May 18, 2007
The man who had a vision for life
by Victoria Friedrich
Jerry Laymon Falwell was born on August 11, 1933 in Lynchburg, Va. to Helen and Carey Falwell. Falwell did not grow up in a religious atmosphere as many people might believe. His father was an entrepreneur of sorts who became a Christian on his deathbed, and his grandfather was an atheist. Falwell grew up with his twin brother, Gene, his brother Lewis and his sister Virginia He later attended Brookville High School where he was a star athlete, the editor in chief of “The Brookville Bee” and valedictorian of his senior class. He began attending Lynchburg College, originally pursuing a degree in pre-mechanical engineering.
In 1952 he attended a Sunday evening church service at Park Avenue Baptist Church. Falwell often said he was reborn on January 20, 1952 – the night he gave his life to the Lord. It was also here that he met 18-year-old Macel Pate, a church pianist who would later become his wife.
In March of 1952, while attending a Wednesday night Bible study and prayer service, Falwell committed his life to full-time ministry and decided to transfer to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.
After volunteering at High Street Baptist Church he was put in charge of teaching the Bible to one student – an 11-year old boy, Daryl.
That small congregation grew quickly from one member to 56 regular members in just one year.
It was also here that Falwell began to develop a strong prayer life and daily devotional time that he carried with him throughout his life. Falwell said that he enjoyed reading the Bible from beginning to end.
“I like to read the Bible like I read a novel – from beginning to end. I don’t like to skip around…almost every day there is a good reason not to do it. There is an assignment due, a crisis waiting, a family matter that needs attention, a breakfast meeting, or a conference call. The demands of each new day would destroy my time alone with God and His word if I would let them. I cannot.”
He graduated from Baptist Bible College in May of 1956 with valedictorian honors. After graduation, he intended to start a church in Macon, Ga.. However, those plans quickly changed. After praying for God’s guidance, Falwell decided to stay in Central Virginia.
What is now known as Thomas Road Baptist Church held its first service on June 17, 1956 with 35 members. According to Falwell’s biography on the Liberty University Web site, the first offering collected totaled $135. The site said, “Falwell often (said) of that first collection, ‘We thought we had conquered the world.’”
In the fall of 1956, Falwell began broadcasting a daily radio program from Madison Heights that reached homes throughout Lynchburg and Amherst and Campbell counties. “I reported the news of our church, the days and times of our services, and stories about people whose lives were being changed by God through our congregation’s ministry,” he said. After realizing the effectiveness of broadcasting a message to thousands of people at once, Falwell began thinking about starting a television ministry.
In December of 1956, he purchased a weekly half-hour time slot for $90. With no on-camera experience, Falwell began telling people about his new church. The church quickly began to grow as Falwell said his television appearances made him a sort of “instant celebrity.” Over the years, the church continued to expand. TRBC just celebrated its 50th anniversary in July 2006 and has more than 22,000 members, according to the Thomas Road Baptist Church Web site.
In his biography on the Liberty University Web site he explains how his vision for education began. “He often states that his heartbeat is for training young people for every walk of life,” the biography said.
In 1967, he began Lynchburg Christian Academy, which provided education for children from kindergarten through high school. The vision did not stop here, though. In 1971, Lynchburg Baptist College was founded and would later become Liberty University. According to the Web site, today the campus is growing rapidly and has over 21,500 students in both the resident and distance learning programs. Students come from all 50 states and 80 nations. Falwell’s online biography said that his dream has become a reality.
Falwell’s impact reached far beyond the church and the classroom. He founded the Moral Majority in 1979, which brought together thousands of pastors and religious conservatives from all across the country for the purpose of political lobbying. The Moral Majority played a major role in the election of 1980 as “millions of people of faith helped to elect Ronald Reagan and many other conservative congressman and senators,” according to the Liberty Web site. Many people have also attributed George W. Bush’s presidential victory in November 2004 to these same “faith and values” voters. More recently, in November of 2004, Falwell began the Moral Majority Coalition. According to their Web site, it is the “21st century resurrection of the Moral Majority.”
Author’s Note: Unless otherwise noted, this biography was adapted from Dr. Jerry Falwell’s book, “Falwell: An Autobiography.”