I have been thinking a lot about Jerry Falwell Jr.
He is currently experiencing a similar difficult path many students at Liberty and other Christian schools have journeyed down.
The one where our personal sexual lives become fair game for others to discuss.
When I was in college, the man I was dating and I broke our Christian school’s conduct statement.
We crossed a line in our physical intimacy that the administration deemed unethical. So in a meeting, I was not invited to, administrators I didn’t know, discussed my sex life, and decided the consequences.
Like many students, his private life is open for others to discuss, but these conversations are available in a quick google search.
Like many students, he has lost his position in the school, but he was given a stipend equal to two year’s salary. Many students have been asked to leave campus with debt and no degree to show for their work. He is exiting with millions.
It sucks because Jerry Falwell Jr. is a hypocrite. He claimed he stood by conservative values which he equated with Christianity. But clearly he couldn’t hold to his own standards.
And because these conservative ideals perpetuate shame around sexual expression, instead of honesty, love, and respect.
Because the people Jerry Falwell Jr. hired, tell tons of students that they are weak in their faith because they fail to meet the standard their own leader couldn’t meet.
And now he is tasting that same bitter fruit.
When I read that Jerry Falwell called the University Pastor and asked what sin he committed. I heard my voice asking my RD what sin I committed.
When I read the Pastor hung up on him, I recalled the same way doors were shut on me when I reached out for answers.
Now, Jerry Falwell Jr. still denies any participation in the affair with his wife and business partner, but the similarities are still there.
It is about what his story means for Christian college alums and students going forward.
For too long Christian colleges have marketed themselves as nurturing spaces for spiritual and personal growth. They claim to be environments where students can wrestle with hard questions, and be encouraged in their faith.
However, the attitude, once students are enrolled is very different. While questions may be accepted, clear answers are assumed.
Through their conduct statements, Christian Colleges continue to claim they know the final “biblical” answer.
Christians, and all humans ask hard questions because these questions lead to a more ethical and moral life.
However, Evangelicalism seems to have left behind the idea that it may not have the absolute answer to how to live an ethical life.
So when students at Christian colleges question their code of conduct’s stance on sexuality and orientation and then act on their newfound understandings, they are punished.
They want God to be able to be placed in a book-shaped box printed by Zondervan, so they can understand and control how Christians follow God.
Instead of the scarier option; Standing in awe of a God too big, and too great to understand.
They look at topics like homosexuality, sexual expression, the trans experience, and marriage in ways that throw Evangelical interpretations of scripture off their presumed solid standing.
Theologian Karl Rahner said “For it is the bitter grief of theology and its blessed task, too, always to have to seek . . . always providing that one has the courage to ask questions, to be dissatisfied, to think with the mind and heart one ACTUALLY has, and not with the mind and heart one is SUPPOSED TO have.”
Yet these codes of conduct and the way they are enforced show Christian colleges expect students to ask questions with “the mind and heart” they WANT students to have, instead of with the heart and mind GOD GAVE THEM.
A real heart, connected to a much larger divinity than they can ever assume to know thoroughly.
This is why the queer/feminist/liberal Christian is so terrifying. Because we just might have come to our conclusions with honest questions, through a sincere heart that is following Christ.
I hope that Jerry Falwell Jr. is sitting in one of his homes contemplating the mysteries of the divine. I hope he is considering how the rules he reinforced at Liberty hurt students in the same way he is likely hurting now.
I celebrate that at a young age, I was in a situation where I had to deconstruct the Evangelical tradition I was raised in and studying under. And that I learned early to seek God in questions with my whole heart over easy answers I was “supposed” to have.
Instead, I found it in the love of fellow questioners and friends. Other Christians, who like me couldn’t find God in the standards Evangelicalism wanted us to have, but instead sought God through deep heart questions.
I didn’t find it through rules, or dogmatic standards, I found it by seeking God, which sounds pretty biblical to me.
Many people, today, in their post Christian college life are reading about Jerry Falwell Jr. and asking like the Psalmist, “How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalms 13:2)
How long will Christian colleges claim to seek God in questions, but cling to dogmatic answers that abuse their students?
How long will it take for Christian colleges to recognize the destructive ways they treat LGBTQ students?
How long must we continue to hear about students at our colleges dealing with grief and pain that was inflicted by administrators?
But until then, I will continue to pray like the Psalmist. Because God is not found in their rules and abuse, God is found in love.
“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:5-6)