This is the grave of Jerry Falwell.
An oozing cancerous sore on the United States, Falwell was born in 1933 in Lynchburg, Virginia. He didn’t come from any crazy religious family. His father was a bootlegger who was openly an agnostic and his grandfather was a committed atheist. But he went all-in on the evangelicalism as a kid, going to something called Baptist Bible College in Missouri. He founded his first church back in Lynchburg in 1956.
But no one cares about any of these early details. The point of Falwell’s life was to enforce revanchist politics of the most grotesque kind in a gild of Christian evangelicalism. So from the very beginning of his public career, he was the worst, launching sermons about the evils of Martin Luther King from the moment he started preaching. Railing against the Brown decision, Falwell, like many other whites north and south, started his own private Christian school in order to protect white students from having to go to school with black people, evidently the scariest thing in human history, a sentiment that still drives a large amount of whites today. In 1958, Falwell preached,
If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.
OK. He would go on of course to lambaste busing black kids into white schools, but was very supportive of busing white people stuck in black neighborhoods to his church so they could worship with the right kind of people.
Very ambitious, Falwell wanted power. And he figured out how to get it. He would preach every day on TV to rubes at home and connect their money to him and himself to Republican politics as that party became the White Man’s Party. The Old Time Gospel Hour was his meal ticket. On it, he would promote a combination of old-timey evangelicalism, racism, and new-timey conservative politics. He founded Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg in 1971 to build on the grift, which today is Liberty University, replete with a D-1 football team and everything. He built the school on the grounds of Carter Glass’ lands and used his old mansion as his office, which you can see in the background of the first photo.
Evangelicals had often stayed out of politics. Falwell’s job was to change that, motivating them to become activists for the nation’s most reactionary politics. He was a key player in making them care about abortion. See, when Roe was decided in 1973, the outrage about that was mostly confined to Catholics. Evangelicals saw abortion as a Catholic thing and since they mostly hated Catholics, they didn’t want to align with them over it. Falwell helped change that through his mass marketing political campaigns. Creating the Moral Majority in 1979 with the odious Paul Weyrich, this was Falwell’s revenge for Jimmy Carter stripping tax-exempt status from the all-white segregationist post-Brown schools that so many had founded. Falwell’s primary concern was to get these evangelicals to care about abortion and build a network of right-wing Christians that would allow Falwell to get back that tax-exempt status and then express greater power through American society. When Reagan was elected in 1980, his path to power became all the more clear. Falwell helped that happen, spending $10 million to cover the airwaves in the South with ads calling Carter a traitor to Christianity.
The Moral Majority reached the peak of its influence in the 80s, laying the groundwork for the hell which this nation finds itself today. Having full access to the Republican Party, he played a major role in turning it into a racist, fascist force that threatens the very near future of democracy. He especially pushed the modern Republican Party’s cynical relationship with Israel, combining hatred of Muslims (he called the Prophet Muhammad a “terrorist.”) with a vision that an aggressive Israel would bring back Jesus who would then send all those Jews to Hell. But since this has served both white Republicans in the U.S. and conservative elements of Israel very well, this has only continued, especially with Israel all in on their own fascist, Benjamin Netanyahu. Falwell hated public education entirely, seeing it as a snakepit of secularism and socialism and the people who would say that blacks were equal and the like. The horror. He was a huge backer of the South African apartheid regime, saying that to get rid of it would mean a Soviet-style revolution there and weren’t the whites better off in charge anyway.
By the 1990s, little had changed, even if the 1980s peak era of TV preachers had faded (Falwell had tried to save the Bakkers’ PTL, but failed to do so). He paid for the crazy right-wing conspiracy movie The Clinton Chronicles, which attempted to connect Bill Clinton to international cocaine smuggling and murdering Vince Foster and Ron Brown. Of course Falwell hated gay people, having been a big supporter of Anita Bryant back in the 70s and railing against the growing gay rights movement ever since. He was operating on a high level here. When Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian, Falwell referred to her as Ellen DeGenerate. That must have really played well among the sixth graders. In his later years, he did at least start talking about how denying gays housing and employment based on sexual orientation was maybe not such a great thing, but that hardly makes up for decades of homophobia.
And then of course there was Falwell’s rant about the Teletubbies. One of Liberty University’s publications talked about the purple one as intentionally gay and meant to lure children into the gay lifestyle. Falwell stated that “role modeling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children.” Uh huh. After 9/11, Falwell showed up on The 700 Club (when is Pat Robertson finally going to ooze back into the earth anyway) and blamed it all on the bad secular people: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.” Falwell was nothing if not a cynical hater.
And while people don’t really care that much about unions in terms of attacks on them by leading right-wing figures, since too many liberals largely don’t care about workers’ rights that much anyway, don’t worry your heads, Falwell hated them too, stating, “Labor unions should study and read the Bible instead of asking for more money. When people get right with God, they are better workers.” I’m not sure Falwell understood what labor unions actually do, except for the one that he did care about: they support Democrats.
Falwell died of a heart attack in 2007. His son, who really likes to watch his wife have sex with their hot pool boy, is arguably an even worse human being than the father, which is highly remarkable.
In conclusion, I should have left a bottle of Campari at the grave.
Jerry Falwell is buried on the campus of Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.
This grave visit was funded by LGM reader donations. If you don’t want this kind of grave visit with your monies, I have no idea what you would possibly want. This was peak graving in my world. If you would like this series to visit other scumbag TV preachers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. While I am sad that I can not yet visit Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts is in Tulsa (I highly recommend a visit to his “college” there just to see the outlandish and tasteless architecture; sadly, my visit was well before I started this series) and Billy Graham is in Charlotte, at that ridiculous Billy Graham Library that the city touts all over the place as its #1 tourist destination, the definition of a huge self-own by a city without culture, history, or soul. Previous posts in this series are archived here.