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The Fallout from Falwell – CT

This weeks Christian Today column – the original is here- 

The fallout from Falwell

The President of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, has resigned. It matters. Why? Not just because it is yet another religious leader falling because of a sexual scandal. Not just because the US media and internet are going to have a field day mocking, gossiping and judging. Not even because Liberty University is one of the largest, if not the largest, evangelical Christian college in the world. What makes this matter is because of who Jerry Falwell is and what he represents.

I won’t go into the details about the scandal – they are freely available. But suffice it to say that Mr Falwell has resigned after his wife admitted to an eight-year long affair with a young man, who alleges that Falwell not only knew about this but approved and liked to watch. He has apparently received a $10.5m settlement because he left without a formal accusation or admission of wrongdoing. This comes after Falwell was lambasted for sharing a photo of him ‘inappropriately’ dressed with a young woman, and afterwards posting what were construed as racist tweets.

It’s a sadly all too familiar story – the corruption of a ‘Christian’ leader through the unholy trinity of power, sex and money. Falwell’s father, Jerry Falwell senior was one of the most influential figures in the American church in the 20th century. His ‘moral majority’ set the tone for much of the evangelical church. In today’s world, where we like to demonise or eulogise people a hundred per cent either way, it is hard to get a more nuanced approach – but let me try.

Falwell senior did a great deal of good – his establishment of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University being just part of his legacy. But fundamentally, I think he set large parts of the church on what has proved to be a disastrous course, using the weapons of this world for the advancement of the Gospel. Karl Rove, the Republicans’ brilliant strategist in the last three decades of the 20th century, realised that there were perhaps as many as 25 million evangelical votes, which could be harnessed for the Republicans, and so a kind of Faustian pact was established between much of the evangelical world and the Republican party.

A Christian= Republican?

I once heard a former drug addict from the US give his testimony where he came out with the astonishing line: “so I became a Christian and a Republican.”  As if the two were obviously synonymous. Today there are many evangelical Christians who think they are.

I once spoke at a gathering of Presbyterian church leaders in the South and afterwards an elderly black elder stood up and thanked me for speaking and for being “the first white Democrat” he had heard in his church! I pointed out to him that I was not a Democrat (nor a Republican!) to which his retort was: “well, you sure sound like one.”

The trouble is that Karl Rowe was a genius (and an atheist/agnostic) who realised that he could weaponise moral issues such as abortion and gain substantial political advantages. The tragedy of American politics is that there were progressives on the Left who were doing exactly the same to the Democratic party. As a result, there were those in the leadership of the Evangelical Church who gave up the prophetic for the political. They then enjoyed the privileges of access to power and favoured treatment by those they endorsed. This helped their bank balances as much as their ministries – the two were often interlinked.

The Jerry Falwell Jr scandal is one tragic fruit of that ungodly and unhealthy alliance. When the preaching of the Gospel goes along with political and business deals, it soon ends up compromised. When church leaders and politicians use moral issues as leverage for either the Gospel or politics, it ends up a disaster which usually includes the sin that Jesus condemns the most – hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy

One of the most excruciating videos I have seen is of Becki Falwell speaking about ‘traditional family values’ at the same time as she was having an affair.  An affair her husband, who was head of a university demanding that all students and staff not have sex outside marriage, knew about. What’s worse is that staff complained about the authoritarian bullying of the Falwells and it has been asserted that Falwell Jr used sexually inappropriate language in staff meetings. Why was this not dealt with?

Falwell was the first public evangelical leader to endorse Donald Trump in 2016. According to President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, this was because Cohen had helped Falwell recover ‘compromising’ photos.

What Should Liberty University do?

If Liberty University cared about the honour of the Lord and the reputation of the Gospel, then they should not have paid out the $10.5m severance according to the employment contract. That contract also mandates Falwell to behave and speak in accordance with the values and ethos of Liberty. Those ‘traditional family values’ do not include going into partnership with your wife’s lover, posting photographs of yourself standing unzipped beside a young woman also unzipped, or posting racist tweets. Liberty University would undoubtedly discipline its students for breaching their code of conduct. In rewarding their President for being in an even greater breach, they are making a mockery of the Gospel they profess to teach. Whatever happened to biblical discipline?

It’s not only that the name of God is ‘blasphemed amongst the Gentiles’ (Romans 2:24) but that the moral causes that Falwell publicly espoused are severely damaged. Hypocrisy negates the message. The Catholic Church in Scotland usually had a strong and influential voice on social and moral issues until the Cardinal O’Brien scandal. When I asked a Catholic leader why they were so quiet now, he said no one would listen to them after O’Brien. He was right.

What Can We Learn?

Those of us on the other side of the pond (or the Pacific) should not indulge in schadenfreude. We have the beams in our own eyes to deal with. However, we can and should learn from the sad experience of the American church over the past few years and resist every temptation to go down the ‘Moral Majority’ route. We cannot bring about the Kingdom of God through money, celebrity, moralism and political power.

On the other hand we should not become pietists and bury our heads in the sand, but we should always be aware of the teaching of Paul in Romans 2: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same thing.” 

Lord deliver us from our own hypocrisy.

Let’s remember that we are here to proclaim and live the Gospel. As such, we must live lives worthy of Christ and seek to use his methods to bring the Good News to a society that would rather mock in its despair, than believe in hope. Let’s live such good lives amongst the pagans that, though they accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:12).

Is the Church Capitalist? Is the American Church too Compromised with the Culture?

“Pornography, Paedophilia, Perversion and the End of Civilisation?”? CT

19 comments

  1. With this subset of American evangelicalism there is a lot I don’t understand and frequently I come to the conclusion that they just have a totally different (and sometimes quite grim) morality to everyone else.

    This three way affair has been an open secret and a source of ridicule for years. Why make it effectively a firing offence now? If it is due to the latest photo of Fallwell partying then how is that worse than other things he has said and done?

    I don’t think the Fallwells were blackmailed into supporting Trump because they didn’t need to be. He was already to their liking – that’s how they knew Cohen.

    How come we have a group of wealthy immoral businessmen as defacto leaders of the American church? It’s not hard to see why they are so supportive of a man like Trump – cut from the same cloth, but how do they successfully convince the vast majority of evangelicals to agree with them – enthusiastic support for re-election of a man with seemingly no morality at all (who visibly doesn’t attend church and has demonstrated complete ignorance of scripture)and opposition to Biden, a committed Roman Catholic?

  2. Biden is not a committed Catholic; he is one in name only. He endorses abortion on demand in clear contradiction of RC doctrine. There are other issues on which he departs from Catholicism. Many devout Catholics in the USA are calling on the faithful to not vote for Biden.

    1. Actually Bidens policy is to reduce unwanted pregnancies by better education and access to contraceptives, which seems to be working.

      I simply don’t recognize your description of Kamala Harris (a committed Baptist), especially when we see the realities of every day life under Trump (who doesn’t seem to believe in anything except maybe himself).

      But then maybe that’s my whole point – I don’t understand American evangelicals – American Evangelicalism (or at least the Fallwell end of it) is a front for the Republican Party where the passcode is “Do you think all abortion should be criminalized?” Jesus is secondary or missing altogether. Morality is something for the membership, not the leaders.

  3. Biden, a committed Roman Catholic? Really?
    I think your political leaning may be showing, just a tad, PeteJeremy.
    Biden has just nominated, as his running ‘mate’, one of the most anti-human pro-death (especially of babies) women in American politics.
    Biden supported Obama in promoting, and celebrating, homosexuaity, even throwing parties for them in the Whitehouse.
    Is that what the Catholic church supports? Is that what “a committed Roman Catholic” would support?

  4. Sadly, this is true of much of organised religion. And an unhealthy focus on sin either of others or participating in is the “yeast of the pharisees”. Of course we know Jesus’ direction to “do what they say, not what they do”. But then when this gets to the point of the organised church being infected then another biblical principle applies of good character being corrupted by bad company and the only way at times for this not to happen being to walk away.

    In the light of this and other scandals it seems not unlike the time of Habakkuk and I wonder if this “woke” culture that you have been critical of David frequently is a contemporary likening to the invasion of Babylon prior to taking Israel into exile for 70 years. This being God’s judgement on Israel.

    All are created in the image of God and are here to do good works that God has provided in Christ in advance to do. An unhealthy focus on sin is a distraction from that and sometimes a violent opposition to it.

    God can be experienced everywhere and in everything and in that joy of the Lord the pleasure of sin or pointing the finger at sin pales by comparison. People in church need to align more to that than being a “sinner”. Only then will Christian community and worship be attractive to outsiders and offer the riches of heaven to a world that is in desperate need of them.

  5. Your assessment of the American evangelical church unfortunately reveals a buying in to political left rhetoric. Surely you must understand that the actual Church, real belivers, in America, as everywhere, are certainly not compromised by an obvious in-name-only “Christian” like Falwell. We should be very careful when we so glibly condemn the Bride for which Christ died, and our brothefs and sisters.

    1. Could you let me know precisely what in the article is ‘buying into political left rhetoric’? Thats a serious charge to make. As is accusing me of ‘glibly’ condemning the bride for whom Christ died. I have done no such thing – so why make the accusation?

    2. I have a question for you if you don’t mind.

      If Fallwell is so obviously not a Christian then why was he allowed to run the largest Christian University in America and speak as one of the leaders of American evangelicalism? Why would he retain this position for so many years if it was clear to everyone he was a phoney? Also why has he only been fired now after years of antics? The pool boy story is nothing new.

      Also why does Trump continue to be heavily supported by evangelicals given he is of similar character to Fallwell – wealthy businessman, crooked friends and poor personal morality?

  6. Ol’ Jerry junior – all that religion and still unable to live the sort of life that he demanded of all others.

    It’s not in the least surprising. It’s definitely gratifying.

    You may recall where his father, while talking to that fool Pat Robertson, laid the blame for 9/11 – “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.’

    The only question now is how long it will be before junior pops up in the American Christian scene again and starts telling everyone else how to live again.

  7. The people who question Joe Biden’s Catholicism have a strong case. Unfortunately there are quite a few CINOs (Catholic In Name Only) in the Democrat Party. They make the highly implausible claim that they personally oppose abortion but would not impose their beliefs on other people. Such a claim would be more convincing if they did not at the same time seek to impose their beliefs on other people on a wide range of issues (eg. homosexuality). I don’t hear Biden (or any of the other CINOs) saying something like, “I personally oppose racism but I’m not going to impose my views on other people.” Biden supported all of the attempts by Obama to restrict freedom of religion.

    CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 08:30 am MT (CNA).- Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has released a campaign video in which he credits his Catholic faith, Pope Francis, and the example of nuns for his personal inspiration.

    The short video was released August 9 on the Democratic National Convention’s Twitter account. Biden’s use of nuns as an inspirational example of “generosity to others” comes despite his promise to renew legal action against the Little Sisters of the Poor should he win election.

    Biden has promised to remove freedom of conscience protections which exempt the sisters from the “contraceptive mandate,” opening them back up to renewed suits by the federal government for failure to provide contraceptives to their employees.
    https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/biden-says-catholic-nuns-inspire-him-to-run-plans-to-sue-little-sisters-of-the-poor-12427

    1. I understand the position of the RCC on these issues, but I do not understand how in secular politics the same politician can be accused of simultaneously in favor of abortion and in favor of wider access to contraceptives.

      My personal view is that we must move into the 20th century and adopt a public healthcare system funded by taxation. That would remove any need for employers to make any moral decisions about their employees healthcare.

      I don’t buy that Biden is somehow not a faithful Christian just because he is a Democrat, but I find it even more ludicrous that we are to believe Trump is a faithful Christian just because he is a Republican, especially when arguably he’s not even a Republican in the traditional sense.

  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7eoTN2vNM

    You don’t have to agree with the catholic theology in this video, but this priest is more faithful to christian values than Joe Biden and explains the issue facing Catholics in America. Christians of other denominations face the same issue.

    Christians in America vote republican, not because all the republicans are straight laced, good Christians. They vote republican because the democratic party’s platform is radically left wing now. Many of them now support abortion all the way up to 9 months and even after birth (Virginia’s governor said this in an interview a while back). Christians in America are in a pickle, the current president is not a moral man, but he stands up for the values we believe in through his policies (not necessarily his actions). Meanwhile, the democratic party ostracizes us and has all but endorsed Marxist rioters that are tearing down our major cities.

    As a Christian in America, I do not know how another christian could vote for a party that pushes socialist economic policies, abortion up to birth, backs anti-Semitic leaders, cheers on the rise of China, pushes identity politics, wishes to silence free speech, sexualizes young children, and has been in charge of America’s declining cities for decades. Republicans have there issues too, but its clear the democratic party has gone so far left that almost none of its values are similar to those who follow Christ. Yes, there are hypocrites in the republican party but at this point its about stopping the militant left and the only way to do that is voting republican.

    1. Totally agree with you, Jones, and what is very sad is that that same situation exists in Australia, where I live, and in the UK too.
      It has nothing to do with a party or person being Christian or otherwise, it is the policy direction that people have to consider. Which is the better party of a bad lot? And at present, I fail to see how any true Christian could support the Democrats, Labor, Labour or the SNP for that matter.

    2. Actually I dont think either party has changed their platform.

      Democrats dont believe abortion should be illegal, but wish to reduce it via sex education and access to contraceptives.

      Republicans want all abortion to be illegal and oppose sex education and access to contraceptives.

      I don’t for one moment buy this idea that Joe Biden is somehow some dangerous radical. The country survived 8 years with him as VP, yet it is tearing itself apart after only 4 with Trump/Pence.

      What I do think is slowly slipping away is the fruit of the spirit in the American evangelical church – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self control. Indeed often times it seems like American evangelicals see these values as weakness, especially for politicians. You get who you vote for. These things may seem secondary, but to me they often drive policy, action and inaction.

  9. After reading all this glad that I am now a well rounded non believer. People like the responders here turned me off anything religion. I became ashamed to be associated with Christianity in any form or shape. Made me feel dirty.

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