My work appears regularly in the Lynchburg, Virginia, newspaper, the News & Advance. I haven’t decided yet whether I will be using this piece as one of my offerings for that audience. But I’m considering it. – Andy Schmookler
Asking those Christians who support Liberty University: “When you look at the spirit that Jerry Falwell brings to the world, does it really seem to you to be anything like the spirit that Jesus sought to convey?”
Isn’t he more like the very opposite?
Hollywood would never, ever have cast Falwell as the Christian we used to see in those great movies about the Christians living in the cruel Roman Empire in the time of Christ. On the contrary, Falwell would fill in well for one of those Roman rulers those Hollywood tales led us to take pleasure in seeing overcome by the rising Christian spirit. (In one plot after another, from “The Robe” to “Quo Vadis” to “Ben Hur.”)
Love and humility were the hallmarks of the Christians in those films. The Roman order expressed a spirit of cruelty and injustice.
(The Christian/Roman dichotomy was the divide that American culture declared – in those pious 1950s movies – to be the essential spiritual choice in the world.)
Into which of those orders would you put Jerry Falwell — Falwell, who has tied himself quite completely to Donald Trump — if you wanted to portray either the spirit of the cruel empire of power or of the spirit of Christ as manifested in his followers?
(As for where Trump would fit in those films, Trump strikes me as fitting into the category of “crazy” Emperors— figures those movies gave us with Nero and Caligula. He’d be about the last one to cast to be the humble and loving St. Peter with his flock of Christians, who endure the cruelty of the Romans.)
As for what spirit Falwell brings to the world, I won’t claim to have made a systematic study, but I do have some powerful evidence. In all my political travels in the world, including in my two-year campaigning for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District, which includes Lynchburg and Liberty University, I have never come upon something so dark as what I gathered from a variety of good people in Lynchburg.
In Lynchburg back in 2011-12, I found a number of people of broad mind and open heart and goodwill, who had experienced something traumatic at the hands of Liberty University and Falwell. Their experience had left them with real pain and fear, and a sense of having been treated very badly. I’d never before heard something like what these people conveyed: their sense of menace and revulsion came across to me as a kind of horror.
Just the opposite of what it would be if one’s powerful institutional and political neighbor was guided by the notion, “Love Thy Neighbor.”
And then, in recent days, we’ve seen Falwell’s coronavirus stunt: going entirely contrary to the whole national movement to keep our distance so that the virus can’t penetrate our society more fully, Falwell invited Liberty University students to return to campus. Falwell’s move looks clearly to be part of the right-wing spirit of defiance regarding taking seriously the pandemic that Trump has continually sought to minimize (in the belief that this would protect his re-election chances).
With that stunt, Falwell showed himself willing to endanger public health in order to strike a blow at the national effort that this President – to whom Falwell has tied himself — has resisted from the outset. For both Falwell and Trump, it’s all, ultimately, about the quest for power no matter the cost in the endangerment to human lives.
Is that the kind of choice a follower of Jesus in those movies would make – i.e. to sacrifice the innocent as part of his quest to come out on top? (Sounds like one of the worse Romans to me.)
All of which points to the question: What does it mean that we’ve got Christians aligning themselves with a figure –actually, more than one figure — who falls readily on the Roman side of the Christian-Roman divide?
Isn’t there something profoundly broken going on here? And is it not our spiritual task in the world to make the world more Whole?