Falwell U

By JERE REAL  |  August 3, 2006

Robert E.R. Huntley, president of Washington and Lee, was surprised to learn that LBC was using the chapel to illustrate its catalogue. “Isn’t that the damndest thing?” he said when asked about the photograph. “We certainly were unaware that the photograph was being used that way.” Certainly, there is no structure an LBC that even remotely looks like Lee Chapel; LBC’s regular chapel services are held in a “multi-purpose” building. The only traditional looking building at liberty Baptist is a recently built one room frame church, which does capture the flavor of rural fundamentalism rather well; one almost expects to hear “Give Me That Old Time Religion” emerging from the building, a la sergeant York or, better yet, Angel Baby. A guard explained that this church is used only as a “prayer chapel,” not for campus chapel. Looming just behind its steeple and cross is the antenna for Falwell’s new FM radio station, WRVL

The station, which features a heady dose of religion and religious music, has already been the subject of controversy. Area residents complain that the 100,00 watt station interferes with their television reception, while others say it blocks out the National Public Radio station in Roanoke. In its initial application for an educational radio license, LBC stated that WRVL’s “programming content and quality … will always be glorifying to god and consistent with the Christian principles, values, and standards of Liberty Baptist College.”

A retired Sweetbriar College professor recently denounced WRVL angrily for interfering with his chance to hear Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration over NPR. “Looks like our spoil-sport neighbor is more bent on soliciting shekels for his miracle mart counting house (Falwell’s financial operation occupies a former discount department store complex),” he wrote to the Lynchburg News Advance, “while the rest of us are condemned to having Hallelujah yodelers, Doomsday Stentorian, and Donation solicitors deprive us of our accustomed musical programs.” Another neighbor attacked WRVL for “forced religion and politics” and termed its operators “unctuous right wing conservatives” intent on “ walking over someone else”.

The powers at LBC do appear to be total pragmatists when it comes to advancing their divine mission. Consider their library. Like libraries at many new colleges, LBC’s is housed in temporary quarters. Several years ago, the college purchased the collection of Finch College, a defunct New York junior college for girls (Tricia Nixon Cox is an alumna). On the LBC campus, there is a large sign indicating where a library will be built. Right now, LBC is trying to convert all its holdings to one classification system. But the interesting thing about the library is that it contains books clearly unacceptable to the Reverend Falwell. In some states, Falwell’s Moral Majority chapters have been conducting literary search-and-destroy missions; the chapter in North Carolina, for example, tried to get Huxley’s Brave New World removed from libraries. Yet Brave New World is in the LBC library. And although Falwell is an unrelenting critic of homosexuality, books by such gay writers as Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Noel Coward, and Somerset Maugham are on LBC’s shelves. One may find Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer and his love letters to Donald Windham; Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms; and recent studies — such as the 1978 Homosexualities, by Bell and Weinberg — of gay life. Falwell’s college also has novels by Philip Roth. Only last winter, a minister in Abingdon, Virginia, who claimed to be a member of Moral Majority, was seeking removal of novels by Roth, Sidney Sheldon, and Harold Robbins from the county library. Well, LBC has Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus and Professor of Desire. The latter title has a special marking in the card catalogue. On the card’s margin is the notation, “FOR PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY.” I asked a library employee what that meant “Oh, that just means that [A PORTION OF THIS ARCHIVED ARTICLE IS MISSING] where the regular students can’t get to it,” She said. She paused, smiled and added, “It probably contains, you know…. More mature material.” One knew, indeed.

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