Hi and welcome back! Lately, the news seems full of stories about Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s final fall from grace. Yes, Liberty University finally got sick of his shenanigans and booted his butt out of their presidential seat. I found myself interested in this story because it intersects neatly with something we’re about to launch into here: morality, and why Christians’ version of it just doesn’t work even for them in their own personal lives. Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a product of his culture, completely and through-and-through. Today, let me show you the morality that created this mess of a human being.
(Some previous posts about Jerry Falwell, Jr. (JFJ): JFJ Thinks Evangelicals Are Forgotten People; What JFJ Does in the Darkness; JFJ’s Hilarious Response To More Bad News; Why JFJ CAN’T Be A Good Boy; How Hell-Belief Inevitably Leads to Hypocrisy.)
It’s Good Ta Be Da King.
Becki [Falwell]’s message to Jerry, one high-ranking university official said, was simple: You are Jerry Falwell Junior.
As in: the new Jerry Falwell—the new leader of the Religious Right.
For years, I heard stories concerning jusssst how much Jerry Falwell, Jr. reveled in being the king of Liberty University. Sure, yeah, I heard the rumors about the private gym on-campus and all that, and how he grubbed every dollar he could from the hapless students attending the already-expensive school — and how enraged he got when those students sometimes found ways around his nickel-and-diming.
In every conceivable way, he and his wife Becki ruled their little corner of Christendom like a king and queen. Unfortunately, their kingdom runs along very dysfunctional rules: it is a broken system. In other words, it cannot ever fulfill its own stated goals. Instead, it exists to enrich its leaders at the expense of its followers.
Whatever those followers believe about their system and how it works, that’s all it’s ever done and all it can do.
The Nature of Power in Broken Systems.
Terrible people, once they gain power in these broken systems, set about enjoying it. The terrible people beneath them crave that same kind of power. They ache for that same ability to thumb their noses at everybody and do whatever they want. And they admire anybody who wields power to its fullest extent — because one day, they hope desperately, they’ll be the ones wielding it. On that glorious day, they sure won’t hesitate.
Power unflexed is power removed, in broken systems. Leaders must be constantly flexing their power over those around them. In part, they simply enjoy pushing others to do stuff they don’t want to do. But in another important way, this flexing cements their status and reassures themselves and everyone around them that they are, in fact, in control of the group. The more the leader’s underlings hate their orders, the more pleasure and reassurance and cementing comes to the one who gave those orders.
So in a very real way, leaders in broken systems must continually push their underlings’ boundaries. As they grow more and more comfortable in their positions, they begin acting out worse and worse.
But in pushing the line ever-further outward, every so often one of these leaders goes just a little teeny titch too far.
Eventually, Jerry Falwell, Jr. found that line and crossed it. Don’t be amazed that it took this long for his underlings to take definitive action. They’ve likely been working toward this end for years.
Rumblings from the Back Pews.
For years now, various people close to Jerry Falwell, Jr. have tried to raise the alarm about his total lack of decorum and morality.
Last year, someone spanked him hard over his “two kingdoms” theology.
In 2018, even the uber-conservative National Review declared that he’d “beclown[ed] himself, again” when Falwell gave Donald Trump a pass for serial adultery.
And we can’t forget the whole “Save 71” group that came together for the sole purpose of ejecting this over-politicized Trump-worshiper from Liberty University. They put together a timeline going back to 2015 of the various embarrassments that Falwell had caused the university — as well as the very questionable leadership decisions he’d made.
The sheer level of hypocrisy that this guy brings to the evangelical table couldn’t be believed — or denied — even before his recent displays.
How a Lifelong Christian Scion Reacts.
Naturally, Jerry Falwell, Jr. reacted exactly as we’d expect him to react. He has denied all accountability and responsibility for anything he did.
- It was totally all Becki’s fault, that cheating you-know-what! He wasn’t involved at all! (Except it seems like he very much was.)
- The other man tried to extort him, Fatal Attraction style. Seriously. (More info here — it doesn’t particularly sound like that’s what happened.)
This ain’t new, either. Back in 2016, he got a lot of criticism after posing with his idol Donald Trump in front of a framed Playboy magazine cover. He declared then that meaniepies were totally “targeting” him for criticism and compared himself to Jesus Christ:
Honored for same hypocrites who accused Jesus of being a friend of publicans and sinners to be targeting me over a decades old mag cover! TY [Source]
This time around, he threw his wife under the scandal bus:
“Thankfully, our love has never been stronger. Becki and I forgave each other, because while her indiscretion may have been more obvious and apparent, I realized that there were important smaller things I needed to do better too.”
See? The king has graciously conceded that he needed to do some “smaller things” better. See?
So Much for Accountability.
Back when I was evangelical, we operated under this silly umbrella idea for families:
Among other things, it meant that husbands took ultimate responsibility for the family’s fortunes and behavior. How the wife behaved — and especially how the kids behaved — reflected on him. Thus, a man with an unruly family officially wasn’t supposed to attain any leadership positions within the church. My denomination took this list from 1 Timothy 3 as the general guideline:
He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? . . . Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
In every single way, the husband is officially the “buck stops here” of the family. If something goes wrong, ultimately evangelicals place the blame for it on the husband of the family.
Unofficially, cherchez la femme. And that’s exactly what Jerry Falwell, Jr. did here. He’s got an excuse for everything under the sun, and nothing is ever his fault.
The Truth of White Evangelicalism.
When we consider Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s utter hypocrisy, we must first of all know that he was literally born, bred, and raised in the lap of evangelical extremism. His father presided for life as one of the god-kings of the tribe. Thus, nobody but nobody should know more than the son does about the necessity of following all those silly rules. He of all Christians should know how wonderful and rewarding it is (LOL) to follow those rules.
In every single way, though, Jerry Falwell, Jr. betrays the real face of white evangelicalism:
White evangelicalism is a regressive, white supremacist, theocratic, fascist political movement draped in loads of religious jargon. Its members seek to create a sort of “green zone” controlled by their Dear Leaders.
In these Christians’ sick Republic of Gilead fantasy, everyone refusing to comply with their demands will be completely crushed under their boot-heels. They seek not some ethereal heavenly kingdom, but rather one based very much here on Earth — and ruled with iron fists by TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
This is why I say that Christian morality isn’t about becoming better people. Not only is there no magical sky fairy magically transforming them into better people, but the system itself actively prevents such an outcome.
For that matter, very few Christian groups even achieve functionality, much less harmony, much less mutual enjoyment for members. Whether the “group” in question is a romantic relationship, a friendship, a club, a church, a community, or a nation, almost every single time Christians impose their rules on anybody it results in disaster.
That happens because it doesn’t matter how “biblical” a rule might sound to any given Christian. What matters is how that rule translates into real life. If every single person trying to put a particular rule into lived reality fails miserably at the task, then this is a bad rule that needs to be examined and revised.
That’s one of the main reasons why I utterly reject the idea that “Christian morality” represents a ruleset for societies in general, as Christian Smith argues in Atheist Overreach. Christians can’t even live by this ruleset in their everyday lives. Christian leaders can’t even live by it. Whatever Christians imagine “Christian morality” to be, they do not show it in any greater quantity than non-Christians do.
Yeah, it’s a little utilitarian. But Christians have had just under 2000 years to demonstrate the value of their system. They have failed utterly. Their system has always produced hypocrites, then put their worst-of-the-worst into major leadership roles, and then protected them at the flocks’ expense. As one of their own leaders revealed, they can’t even identify the worst-of-the-worst among them, let alone consistently stop them from reaching positions of power.
This vast social experiment needs to end, for theirs and everyone else’s good.
Sifting the Wolves From the Sheep.
Evangelicals natter about “morality” for one reason: it’s how they gain power over others. From the Christian whining at the librarian about the reference books’ “immorality” to the politician blustering about America needing to force prayer on students to prevent shootings, this whole obsession of theirs with “morality” is about power.
In this way, rules-following sifts out the wolves from the sheep. Those who follow the rules represent a whole other breed from those who make and enforce those rules. The rules aren’t supposed to make sense or even be livable. It’s best if they’re not, because that means the sheep will bash their brains out trying to follow them and never question just how valid the ruleset is in the first place.
Makers/enforcers do not follow these rules. Instead, they impose them upon the sheep. And then they revel in the benefits that accrue to them from these rules-followers.
New rules-followers only give them more personal power to flex at their victims’ expense — and increases the amount of acting-out they can do, extending how far they can push their boundaries.
See how nice and neat this circle of dysfunction is?
Fewer rules-followers, by contrast, starts snipping away at the leaders’ empires. It becomes safer and safer for people to defy these tin-gods and tyrants.
The End of Another Evangelical Leader.
And that’s what’s happening to Jerry Falwell, Jr. right now. When he finally realized that his power-base had eroded beyond the point of no return, he finally had to accept defeat — sort of. He can whine about having been “bored” of the Liberty gig, of wanting to go do “something else,” all he likes.
It’s such a hilarious sour-grapes show of petulance.
But we know the truth. He left only when he absolutely had to. In fact, I can say with absolute confidence that he left only after pulling every single string he could to turn the tide back to his own favor again.
Oh, I’m sure he’ll find another group foolish enough to open the door to him. He’s got a large base of Trump-idolaters who adore him. And they’ll regret letting him in too, just like Liberty did, though hopefully they’ll be able to get rid of this unwanted guest more quickly and easily than that school did.
Yes, this shining example of Christian morality and leadership has definitely shown us the truth of Christianity — just not in the way these Christians would like.
NEXT UP: Being ‘good without gods.’ (Sure, Jan.)
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