In 1980, I started watching The Old Time Gospel Hour with Jerry Falwell, not because I believed a word the man said but because he was altogether too close to Reagan for my tastes and I wanted to know what he said. This was, of course, long before YouTube. That’s a shame, because his hour-long infomercials for his “mission,” what we now know of as Liberty University, for example, were legendary.
He aired Blessed Are the Peacemakers in the early eighties; it featured a scene showing Falwell seated in the pews, showing a series of charts showing “relative US/Soviet troop strength.” Now, think about it. How could he have gotten access to such information? He said he’d gotten briefings from the White House.
Briefings? From the White House? Why?
I’d been a personnel specialist in the Air Force, which essentially meant I flew a desk for the better part of four years. One of the things you learn in that job deals with security classification—no one, not even the President, can violate those regulations. Falwell made it clear these were a secret matter but there he was anyway, showing these cheesy-looking charts. Here’s what I thought then: Either he’s a liar and the briefing never happened, or he’s a felon, and not only Falwell, of course. It would mean everyone in the room was a co-conspirator.
I go with liar, personally. It wouldn’t be the only instance, and it didn’t seem to matter to him, so long as he won the larger contest and the Repubs remained in power. He did whatever it took to raise money, raising the goal level almost the way Ridge would later raise the color code on the threat meter—always more, because the need never lessens. I guess not.
Of course, there was also Liberty U.; sometimes I wonder whether he hustled all that money just so he could cheer his own NCAA teams. He was a baron when his own Bible told him better. I worry about places like this, Regent University, as well as the military academies now essentially run by evangelicals who promote their cause before all else.
Sadly, it was hard to find people back then who would call out Falwell on his penchant for self-aggrandizing lies. Such a thing would play out differently in the Internet age, I should think. Still, Falwell’s gone and therefore past indictment. But we can never forget that these people who stand behind their pulpits purporting to speak for God all but telling us who to vote for, these people enjoy a tax status the rest of us could never have. I think that if Religious-Right preachers want to get involved in the political discourse, they should do what George Carlin told them to do, and pay their ticket price like the rest of us. The Falwell generation of evangelicals will apparently escape that fate, which is unfortunate; now, how about the current class? Gentlemen, ladies, pay the bill before you speak.