It seems almost cruel to heap coals on Jerry Falwell Jr., the disgraced former president and (we thought) emperor for life of Liberty University.
Sure, he made it too easy. He was a 50-pound catfish in a very small barrel, and he gave us a fully loaded semi-automatic, then dared us to fire away.
An alleged voyeuristic threesome with your wife and the pool boy? Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert must be muttering to themselves, “Dang, I never thought of that.” If the late-night comics weren’t so locked in on the upcoming election, this would have been (forgive us, Father) a godsend. A fifth-grader could come up with some pretty good lines about this.
So why not give the guy a break? We could heed the words of wife Becki Fallwell, who whined, “It’s a shame that Christians can’t give us the same forgiveness that Christ gave us.”
Here are a couple of reasons:
First, we haven’t seen Falwell ask for forgiveness. In the true spirit of Christian love, maybe we should give it willingly, but is it too much to ask that the leader of one of the nation’s largest religion-based universities humbly seek our absolution?
The most memorable thing Falwell has uttered about his fall from grace was when he went tone-deaf and said of his “you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit” resignation, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.” With the school already reeling from recent accusations of racism by Black students and faculty, this misappropriation of one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous quotes was tasteless and dumb.
Second, Falwell has set the bar pretty high for himself. He has condemned and belittled aspects of others’ private lives that did not please him. On issues like premarital sex and gay marriage (or gay anything, for that matter), he made it clear that at Liberty, there was a right way and wrong way to enjoy oneself, and he, Jerry Falwell Jr., knew which was which. (To be fair, he never said, “Do as I do.”)
How do you not put a guy like that in the dunking booth and fire away?
America has always had evangelicals who seemed more interested in fleecing the sheep than leading them to green pastures. When Sinclair Lewis wrote “Elmer Gantry” in 1926, the type was already a familiar one.
To be fair, Falwell always made it clear that he was not a minister. He was a University of Virginia law school graduate. (No lawyer jokes, please.) He was, though, also the very vocal leader of a large and thriving Christian university; one that has, in addition to its brick-and-mortar campus, some 95,000 remote-learning students (second only to the University of Phoenix) and a $1.6 billion endowment.
Of course, that endowment’s maybe only $1.59 billion now, since Falwell got a going-away gift of some $10 million.
So ask for forgiveness, Jerry, and maybe give all or most of that $10 million back, perhaps to help your students pay off their loans.