May 16, 2007

In Memorium: Jerry Falwell

A lot of ink has been spilled, and a lot of electrons spent, in the past 24 or so hours, on this topic. And it would be very easy for me to simply sit down and write a defense of Jerry, or a critique, or to simply post a rant against the people who (as happened last night on Anderson Cooper 360) will simply choose to call names and hate, even as they cry out against his "hatred."

But that's all been done before. Ever since I walked on campus at Liberty University in August of 1986, I've been defending my chancellor. And it often wasn't an easy job. When my sister called me yesterday at about 2 and said "Did you hear about Jerry Falwell?" my gut reaction (though thankfully unspoken) was "Oh, no. What did he say this time?"

Jerry had a habit of speaking what was on his mind, without realizing (or, sometimes, caring, I guess) what it would sound like. Just a few weeks ago, he announced that he considered the doctrine of limited atonement (a cornerstone of Calvinist theology) "heresy." Immediately, I thought of people like Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Al Mohler, and John MacArthur -- all good men, men of faith and conviction, and all fervent five-point Calvinists. All heretics, I guess, according to Jerry.

Needless to say, I didn't always agree with Jerry Falwell. But one of the things I learned in my time at Liberty was that that was OK. I attended classes with people from all over the evangelical spectrum -- old-school fundamentalists, Southern Baptists, evangelical Methodists, Pentecostals, you name it. Even when Jerry didn't always express tolerance in minors, the culture at Liberty thrived on it.

People enjoyed attacking Jerry Falwell. And I could tell that they really didn't know the man -- the man, not the preacher. The preacher preached against all forms of vice. The man, the Christian, often loaned his ministry's plane to Larry Flynt (yes, that Larry Flynt), who Jerry was actually friends with. People attacked Jerry for his lack of compassion, but Jerry rather quietly founded and operated the Elim Home for alcoholics and the Liberty Godparent Home for unwed mothers. Jerry was pro-life -- he was more than willing to take care of young women who made a mistake, and wanted to do the right thing -- including offering scholarships to Liberty for those who wanted it.

But I got to know a Jerry Falwell that the media and the casual observers would never get to know. I knew the man who, long before Springer made it popular, would walk into a basketball game to a thunderous chant of "Jerry! Jerry!" Whose students often referred to themselves (both ironically and proudly) as "Jerry's Kids." Who found time to talk to students as he walked across campus. Who was really interested in those students.

My mother-in-law spent a lot of time on campus when my wife and I were students there. She saw Jerry, and he saw her. He never knew her name, but any time he saw her in Lynchburg, he came over and spoke to her, or waved. He knew that she was an LU mom, and he wanted to show her he appreciated her.

The Jerry Falwell that the media never got to know threw toilet paper rolls at basketball games. He threw snowballs in chapel -- at the president of the college. He told incoming freshmen, "When Dr. Guillerman is around, you have to observe protocol and call me Dr. Falwell. But when he's not around, call me Pastor. Or heck, you can just call me Jerry."

That's the Jerry Falwell I got to know. And that's the one I will miss. Rest in Peace, Jerry. You've earned that reward.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 09:45 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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