Biography for Jerry Falwell
Jerry Falwell has been one of the most prominent of the fundamentalist and business-oriented preachers who have come out of the Southern United States. Reaching millions by television, his Moral Majority, Inc., at its most influential, was a force in national politics. Jerry was one of twin sons born on August 11, 1933 to Carey H. and Helen Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His father, a businessman and occasional bootlegger, died of alcoholism in 1948, a few weeks after he had repented. After excelling as a student and athlete in high school, Jerry was to be the valedictorian until it came out that he had used stolen lunch tickets to get free meals in the cafeteria. As an honor student at Lynchburg College, Falwell planned on a career in engineering until he experienced a conversion to "born again" Christianity. This occurred on January 20, 1952, during a service led by Paul Donnelson, the pastor of the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Lynchburg. Falwell, not a churchgoer, was looking for a girl to date, and Donnelson's preaching brought him to the altar. He also met the church pianist, Macel Pate, whom he married later. His sudden conversion has also been credited to a Sunday-morning radio program, the "Old Fashioned Revival Hour," which his mother always turned on for the benefit of her late-rising family. Having switched to the Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, Falwell graduated in 1956. He went back to Lynchburg and started a separate Baptist church with 35 families who had left the Park Avenue Baptist Church. They met in a derelict building that had been a soft-drink bottling plant on Thomas Road. Immediately after the first service, on June 24, 1956, Falwell began evangelizing door-to-door. On July 1, he inaugurated a daily half-hour radio broadcast and six months later, on television, the "Old-Time Gospel Hour," which is still on the air. Owing to Falwell's effective preaching and business sense, the Thomas Road Baptist Church grew rapidly in membership and activities. By the late 1960s, its congregation approached 10,000 families, and Falwell had established the Lynchburg Christian Academy, kindergarten through 12th grade; a home for alcoholics; programs for children, unmarried mothers, people in jail, the deaf, and the poor; a seminary and Bible institute; a cable television network; and a missionary program training teams to go all over the world. In the 1970s, Falwell founded Lynchburg Baptist College, later renamed Liberty University, with more than 10,000 students on campus and in correspondence courses. Fully accredited, the university has graduated hundreds of evangelical preachers and businesspeople. During the observance of the 1976 American bicentennial, Falwell sent students around the country to stage "I Love America" rallies intended also to bring people "back to God." The rallies offset the effect of a federal suit brought against Falwell's church in 1973, charging financial mismanagement. The suit was later dismissed, though the church's finances were put in the care of an advisory board. At the peak of the Falwell enterprises, income from contributions was estimated at $1 million per week. Though Falwell had originally been against political activism in his preaching, in 1979, he founded a secular organization, Moral Majority, Inc., together with Roman Catholic and Jewish conservatives. Moral Majority has condemned abortion, homosexuality, pornography, the Equal Rights Amendment, divorce, "secular humanism," and such civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. It has advocated voluntary prayer in the public schools, free enterprise, and military power. In the 1980 elections, voters following Moral Majority's message defeated several liberal representatives and senators and helped to elect President Ronald Reagan. In 1988, Moral Majority supported the election of George Bush. Falwell's entry into politics involved him in some complications. When he visited South Africa in 1985 in support of the government's apartheid policy, he spoke of the Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, as a "phony." Later that year, he visited the Philippines to give his support to the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. Several "televangelists"—ministers who led television programs—organized a network called the PTL, standing for "Praise the Lord," under the directorship of Jim Bakker, an evangelist whose enterprises also existed on a lavish scale. When Bakker became involved in scandals, Falwell replaced him as director. In the late 1980s, Falwell withdrew from the leadership of the PTL as well as Moral Majority, as his television audiences and the income therefrom showed a distinct decline. He continues as pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, which now boasts 22,000 members, and is chancellor of Liberty University and the Liberty Bible Institute. He regularly speaks on the "Old Time Gospel Hour" on television and radio, as well as on network and cable news programs. He received widespread publicity in 1999 after alleging that "Teletubbies," a children's television program, had homosexual undertones.