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The Two Times I Adored Dr. Jerry Falwell

I graduated from Liberty University.

You’ve either never heard of it, or you know it as “Jerry Falwell’s school.”   It’s okay, I’m not offended.  I got over that a long time ago.

I decided to go to Liberty on a whim, barely a month before my high school graduation.  On the day I moved in I was having serious second thoughts.  I thought that I would have to go to chapel every day, that we would only sing hymns, eat fried chicken, talk about conservative politics, and that I would have to wear dress shoes any time I left my dorm.

If you’ve ever thought this about Liberty let me just clear it up right now:  none of that is even a tiny bit true.

I loved my time there.  I wore jeans and rainbow flip flops every day.  (There are also democrats, FYI.)

Jerry Falwell died at the end of my senior year, two weeks before graduation.  I can’t help but feel that anyone who goes there now is missing out on an integral part of the LU experience: Jerry running his big SUV up on the sidewalk after students and punching guys in the gut who came up to shake his hand.  He was ornery like that.

Dr. Falwell was a controversial guy.  He said some things that I don’t think were correct.  He said some more things that I don’t think were wise.

But Mark Driscoll wrote this about Jerry on his blog this week:

He [Jerry's son, Jonathan] told me stories about what an amazing father and man his dad was—including Jerry Falwell’s friendship with pornographer Larry Flynt, whom he evangelized while riding on the Hustler jet. Apparently people are different than sometimes portrayed to be, and I learned a lot that day.

“Apparently people are different than sometimes portrayed to be.”

Despite what the press, the media, or even the fundamentalists say, I want to tell you about two times that I absolutely adored Jerry Falwell.  You just might like these bits of him, too.

1.  One week during my sophomore year, a group of several thousand LGBT protesters came to campus on a Wednesday (the one day of the week Jerry spoke in convocation and it was televised).  They wore matching shirts and carried all kinds of signs and banners and stuff.  The whole campus was crawling with newcomers.  Dr. Falwell knew they were coming ahead of time.  The week before they arrived, Jerry got up to speak for convo, and with his deep, booming voice he started,

“As some of you may know, there is a large group of lesbian, gay, bi, and transgendered people coming to campus next week.  If I hear so much as a whisper of any of you being anything but welcoming, respectful, and loving - you’ll have me to answer to.”

2.  Halfway through my junior year, 400 students from Nepal enrolled; one beautiful young lady moved in right next door to me.  A couple board members were miffed because the students were using Liberty to get an education visa, then transferring out to other schools.  Some parents got their panties in a wad because their kids were calling home and telling them about their new Buddhist roommates who moved in and put little Buddha statues and idols all over the room.  To address the situation, Jerry got up in convocation again, looked straight into the camera and said,

“I understand there are some folks who don’t agree with my decision to admit all these students.  But let me tell you something:  If 25,000 Christians can’t love 400 Buddhists in the name of Jesus, then we need to shut down this university!

And that was that.

I think it just goes to show that no matter how much you differ with a person in style, opinion, politics,  or any of the thousand other things in the world there are to disagree on, if you are a Christian, you have Christ in common.  Christ is transcendent.  I am a Christian before I’m a woman.  Before I’m an American.  Before I’m white.

And I loved the Jesus in Jerry.

  • Justin Ashcraft

    Thanks Kate! This was a great post. I have a cousin who went to Liberty and is now working there… she has nothing but positive things to say about it. So I am glad that you feel the same. 

    Thanks for your thoughts. Love your blog!

  • Katie Bowman

    I have no idea why I am teary reading this. Maybe I am hormonal, but more likely is the fact that there are many areas I disagreed with Jerry on but in the end I grew to love and respect him. I love the way your put it “I loved the Jesus in Jerry.” There was a lot that we got to see as students that the world missed out on.

  • jenny

    I graduated from LU in ’98. We still had to wear dresses/skirts to class then…with many rules about the length of the skirts, width of the shoulder straps, etc. It annoyed me at times but for the most part, I actually enjoyed that requirement. Everyone looked so nice all the time!

    I can’t imagine what it’s like there with Dr. Falwell gone…he was there all the time. We saw him everywhere. People can say what they want about him (and they do) but look what he accomplished for the Lord! Besides some questionable comments that he made, there is no dirt to dig up on that man. He lived an amazing life and dedicated it all to God.

  • Cynthia

    I remember both of those moments so clearly! Thank you for posting this. I agree wholeheartedly and miss the man he was, not the man so many made him out to be because of a few misguided comments. How many of us say things that we regret? But lucky for us, we say them to a friend or co-worker, not to the televised world.

  • AnD

    This struck me as a great tandem-post to your Over-Correctors one, but I can’t quite put my finger on Why it resonated so much.  (…Hmm…)  
    Maybe because those strike me as incredibly mature things to say/stances to take.   
    Or maybe because your last paragraph is something that this current Christian college generation is trying to figure out: what it means to be a ‘global Christian’ and not just an American Christian (with ‘American’ being first -whether consciously or not) …including an over-correction toward social justice (perhaps to the neglect of firm theology?).
    Or maybe because I personally just relate to both posts [in different ways].
    Or maybe all of the above? ;)
    Well, I’m starting to ramble now (in my head anyway) so I should probably spare you the visualization of it :) …  But I do want to say that I appreciate your posts very much!  Your honesty, your humor (I’ve laughed out loud SO many times & I’m pretty new to your blog! -yes, another person directed here from a FB post of your teenage girls link), and definitely the variety of topics you include.  So thanks! :)

  • Nathaniel Simmons

    That was an excellent article – your last paragraph was great. Your last 5 sentences were particularly great!

  • Sarah Hubbell

    This is awesome. I’m not a huge fan of Jerry’s but I’m so glad you share this and I found it because…yes. People are often NOT what they are portrayed to be. And I am a Christian before I’m a woman, etc. So great. 

  • shelby@honeysuckle

    I may or may not have just taken my Jerry Falwell bobble head out of my yard sale pile.

    • Kate Conner

      Ha ha ha, that’s awesome Shelby!

  • KC

    Thanks for this. I’ve had some bad run-ins with Christians who put their own beliefs  and standards ahead of Jesus’ s love lately, so it’s nice to see reports of a genuinely loving Christian who understood Christ’s message. You’ve restored my faith in the Christian community a bit.

  • Paige Benton

    So if you were there the year Rev. Falwell died, did you know Kevin Roose? He wrote that book, The Unlikely Disciple ( I enjoyed that book a lot.

    • Kate Conner

      Yes!  Well, “yes” I was there that year, and “yes” I loved that book too.  But no, I didn’t know Kevin.  Bummer.

  • Mark Baker-Wright

    Wow! Such a powerful reminder. Now I want to see something like this about Driscoll himself (another person I find hard to find anything good about, as much as I know there must be something there…).

    • Marilyn


      You may enjoy this 5/1/2012 post by a Wisconsin UMC pastor:

      • Mark Baker-Wright

        Well, I appreciate the effort, but I find I disagree with the main point he seems to want to make in that post (which, ultimately, isn’t very much about Driscoll at all, anyway).

  • Kelly J Youngblood

    I don’t know much about Liberty, other than as you said “it’s Jerry Falwell’s school”.  I enjoyed reading this because I probably tend to have certain biases when I hear about it or hear his name.  Thank you for opening my eyes to this.  

  • Ronda035

    I’m not sure where I found your blog but I’m glad I did! Thanks for sharing. That’s a great motto to live by. I’m sure to remember this for a long time.

  • Carolyn Ford

    Now that is what He stood for ….NOT I BUT CHRIST

  • Beth

    I really enjoyed this. I graduated from LU, too.  I was just a year behind you, I guess, since I was a  junior when Jerry died. I remember both of those moments. I wish that the rest of the world would’ve been able to see the Jerry that LU students knew, because he really was a good and godly man (though I occasionally did that facepalm move when hearing him speak).  And the LU experience is just not the same without Jerry (Jerry Jr is just so serious, God bless him, though he’s just as down-to-earth as his dad). 

  • Johnbsmith1

    Love it! Well done!

  • Mbl07

    I loved Dr. Falwell. He was an amazing Man of God. Liberty is not the same without him.

  • Jenn

    Came here via Rachel Held Evans – thank you for this post. Such an important reminder. I may have disagreed with many things Jerry said – and unfortunately, that’s really the only side of him I knew. Thank you for sharing something deeper.

  • Anonymous

    Dr. Falwell was awesome and Jerry Jr. has continued the tradition.  He and his wife are extremely approachable and are loved by the students just like Dr. Falwell was.  They are in constant contact with the students.   The good news is Liberty is the same place it always was, only better.  Now, the facilities are being upgraded and are becoming world class as Dr. Falwell always dreamed about and the same family atmosphere still exists.  The good old days are now at Liberty University!

  • Sabrena Deal

    got a little teary eyed remembering his never strained smile and his gleeful trickery. He certainly did know, love and trust Jesus and act on his convictions. Something for all of us to remember as we are tempted to back down from the good fight at times :)

  • Michael Mansfield

    We’re all complex human beings; and I am one who has been very critical of the public personae of Jerry Falwell, in spite of the fact that my wife’s brother is a retired (now) Conservative Baptist Evangelist and one of the most loving people I  have ever known.

    This sure gave me the idea that Jerry Falwell was a lot more like Brother Emmett than I would have ever guessed.

  • Wendi

    Found your blog via Rachel Held Evans…and wonder if the world’s view of some Christians would change if we shared more of the positive things about one another. It seems we love to focus on others’ failings, fallings, and short comings.

  • Christine Trevino

    Fabulous post.  Thank you for sharing.

  • James Pate

    Beautiful post.

  • Debby Albrecht

    My daughter also went to Liberty and had much the same experience with Jerry. Didn’t always agree with him and would certainly like to have censored him on occasion, but he loved the students and challenged them to be more like Christ. As her mom, I am/was very grateful for that influence he had on her life.    

  • carolyn sain

    it’s funny, because everyone external seemed to look at him strictly as a hardcore conservative evangelist.
    what they never knew was that he was pretty much like every favorite old man/grandpa. 
    he was funny and inspiring, and not just in the “Christian” way. 
    he’d lived some  life and had stories to pass on. 
    girls were greeted with a crinkly eyed smile and a bear hug. 
    guys, with a punch in the gut and a big laugh.
    he used to scare freshmen (read:ALL of us) by trying to run us down in his blacked out suburban… on the sidewalk. 
    he was just as much of a joy as he was surrounded by controversy.
    i cannot imagine LU without him. i am sad for current students and hope that they have someone like him. 

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  • Lee Ann Livesay Patterson

    Jerry was a great man. He may have been portrayed as the media as an uber-conservative bigot, but he was an incredible person. I remember him telling stories of exchanging fireworks with Danny Lovett and remember talking to him a couple of times walking around his office on the Hill. 

  • jeff

    You do not know the first thing about dr. falwell. I and my class friends were right there at the start. I saw him,in the pulpit, hallways,bus workers meetings,in the tv prep(green) room,wed night bible study,L.B.C.chapel,and much more.dr. falwell was the kindest and most godly man i ever saw or knew.LOVE is the word,Christ’s love over flowed from him. When the school and church was on the edge of closeing down because of the government ‘s wrong, unfounded claims,we (students) never new till it was all over.Never did we see a trace of worry or stress,he was always the same. T rusting in his Lord. We knew,God was with him and leading. dr. falwell was real. He truely loved God and people. Even   the ones who hated him and all he stood for. God,the Bible,truth. I am sure he made mistakes he was human.We all do.The point is we never saw it. He always pointed us to Jesus the perfect one. And he never stopped. Always forging forward in mind and deed. I saw him restore,(with God’s help and Word) downfallen and wayward. Saw it with my own eyes.      I loved Dr. falwell. And miss his presence for good in this life.     jeff

  • jeff

      We called him”a man sent from God”

  • cajb11

    I’m really late to the game here but I ran across this blog by accident and wanted to weigh in. I was one of the old LU students, attending in the early 80′s when it was really strict…too much so IMO. I have few heroes but Jerry was/is one of them. Not like a demi-god who could never do wrong. In fact, one of the things I respect about him is simply the fact so many of us just call him “Jerry”. He had no over-sized ego. He never wanted to be put on a pedestal. He loved the students. He loved everyone. To know Jerry was to love Jerry. Very few people ever met Jerry and didn’t like him, including those who vehemently disagreed with him.

    My favorite thing about Jerry is what so few outside (and many inside) the fundamentalist/evangelical world do not understand…Jerry led a lot of churches out of the hardcore fundamentalist desert of “separation” into a more mainstream evangelical community of accepting the larger body of Christ. He made it safe for theologically conservative churches to break away from the Bob Jones and Jack Hyles extreme, militant and legalistic “churchianity”.

    I am now back in Lynchburg working for a local business. I am so proud of the LU of today. It is great in part because Jerry valued Christ and relationships over man’s legalistic preferences set forth as “biblical commands”. For that Jerry is my hero..and the “world” will never get it.

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