Ya know, today’s subject always struck me as a weird little spud. Lately, the news about him only confirms that perception. Amazingly, he didn’t realize that eventually, his shenanigans would come out. Today, let me show you just how insulated Jerry Falwell Jr. was from reality, and why it won’t matter in the end to his tribemates.
“Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth.”
Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. (Proverbs 26:26, NIV)
Just yesterday, the story broke in Politico. In it, oodles of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s close associates reveal all kinds of unflattering secrets about their Dear Leader.
Well, the story’s been breaking for ages. Below, I present a very loose collection of stories I’ve had bookmarked:
- “The Family That Gives Together” — Mother Jones, January 2014. Links the ultra-right-wing Christian conservative organizations run by the Bradley, Coors, Falwell, and Koch families to the DeVos dynasty.
- “Sins of the Father” – HuffPo, February 2016. Falwell Jr.’s turnaround to support Donald Trump.
- “It’s Official: Jerry Falwell Jr. Has Substituted Donald Trump for Jesus Christ.” – Americans United, January 2019. Examines that weird “no” answer Falwell gave about ever turning on his golden idol.
- “How Cut-Rate SoBe Hostel Launched Jerry Falwell Jr.’s ‘Pool Boy’ Saga, Naked Picture Hunt.” Miami Herald, June 2019. (Also, this Rolling Stone article about the same.)
- “Falwell Steered Liberty University Land Deal Benefiting His Personal Trainer.” Reuters, August 2019.
Taken together, these stories paint a very unflattering image of the current scion of the Falwell family.
The Whole Picture.
Indeed, these stories and many more paint an image of Falwell as extremely motivated by money and power. He really enjoys spending the money and wielding the power he’s inherited. Worse, he suffers no pangs of conscience in violating his religion’s most deeply-held convictions. Like many of his religious peers, he’s never met a conviction he couldn’t flip-flop on if the price was right.
Lately, though, the stories reveal some extremely unsavory elements to his personal and professional life. From potential sexual and professional improprieties to possibly rigging polls and elections to outright alleged fraud with his university’s money, Jerry Falwell Jr. covers the gamut of hypocritical offenses. It’s like he thought he had to catch ’em all.
One of his college’s students who committed any one of these offenses could expect to be kicked out of his little tin-pot dictatorship.
But in broken systems, the people in power become a law unto themselves.
Oh, those are for other people. Specifically, rules exist for the people who are not in power.
If Jerry Falwell Jr. wants to go to a Miami nightclub, he damned well goes to a Miami nightclub! If his son wants to boogie at that coed club alongside his dad, he damned well gets down with the ladies! And if his daughter-in-law wants to get her drink on in that same nightclub, that is damned well exactly what she does on camera, thank you!
In every conceivable way, these stories destroy whatever Jerry Falwell Jr. ever had by way of a good reputation.
Crossing the Streams.
Over the past few decades, evangelicals carefully cultured and nursed a social environment in which powerful people could cross very important streams together: personal, professional, civic, religious. Indeed, their god blessed anything good in their personal lives. Of course this same god wanted their businesses to prosper and for his followers to take formal control over the whole world.
They call this belief by a number of names: Christian reconstructionism, Dominionism, the Seven Mountains, you name it. However, the meaning remains the same. To these Christians, the personal is the political is the professional is the religious. In their world, all these spheres merge into one theocratic, uncomfortably-authoritarian whole. Whatever exists as good for one sphere counts as good for all the spheres. It wouldn’t occur to a proper culture warrior to think otherwise.
In that world, too, the ends justify the means. Indeed, literally any abuse or rulebreaking can be excused if the goal is met. Not only does winning matter most, but winning also indicates divine favor. Doing the math, losing becomes a visible show of divine disapproval.
Thus, the most important task any culture warrior undertakes is climbing up the ladder of power. The more power evangelicals hold, the less abuse they endure–and the more control they wield over others.
Jerry Falwell Jr. climbed all the way up that ladder to its top. As a result, the dude likely considered himself untouchable.
But he wasn’t.
The Cultural Change.
In general, evangelicals do not deal gracefully with cultural change. In this case, Jerry Falwell Jr. missed the cultural memo detailing his religion’s dead-drop from power and credibility.
Remember that nightclub thing? Hilariously and in a very mealy-mouthed kind of way, he tried to tell the Politico writer that the photo published of him at the club was totally photoshopped. Even by evangelical standards, it was a shockingly poor attempt to salvage his image.
In response to Falwell’s reckless smearing of his professional reputation, photographer Seth Browarnik combed through his archives. Just to make a point, he published five more photos from that night depicting the three Falwells partying down.
When I heard that, I busted out laughing. Imagine someone doing that to his dad, “Big Jerry,” back in the heyday of evangelical power! Or Billy Graham in the 1950s! I doubt anybody would have dared.
So yeah, I seriously think that Falwell never expected his antics to come to light. I think he expected to go his whole life without worrying about his behavior becoming publicly known.
In his hypocrisy, Jerry Falwell Jr. represents an evangelical’s evangelical. He’s the end-run, late-stage product of their culture war mentality.
In the Politico article, I noticed many older evangelicals lamenting the passing of the good ol’ days under “Big Jerry.” They wrung their hands over how his son had turned out. Oh, no way would all this have happened under “Big Jerry!” No, no way at all!
But “Big Jerry” was a power-mad bigot who handed all that unearned power to his two sons. Instead of ensuring that qualified people ran his sprawling empire after his death, he treated his legacy like it was a banana stand that his kids could run as they pleased.
Right there, that’s the very beginning of evangelicals’ problems. They keep handing unlimited, unilateral power to people who aren’t qualified to wield it. Then, once those people hold such power, there’s no functional way at all to wrestle it away from them.
Evangelicals loathe and despise secular system rules (like the ones governing no-fault divorce) because way too many people have way too much input on questions like who gains and holds power and how that power can be pared away. They despise sharing power with anybody at least as much as they hate allowing the governed to have any say in their governance.
As a result, their system results in people like Jerry Falwell Jr. way more often than it results in good, decent, compassionate leaders who faithfully follow their rules.
Where Have All the Good Evangelicals Gone?
Long ago, I used to wonder why evangelicals had so much trouble attracting good leaders to their banner. Really, were these lackluster gits and shameless criminals the very best they could find to lead their groups?
Increasingly, the answer came back from them: a resounding, Sorry, but yeah, they really are.
Here, though, the situation worsens. Jerry Falwell Jr. is the hand-picked successor of one of the biggest names in modern evangelical Christianity. He’s the son of Jerry Falwell. If anybody should know how wonderful Christian living is and how rewarding it is to Jesus super-hard all the time, it’d be this guy. And if anybody recognized the eternal danger of disregarding those rules, it’d be him as well.
As it turns out, that son acts pretty much like any other unprincipled, cruel, bigoted, small-minded, tyrannical, sexist, amoral creep when presented with nearly-limitless funds and the freedom to act however he pleases.
No wonder his dream date is Donald Trump.
Jesus Doesn’t Change People: Jerry Falwell Jr. Edition.
OMG, y’all, breaking news: Jesus hasn’t changed yet another evangelical into a decent human being. We’ll pause here so everyone can pick their jaws up off the floor.
That realization, washing as it is across mainstream America as we speak, isn’t new. Not by a longshot. However, it represents yet another claim of theirs that very spectacularly dies on impact with reality. When evangelicals fail to reject this leader of theirs, hopefully Americans will begin recognizing another claim of theirs that fails equally as hard.
See, the only way that Jerry Falwell Jr. can exist is in a world where Christians like him wield enormous coercive power over a population. The bad part is that that is exactly where he will continue to exist. Evangelicals created a Jerry Falwell Jr.-shaped space in their culture, and now that they’ve got one they can’t get rid of him. They don’t even want to try. Indeed, he’s exactly what they wanted–along with his master Donald Trump.
As long as both men play by their rules, evangelicals will not ever abandon them.
Really, the only way any evangelical in power could earn the tribe’s ire is to speak against their ultimate master Donald Trump or to soften on the culture wars. If Jerry Falwell Jr. does that, he breaks the laws of power in evangelical culture and on that day, the tribe will grant him not one iota of mercy.
Ultimately, defiance of those laws represents evangelicals’ only truly unforgivable sin. And their dedicated devotion to seizing and guarding power is their only truly non-negotiable guiding principle.
I wonder if Americans as a whole have begun realizing that. It sure seems so. Take heart, friends.
NEXT UP: Al Mohler sets up a cruel dilemma about parenting–and even his sympathizers recognize how unfair it is. See you next time!
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This post represents my opinion and does not rise to the level of formal accusations of legal wrongdoing on anybody’s part. All accusations at this stage remain allegations, as far as I know. However, I stand by my opinion that JFJr is a damned weird little spud.