage, who is Jewish
, disagreed with (for Savage's opinion, see Views expressed by Michael Savage
). This was parodied in an Opus comic strip
by Berke Breathed
run shortly after Falwell's death, in which Opus the Penguin
, after briefly discussing with another character the vast diversity of people "up there [in heaven] with Jerry Falwell", comments "Boy, must he be suprised!".
SEC and bonds
In 1972 , the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC) launched an investigation of bonds
issued by Falwell's organizations. The SEC charged Falwell's church with "fraud
" in the issuance of $6.5 million in unsecured church bonds. The church won a 1973 federal court case prosecuted at the behest of the SEC, in which the Court exonerated the church and ruled that there had been no intentional wrong-doing.
According to Falwell, the survival of the University could be attributed to the work of Daniel Reber and Jimmy Thomas, as leaders of the non-profit Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation in Forest, Virginia. It bought Liberty University's debt for $2.5 million, "a fraction of its face value." Sun Myung Moon "funnelled $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation" to purchase the debt and prevent Liberty from going bankrupt.
Falwell versus Penthouse
Falwell filed a $10 million lawsuit against Penthouse Magazine
for publishing an article based upon interviews he gave to freelance
reporters, after failing to convince a federal court to place an injunction upon the publication of that article. The suit was dismissed in Federal district court on the grounds that the article was not defamatory
or an invasion of Falwell's privacy
Falwell versus Hustler
In November 1983, Larry Flynt
carried a parody advertisement
of a Campari
ad, featuring a fake interview with Falwell in which he admits that his "first time" was incest
with his mother in an outhouse
. Falwell sued for $45 million in compensation alleging invasion of privacy, libel
, and intentional infliction of emotional distress
. A jury
rejected the invasion of privacy and libel claims, holding that the parody could not have reasonably been taken to describe true events, but ruled in favor of Falwell on the emotional distress claim. This was upheld on appeal. Flynt then appealed to the Supreme Court
, winning a unanimous decision on February 24
. The ruling held that public figures
cannot circumvent First Amendment
protections by attempting to recover damages based on emotional distress suffered from parodies. The decision in favor of Flynt strengthened free speech
rights in the United States in relation to parodies of public figures.
After the death of Falwell, Larry Flynt released a comment regarding his friendship over the years with Falwell.
"My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling." - Larry Flynt
Falwell versus Jerry Sloan
In 1984, Falwell was ordered to pay gay
activist and former Baptist Bible College classmate Jerry Sloan $5,000 after losing a court battle. In July, 1984 during a TV debate in Sacramento
, Falwell denied calling the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Churches
"brute beasts" and "a vile and Satanic
system" that will "one day be utterly annihilated and there will be a celebration in heaven". When Sloan insisted he had a tape, Falwell promised $5,000 if he could produce it. Sloan did, Falwell refused to pay, and Sloan successfully sued. The money was donated to build Sacramento
's first gay community center, the Lambda Community Center, serving "lesbian
, gay, bisexual
, and intersex
" communities. Falwell appealed
the decision with his attorney charging that the judge in the case was prejudiced. He lost again and was made to pay an additional $2,875 in sanctions and court fees.
Falwell versus Christopher Lamparello
On April 17, 2006, the Supreme Court
declined to hear
a case ruling of a lower court that Christopher Lamparello's usage of the Internet domain "Fallwell.com" was legal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
had held that Lamparello "clearly created his Web site intending only to provide a forum to criticize ideas, not to steal customers." Lamparello's website describes itself as not being connected to Jerry Falwell and is critical of Falwell's views on homosexuality
. Previous to this, "Falwell's attorneys have fought over domain names in the past" with a man turning over jerryfalwell.com and jerryfallwell.com "after Falwell threatened to sue for trademark infringement
." Lawyers for Public Citizen Litigation Group
's Internet Free Speech project represented the domain name owners in both cases.
On July 31 2006
, Cable News Network
's (CNN) Paula Zahn Now
program featured a segment on "whether the crisis in the Middle East
is actually a prelude to the end of the world," "marking the third time in eight days that CNN ha[d] devoted airtime to those claiming that the ongoing Mideast violence signal[ed] the coming of the Apocalypse
." In an interview Falwell claimed, "I believe in the premillennial, pre-tribulational coming of Christ
for all of his church, and to summarize that, your first poll, do you believe Jesus coming the second time will be in the future, I would vote yes with the 59 percent and with Billy Graham
and most evangelicals."
In 1999, Falwell declared the Antichrist would probably arrive within a decade and "Of course he'll be Jewish." After anti-Semitism charges Falwell apologized and explained that he was simply expressing the theological tenet that the Antichrist and Christ share many attributes.
Failing health and death
In early 2005, Falwell was hospitalized for two weeks with a viral infection
, discharged, and then rehospitalized on May 30 2005
, in respiratory arrest
. President George W. Bush
contacted Falwell to "wish him well." He was subsequently released from the hospital and returned to his duties. Later in 2005, a stent
was implanted to treat a 70% blockage in his coronary arteries
On May 15 2007, Falwell was found without pulse and unconscious in his office about 10:45 am after missing a morning appointment and was taken to Lynchburg General Hospital.
"I had breakfast with him, and he was fine at breakfast… He went to his office, I went to mine and they found him unresponsive." said Ron Godwin, the executive vice president of Falwell's Liberty University.
His condition was initially reported as "gravely serious"; CPR was administered unsuccessfully. As of 2:10 pm, during a live press conference, a doctor for the hospital confirmed that Falwell had died of "cardiac arrhythmia, or sudden cardiac death." A statement issued by the hospital reported he was pronounced dead at Lynchburg General Hospital at 12:40 pm, EST. Falwell’s family, including his wife Macel and sons Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Jonathan Falwell, were with him at the hospital.
Falwell's funeral took place at 1:00 PM EDT on May 22, 2007 at Thomas Road Baptist Church after lying in repose at both the church and Liberty University. Falwell's burial service was private. It took place at a spot on the Liberty University campus near the Carter Glass Mansion, near his office. Buried nearby is the late B. R. Lakin.
After his death, his two sons succeeded him at his two posts; Jerry Falwell, Jr. took over as Chancellor of Liberty University while Jonathan Falwell became the Senior Pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church.
The last televised interview with Jerry Falwell was conducted by Christiane Amanpour for the CNN original series CNN Presents: God's Warriors. He had been interviewed on May 8th, one week before his death – there is an online copy of the interview
- Falwell, Jerry Achieving Your Dreams. Thomas Nelson.
- Falwell, Jerry Building Dynamic Faith. Thomas Nelson.
- Falwell, Jerry Capturing a town for Christ. REVELL.
- Champions for God. Victor Books, 1985.
- Church Aflame. (co-author Elmer Towns) Impact, 1971.
- Dynamic Faith Journal. Thomas Nelson (64 pages) (January 30, 2006) ISBN 0529122456
- Falwell: An Autobiography. Liberty House, 1996. (Ghost written by Mel White ) ISBN 1888684046
- Fasting Can Change Your Life. Regal, 1998.
- Finding Inner Peace and Strength. Doubleday, 1982.
- If I Should Die Before I Wake. Thomas Nelson, 1986. (ghost-written by Mel White)
- Liberty Bible Commentary on the New Testament. Thomas Nelson/Liberty University, 1978.
- Liberty Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson, 1982.
- Listen, America! Bantam Books (July 1981) ISBN 0553149989
- Stepping Out on Faith. Tyndale House, 1984.
- Strength for the Journey. Simon & Schuster, 1987. (ghost-written by Mel White)
- The Fundamentalist Phenomenon. Doubleday, 1981.
- The Fundamentalist Phenomenon/the Resurgence of Conservative Christianity. Baker Book House, 1986.
- The New American Family. Word, 1992.
- When it Hurts Too Much to Cry. Tyndale House, 1984. ISBN 0842379932
- Wisdom for Living. Victor Books, 1984.