Jerry Falwell: a Life of Fire and Brimstone

Falwell said that his school "is a drug-free zone. It's an alcohol-free zone. It is a tobacco-free zone. No alcohol. No drugs. No tobacco. No coed dorms. We catch a boy in a girl's dorm, we shoot him. Make him wish we had."

For years now, Liberty University has been the place where Falwell put most of his energy, where he trained what he hoped would be the next generation of Christian leaders. His dream was to make his school what Brigham Young University is for the Mormons: the place to go.

Politics and Preaching

And Liberty University was not just Falwell's school. It was also a platform for him, and the scene of his last political hurrah.

Even when his political clout was on the wane, Falwell was a sought after supporter for political candidates. During his 2000 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., notably referred to Falwell as "an agent of intolerance." But six years later, on May 13, 2006, McCain traveled to Lynchburg, Va., to speak at the Liberty University commencement.

As McCain began his 2008 presidential campaign, he said that Falwell and he had buried the hatchet. But on at least one big issue, the men were still deeply divided. McCain opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a cause Falwell believed in passionately, or offensively, depending on your point of view.

"I believe that all our behavior is a matter of choice," Falwell said. "I don't believe there's any scientific evidence and certainly no spiritual evidence that anyone is born a bank robber or born, born a racist. Or born heterosexual. Or born homosexual."

"We're born physically heterosexual," he continued. "But our behavior, our behavior then is a matter of choice. And when our families are properly oriented, we teach our children, it doesn't happen. I believe that if every family in the world was headed by men and women who love Christ, committed to the Lordship of Christ, who brought their children up in the nurturing atmosphere of the Lord, there would be aberrations of gay behavior, like heterosexual promiscuity, but it would not be prevalent."

'We're Losing the Battle'

When asked if he thought those comments could be viewed by gay men and women as almost genocidal, Falwell said that "I spoke last year at a huge camp in North Carolina to 2,000 former gays. And there's no group more hated in the country today than former gays who have been born again, trusted Christ as savior, abandoned the lifestyle. And then, with the help of the church and other believers, found their way back to normalcy."

Falwell did denounce violence against gay people, saying that "Anyone who commits violence, in any way against gay people or promiscuous heterosexuals or whatever, is not doing it in the name of the Lord."

Despite the fact that Falwell spent a quarter century fighting the culture wars, America today is more tolerant of gay people. There are more nontraditional families than ever before. The country has changed. And Falwell admitted that he was losing his battle.

"There's no question that we're losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our young people. All sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman is forbidden by God. It's immoral. It's better for them, it's better for their children later. It is the way I belief God intends it."

Jerry Falwell had a born knack for controversy, for inspiring some and enraging others. But whatever you thought of him, as we said, he was an American original.

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