There’s an old saying that goes, “the only thing people love more than a hero is to watch a hero fall.”
I’ve never liked the quote.
As anyone who turned on the news or glanced at social media may know by now, Jerry Falwell, Jr. resigned as President of Liberty University today following a scandal of Epstein proportion. At least we think he did?
Either way, I won’t spend time discussing the details of what’s happened with my alma mater, but I do want to spend a few moments talking about some thoughts and feelings I have regarding the events.
When I first heard the news today, my first emotion was utter disbelief. As facts became irrefutable, it turned to shock. Then a sweeping feeling of sensationalism hit me as I spread the news to my friends and loved ones, who had of course already heard about it for the most part. (The Biblical word for this is GOSSIP by the way. Not a great trait).
As most people know, I attended Liberty University from 2007-2011 and law school there from 2011-2014. What many people don’t know is that the Falwells have been family friends of mine since before I was born. In fact, the connection goes back to my mother’s elementary school days.
Jerry Falwell Sr., or “Big Jerry” as friends called him, is the only reason I was able to go to college. My family would have never have been able to afford a private school anywhere else and if I’m being really honest, my grades just weren’t good enough to get a scholarship.
That’s why, when I came out to my R.A. my junior year, the conversation therapy I was sent to was that much harder. In my mind, I wasn’t only letting myself down by being the way I was (gay), I was letting down the family that had put their own money on the line to see me succeed. To see me succeed as a good Christian girl should, that is. I told myself it would work this time, that I wanted to change. I wanted to fit in at this school. I wanted to be like the other girls who didn’t cringe when their boyfriends kissed them. Who prayed to God for a good man. Who went to Bible studies for fun and made brownies for the boys in the “brother dorm”. (Look it up – it’s a bizarre, but very real thing).
The conversion therapy didn’t work and it took over a decade before I would fully become happy with the beautiful, gay creation God had made me to be.
Maybe that’s why tonight, when I was discussing the topic of Jerry Junior’s resignation with my grandmother, I felt a new feeling I hadn’t felt since hearing the news. Sadness. Not just the sadness when a friend hurts your feelings or you watch The Notebook. A deep sadness that echoed down into my heart and bones. And that is the feeling I cannot shake. In essence, I am mourning.
I mourn for this institution that welcome in a barely 17 year old with braces into its marbled halls.
I mourn for this institution that cast out a 19 year old nose-pierced lesbian who hated convocation.
I mourn for Big Jerry who paid for that 17 year old to attend school so she could have a chance at a better life.
I mourn for Big Jerry who spread so much hate against the LGBTQ community he blamed us for earthquakes.
I mourn for Becki, who taught me my first tennis swing and let me ride four-wheelers with her son.
I mourn for Jerry Junior who let my mother be a caretaker for his mother in her final years and gave her a place to live.
I mourn the family that first made me ever want to become a lawyer at the age of six.
I mourn for the Church, who will look on them with the same hate they preach so fervently against.
And I mourn for the modern day Pharisees and Sadducees who will never find it in their heart to forgive the great shortcomings of one, fallible and yes, hypocritical family.
To be clear, I am not writing this in defense of the Falwells. They have Attorney Cohen for that I’m sure. (Yes – little pointed there)
I’m writing this because today, maybe for the first time, I feel as if I understand Liberty University.
Liberty University is just a group of buildings built by men. Men who make mistakes. Men who hide from those mistakes. Men who try to pay large sums of money to hide even more from those mistakes. Men who make national news when those mistakes come out and bite them in the ass.
Maybe what makes me most sad is that the men who run Liberty University, Jerry Junior most of all, had/have the chance to make the Church what it should be. A community spreading the love of Christ. But instead they dedicate their time to legalism and judgment (aka "The Liberty Way") while they themselves are perceived clean of all blemish. This, to me, is a waste of power and a waste of opportunity. It turns hearts bitter and hard when it could turn them warm and receptive. It pushes people away when it could pull them in. It makes us flee from Christ, not follow Christ.
So, no. I was not happy to watch this purported hero fall today.
I simply mourned.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"