Just when you thought the sordid saga of Jerry Falwell J r. could not get any worse, upon reportedly receiving a $10.5 million severance package from Liberty University, the son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell told a newspaper about his departure as president of Liberty University: "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I'm free at last."
The language is so cynical, so filled with belittlement of Martin Luther King's legacy, that it's as if the disgraced evangelical deliberately wants to paint a protest sign over his heart that reads: "Love does not live here so don't bother knocking."
In fairness to Falwell Jr., being raised by the late televangelist and religious right icon is not something anyone would want to wish upon their worst enemy. While those in the world of evangelical Christianity may have fond memories of the man who died in 2007, I mostly remember two quotes, one of which was his attribution of the 9/11 attacks to gays, feminists, and the ACLU. The other memory I have of the senior Falwell is an appearance he made on CNN's '90s debate program Crossfire about the death penalty, a cause for which Falwell was a staunch supporter. When one of the hosts asked Falwell about all of the Americans who have been put to death by capital punishment, only to be found innocent after their executions, Falwell responded, "Well, you can't bat a thousand."
A chip off the old block, the ice crystals that flow through Junior's heart came right from his father, a Bible-thumper who apparently had a personal interest in ripping out a page from the First Letter of St. Peter so that his son would never see, never internalize. The passage reads, "Realize you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ's blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb chosen before the world's foundation and revealed for your sake in these last days." (1 Peter 1: 18-19)
With millions of dollars in his hands, ultimately obtained through a decades-long exploitation of the Holy Name of Jesus, and a wife who apparently enjoys the high life as much as he does, yachting and all, it would seem Falwell Jr. will yacht off into the sunset just as many Americans exercise their right to do. From the standpoint of eternity, it's a futile way of life if there ever was for a man who, at 58, still clearly chooses to live in the shadow of his biological father rather than the true liberty afforded by Jesus.
Evangelical Christianity in America, much like the Catholic Church in America, has descended into a spectator sport: they are religious movements that convert fewer and fewer by the year, while entertaining more and more millions who enjoy watching the downfall of the religiously smug. Life is always complicated. God is always a mystery. As they confuse their lust for power, status, and material riches with the promptings of the Holy Spirit -- affirming and backslapping one another each step of the way -- Jesus Industry players issue their darts at intellectual curiosity itself, turning off millions of truth-seekers who are wise to the fallen nature of men and women who exploit the Holy Name for their Leer jet-flying, yacht-cavorting, mansion-dwelling, Fountainebleau-lounging lifestyles.
For any Christian reading this, it cannot be stressed enough how endangered are the souls of the rich; unlike an unbeliever unfamiliar with the gospels, Christians who make themselves princes and princesses of the Earth -- be they anonymous folk or "First Ladies" of Evangelical universities who like to fornicate with their male servants -- are in grave danger of losing their souls. They mock Jesus with delight and abandon, encouraging younger generations to do the same. Indeed, if being raised by an ice cold preacher who thought nothing of the state executions of innocent people wasn't poisonous enough for the spiritual health of Falwell Jr., living his adult life alongside a woman who baldly preached traditional family values while blowing the pool boy must have been the spiritual equivalent of daily arsenic poured into his morning coffee. Hence the painted sign on his heart: "Love does not live here so don't bother knocking."
Internet chatter, as well as direct claims of the man, Giancarlo Granda, who had an affair with Falwell's wife, point to a homoerotic aspect on the part of Falwell himself: namely, that he liked to watch the two having sex. Falwell denies this purported aspect of the sex scandal, much as he initially denied to the Washington Examiner newspaper that he knew of his wife's affair in the first place. Perhaps Falwell believes, with good reason, that the people now throwing rocks at him will switch to mere pebbles if he can convince them that the whole thing was an old-fashioned extramarital affair, not a voyeuristic threesome in which he with nascent, underdeveloped homoerotic capacity, liked to watch a naked man have sex right in front of him. For certain, the Jesus Industry crowd that formed his childhood conscience, and that has sustained him in adult life, can at least mentally process the subject of marital infidelity; they at least know what to do with it. They know the script for that kind of scandal. Not so when it comes to a married man who, though he doesn't identity as homosexual or gay, finds himself, midlife, being sexual aroused by other men. Unlike standard marital infidelity, the evangelicals have no processing mechanism for that, other than throwing rocks as big as they can find.
Sadly, the secular world, for all its supposed "live and let live" tolerance of sexual diversity, is just as primitive and intellectually underdeveloped when it comes to this category of grown, middle-aged, self-identified heterosexual men who slowly come to realize that their erotic capacities as men extend far beyond the female anatomy. Stuck in full-blown 20th-century sexuality constructs, secular liberals too often just assume that such men are "closet cases" who have taken way too long to come out. Indeed, "closet cases" do exist: they are people who identify, privately within themselves, as homosexual, but who choose not to disclose it until they come out on their own, like Colorado governor, Jared Polis, or are forced out, like former New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevey. This in/out binary does not account for the men whose experience of homosexual fantasy and attraction emerges more subtly, later in life, and often mid-life, when they come to realize the real truth about the scope of their erotic capacity: that there is so much more to it, not just physically, but emotionally, than what aroused them for years since puberty -- namely the sight of beautiful naked women.
If secular liberals, who are at the forefront of bodily autonomy political movements in this country, are still stuck in '80s and '90s-era binaries about sexual identities, sexual labels, closets, etc. we shouldn't expect Christian conservatives to be any more compassionate to their brethren, or themselves, when a man who understands himself to be heterosexual is experiencing an awakening of his human erotic capacity, which encompasses the homoerotic.
As a Christian, what is heavy to contemplate is how many self-identified Christian men are walking this Earth right now, whose hearts could be softened by the tender intimacy of other men, but who, not so mystifyingly, choose to reject that male-to-male intimacy, which is largely undefined and uncharacterized in gospels, and yet choose worldly power, status, and material riches, all of which Jesus expressly proscribes for his disciples in the gospels.
Jerry Falwell Jr. is a man who was raised by a man who spent his lifetime turning gospel values upside down. As such, his mind, his heart, and his soul have been violated. One would have to be a fool not to recognize that. Spiritually speaking, Falwell Jr. grew up in the projects. Take that brutal reality for any man, and combine it with the realities of an emerging homoerotic capacity that not even the "progressive" secular world has the philosophical language for, or legal frameworks to accommodate, and what you get is a totally broken man who is long overdue for some human compassion.
Jerry Falwell Jr. needs caring, loving Christian brothers in his life right now, not more millions of dollars that will speed along his descent into hell in this world and the next, with his wife following him at each step. He has had enough of that, and look where it has brought him. Hopefully, he will find real Christian brothers at this stage in his life; men who will help care for him -- body, mind and soul -- so that he will, in turn, be the lover and nurturer of all humankind that God has created all men to be. With Jesus in his heart, and a few good men at his side, Falwell Jr. can realize the futile way of life his father handed on to him, and usher in a new birth of freedom. Not the kind of freedom that would turn the sacred words of a Christian saint like MLK into a sarcastic one-liner, but the kind of freedom that comes from the naked embrace of holy men who actually love men more than judgement.
Timothy Villareal, a Catholic, is a non-canonical, privately-vowed monk.