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Jerry Falwell’s Tough Guy Gospel

As is his wont, Jerry Falwell Jr. once again said something that, given his status as president of one of the world’s largest Christian universities, seems to fly in the face of solid Christian theology.

Jerry Fallwell Street Fighters Tweet

For starters, Falwell’s words seem dismissive of the very sort of people that one expects a Christian university to shape, form, and graduate. Second, it seems to deprioritize the importance of the work that Christian leaders do when compared to that of secular leaders, as if ​“Church” work is less important than ​“State” work — also something very curious to hear coming from a prominent Evangelical Christian figure.

Indeed, if one takes Falwell’s words at face value, he seems to be saying that the United States doesn’t need the work and service of the Church so much as it needs the strength and power of the government (because the former is too nice, apparently). Which gives me a minor case of whiplash considering the amount of rhetoric I’ve heard from Christian circles that what the U.S. ultimately needs is a return to Judeo-Christian values — something you presumably need Christian leaders to accomplish. (But maybe that’s only when those pesky ​“liberal fascists Dems” are in power.)

And then there’s that final bit about ​“Repub leaders” being ​“a bunch of wimps.” Again, a strange thing to hear coming from someone who believes in the Gospel of a Man who taught ​“blessed are the peacemakers.” Then again, many Christians (e.g., Mark Driscoll) have had this weird desire to macho-fy Christianity and make Jesus into a tough dudebro who may have been ​“like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” but was totally not a wimp (like those ​“Repub leaders”).

This isn’t the first time that I, as a Christian who has long-considered himself conservative, have felt like I’m living in the Upside Down. Or, as Michael Gerson writes, ​“It is paradoxical that some conservative Christians should reject the concept of a ​‘living Constitution’ while embracing the ​‘living Beatitudes.’ Blessed are the street fighters. Blessed are those who compare their enemies to Nazis. Blessed are the bullies.”

More from Gerson (emphasis mine):

In a variety of political and cultural contexts — under the rule of Constantine, and Charlemagne, and the Romanovs, and Mike Pence — Christian believers have turned to government to protect and further their institutional interests. Henry VIII — who practiced his own vigorous form of misogyny — was given the title: ​“Defender of the Faith.” I suppose some at the time might have reasoned: At least he isn’t a wimp.

With no exception I can think of, the results of becoming a darling of the king have been damaging to the church. Politicians always end up demanding something — a compromise of principle, a blessing of expediency or a pardon for wrong. Access and privilege in politics are not free. The point is demonstrated when a pastor praises a president during the same week that thousands of detained migrant children are moved, under cover of night, to a remote detention facility in Tornillo, Tex. Instead of being a voice for the weak, Falwell provided an alibi for the strong.

All snark aside, Fallwell’s tweet is as disappointing and disquieting as it is unsurprising. It’s yet another example of Christian leaders selling their moral and spiritual authority for a pittance. Gerson is right: the tactics of Falwell et al. are ​“a formula for institutional failure.”

Some prestige and power may be gained in the short term. Some Christians might get to sit in the same room as the president and get him to favor their causes and policies (especially after feeding his ego). But in the long term, any such benefits to the Church will be negligible, if not outright negative to its witness.

The more Christians resemble the ruling party — regardless of its name or where it falls on the political spectrum — the less they’ll resemble like Christ.

Oct 2, 2018