Falwell U

By JERE REAL  |  August 3, 2006

— Dozens of buildings have been erected hastily atop a ridge outside Lynchburg named “Liberty Mountain” by Falwell in 1976. There, too, is the home of LBC’s new 100,000-watt FM radio station, recently granted a license to broadcast as an educational station by the FCC.

This educational complex, however, is simply another forum for the evangelist’s religious ministry and his personal views. Liberty Baptist is geared to turn out future Falwells for American business, preaching, broadcasting, and education. Considered in that light, LBC’s potential is immense.

Ultimately, Falwells projects have but one aim: to change the social, political, and spiritual direction of the country. The minister says he wants a “watchdog, Bible-believing church in every congressional district in the country. His means to this end is the training of the ministers and teachers who will go out and start new fundamentalist churches — and academies — in those districts. Falwell predicts that by 1992 there will be as many Christian private schools in America as public schools. Clearly, he hopes to help staff those schools.

“Jerry Falwell isn’t just the leader of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg; he is the leader of a religious movement,” says Elmer Towns, the dean of Liberty Baptist Seminary. “We are in the embryonic stages of a new denomination. Now, Jerry may not say that is true, but I think it is so.” Towns see Falwell as a “new John Wesley,” as a man capable of shaping history. “We’ve a long way to go to being a new denomination, but the potential is there.” Towns envisions Falwell’s church as a philosophical center, as a future publishing outlet, and as a training ground for future churches and schools.

The seminary Towns heads is Falwell’s answer to theological seminaries he sees as too liberal, as turning out what he calls “faithless pastors.” In a sermon, Falwell once held up five fingers to a television camera and said: “There aren’t that many that are worth burning down” and his college, like his seminary, tries to produce graduates who eventually will serve this new faith. As a result, education at LBC is unlike that at most American colleges today.

“This college,” Liberty Baptist tells prospective students in its catalogue, “reserves the right to refuse admission to any individual who has not received Christ as his personal Savior.” While LBC considers applicants “without regard to sex, race, national origin, or handicap,” it does demand that incoming students have a particular sort of faith. This commitment is underscored by the requirement that every student join and attend Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. LBC admissions director Thomas Diggs explains that the only exceptions to the rule are “local Lynchburg-area residents,” who are allowed to continue their regular church affiliation. But what about, say a Methodist or Presbyterian from anther city who might apply to LBC?

“They’d have to join the Thomas Road Church,” Kiggs said. Such membership, he added, is “watch-care” (or more or less provisional), while the student is at the college. Once admitted to LBC, a student must attend Sunday-morning and –evening and Wednesday-evening services at the church. An LBC undergrad also has compulsory chapel three times a week, as do the faculty and staff, in addition to “devotional times” in dormitories and prayers preceding each instructional period.

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