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Faith & Culture

Jerry Falwell Jr. isn’t out of the norm – the epidemic facing mainstream Christianity

This week Brandon Ambrosino released a rather exposing article on Politico regarding Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of conservative Christian college, Liberty University.

In the article, Ambrosino offers information collected from close associates of Falwell and more than two dozen “current and former high-ranking officials at Liberty University”.

Included in the article, are pictures of Falwell partying at a Miami nightclub, evidence of texting naughty pictures of his wife in a French maid costume to several people, talking about his sex life openly with employees, having a hand in dirty politics including damning evidence of one of Liberty’s employees being paid to manipulate online polls in Trump’s favor.

Beyond that, there is large mismanagement of University funds. According to an official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances, “we’re not a school, we’re a real estate hedge fund”.  Including funds being invested towards Falwell’s son Trey who happens to co-own a gay-friendly hostel in Miami.

As one of the many 110,000 students currently enrolled at Liberty, my take on this article may be a bit out of the norm.

I am not angry at all of Falwell’s lifestyle choices. Contrary to the University’s standards, I enjoy a night at a club dancing. I like drinking alcohol with friends (dirty martini please!). I don’t judge people for their sex lives (none of my business) and I think it’s great to support gay-friendly businesses.

None of that angers me.

But the hypocrisy does.

A LOT.

I am not your traditional Liberty student. I defend LGBTQ rights, I write papers regarding racial issues inside Christianity, I openly posted on Instagram the fact that I swear, I don’t believe in pushing beliefs on anyone (in which I wrote about in a required class on evangelism).

I am divorced, I don’t think sex before marriage is a ticket to hell (I actually question the legitimacy of hell altogether), I am a seeker, a questioner and one who openly professes that I don’t have the corner on God because I don’t believe in a God that can be cornered.

Instead…

I sit with the outcasts.

I love and accept those who many churches say aren’t really Christians.

I officiate same-sex weddings.

I am friends with those who practice different faiths.

I open my home to anyone and everyone.

The difference between me and Jerry Falwell Jr, isn’t that I’m not afraid to be open about my convictions – it’s that I choose to honor my convictions even though I’m scared of the consequences.

The cost of living authentically is high.

I lost a majority of my following when I started writing honestly. I lost many friends when I opened up about my marriage and filed for divorce. I am no longer a pastor. I lost my career and much of what I had built. I continue to wrestle with the loss of community.

I’m not perfect at living authentically. I still struggle to be fully open about my beliefs. In many ways, I am still quite private. BUT, I have not built an empire on principles that I do not believe in. I continue to challenge myself to be more brave, more honest and more real.

Yet Falwell leads an empire where…

  • Students can receive demerits for co-ed dancing
  • Students can be expelled for drinking

And…Falwell was photographed at a nightclub. With dancing. And drinking.

Falwell…

  • Openly opposes LGBTQ rights – yet financially invests in an LGBTQ-friendly business
  • Openly stands for morality – yet talks about his sex life with employees and texts racy pics of his wife to others

Falwell is one of America’s leading front men for a faith based on the life of Jesus.

Jesus…

Who told the wealthy to give what they had to the poor

Who opposed political parties that oppressed others

Who would rather wash feet than be crowned a king

Who lived authentically at the cost of his life

Yes, the two look quite different.

But, before you grab a stone to throw at Falwell, know that he is not all that unusual. Many who claim this faith and even lead in it, live a separate life behind closed doors.

I openly wrote about my experiences of abuse by men under the name Christianity in a recent article. It was painful to write, but again, my story isn’t out of the norm either.

I do not write any of this lightly, as I see this as an epidemic infesting Western Christianity. When leadership lives falsely, the behavior trickles down the chain. Into livingrooms, marriage beds, online chats and loads of secrets that destroy everyday marriages, families, careers, and relationships.

It’s why many “Christian” men…

Raise their hands in church and cheat on their wife the following week

Read the Bible to their kids and then hop online as soon as the family is asleep

Don’t follow through on their word

Fill their homes with anger and fear

Do not take responsibility for their actions

Refuse to pay child support

Leave their family and start over giving everything to their new family

Lead Bible studies and then abuse their family after

Cheat on their taxes

(do I need to continue? I think I’ve made my point)

We have an open bleed in the Christian faith. The bleed starts with hypocrisy. Arrogance. And a belief that one has the corner on God.

Sadly, this has become the norm.

It is rare to find leaders who model Jesus….it’s rare because it doesn’t pay well. It doesn’t offer crowns or recognition.

It offers a lot of time spent in the wilderness. Dirt, dust and long journeys. It offers mockery and judgment. And at some point, a crucifixion – because power will always rise up against authenticity.

Authenticity is what those in power fear most; it is often the one thing they don’t have.

Although the authentic life is wild and carved with discomfort, it provides light and freedom. That is something I can personally attest to. I may have lost the life I built (I share this story in a recent podcast episode), but I gained so much more. I gained a light chest. The ability to breathe. A real existence. And a tribe of people who know the real me.

I don’t have to pretend.

Those who live like Jerry Falwell Jr, are trapped in a vicious cycle. Terrified of anyone knowing they are not who they appear to be. Constantly trying to cover up their latest mess.

The façade they create may offer temporary comfort, but at the end of the day, it’s a cage.

We are not meant to be caged – we are meant to be free. The wilderness is where the free ones roam. It is where we find our voices. Where we find ourselves. And where we find the Divine. Not a golden calf resurrected in man-made castles.

As for Jerry Falwell and those who follow similar paths, I sincerely hope this latest forced exposure will bring about needed change in this empire we call Western Christianity.

Peace,

Anna

Author. Blogger. Speaker. Momma to 4.

11 Comments

  • Rex Kapfhamer

    When works& being good is more important than love, it creates a climate of fear & never being good enough. After a bit even good people need a release from the pressure of trying to be perfect. I have never resonated with Jerry’s teachings or his sons. Judgement sucks. Especially when I do it because I think less of myself for doing it. But media is all about judgement instead of grace. Jesus wouldn’t last 10 minutes in this media environment because he accepted people. People are losing hope due to all the negativity & blaming & belittling. I am trying to see the positive side more & more but this message shows the opposite. Gods love shows us a bright sun/son every day.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Yes, I agree judgement absolutely sucks….I even wrestled with writing this article for that very reason. I didn’t want to pass judgement on him. But, at the same time, truth is where freedom is found. So, at the end of the day that is where I land. Let’s be truthful with one another. Honest about where we really are. That is the only way we can find peace and true authentic community. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Hugs.

  • gail govan

    Hi Anna, Perhaps I missed it because my old eyes do not read well on screens, but I just wondered if you have confronted Mr. Falwell straight on about his lies and “stuff.” You did write that you are a student at his university, and have written the truth in your work so perhaps that could be considered confrontation in an oblique sense. I was thinking of “make an appointment and sit right across from him at his desk and look him right in the eye” type of confrontation.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Girl, I would welcome that opportunity! Unfortunately, I do not live in Virginia. I am a non-traditional on-line student living in Kansas. lol However, if even the opportunity I would have that sit down in a heartbeat.

  • Alice

    Well said!! I just read an article yesterday about the scandal with Liberty. I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. I don’t judge his behavior (Although I don’t like at all that he shared photos of his wife. If I read it correctly it alludes that she didn’t give consent for them to be shared.) I too, don’t like the hypocrisy of it all!
    Thank you once again for giving me the words for my feelings!!

    • Anna Dimmel

      That part of the story made me uncomfortable too….however, if she was cool with him doing that, then I have no problem with it. You do you boo! But, if it was done without her consent I take issue with that – it’s a huge act of disrespect and dishonoring towards the intimacy of their relationship. Uhggg. Such a mess!

  • tonycutty

    An excellent blog, and so well said. While, being British, I haven’t a clue who this guy is, I can recognise the type and know of people like that over here too..

    One of the functions of the prophet is to call out the hypocrisy and double-standards practised by the Religious. In this piece, you have done that really well.

    Now let’s pray that those still entrapped in a hypocritical, Religious mindset will begin to see what it all really is under the surface, that they likely know about but deny it themselves. I was once like that; but no longer. I too can breathe the free air again and walk in a lightness of spirit.

    If there’s anyone still so entrapped who’s reading this blog, and can identify with what Anna is saying, may I recommend breaking your chains – as is your birthright as a believer – and coming into your freedom. You won’t regret it.

  • Yvonne

    Dan Mohler is a man of God who models Christ Jesus after being totally transformed 23 years ago. The problem isn’t Christian men, it is the same enemy human being has had until Jesus gave us Victory over him: satan. Only in Christ Jesus can we overcome as only He has overcome this world; only Jesus was perfect and we all need grace.

    Jesus is very clear about every issue you bring up and I choose to only listen to The Word through the Holy Spirit, listen, hear and do it; I believe what Jesus said and agree with God our Father, not what the world says and believes, but believe and receive and be and live the Words of Jesus, logos, rhema and the Living Word, Christ Jesus. May the Spirit of Truth lead all of us in God’s Truth now and forever. Amen.

  • Keith

    Anna, well said. Having worked with a number of ministers to help people in need, I have witnessed countless men and women who have walked the talked. It is a difficult task, where imperfect people try to do the right thing as ministers. When religion is inclusive and involving, it is at its finest.

    With that said, in my consulting work before I retired and in watching and reading about far less than perfect religious leaders, I have also witnessed some that are selfish and hypocritical. They put a bad face on all the good others do and even they do, when they live up to their role. That is unfortunate. The examples are several.

    Religious leaders need to be our better angels. When they fail to live up to that difficult ideal it is a dereliction in duty. They are human, so I would hope there would be remorse. Bigotry from the pulpit is a pet peeve of mine. Greed is another concern, especially with these prosperity tele-evangelists who are con men bilking faithful people from their money and credit.

    In Falwell’s case, power is corruptive, even when it has a good mission. It is not uncommon for even religious leaders to feel they are owed more for their efforts. Hypocrisy is one thing; treating people poorly is another. Fraud is yet another. There is a lot to answer to. I hope Mr. Falwell is remorseful and do what he needs to.

    Keith

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