LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA – The campus is more like a garrison, and not likely to attract students because of its scenic beauty. But students do come here; approximately 3000 of them were enrolled at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College last semester. Some perhaps, were attracted by the college catalogue, which depicts a business-department building that doesn’t exist and a handsome chapel that belongs to another school. But the soldiers of God who study here don’t seem bothered by the austere setting, or by anything else for that matter.
As demanded by the administration, they wear their hair short, adhere to rigid codes of dress and behavior, and they smile a lot. They study biology with a professor who believes the world is 10,000 years old, and they punctuate psychology lectures with spontaneous outbursts of “Amen.” Such is the nature of Falwellian education. It is here, more that anywhere else, that the sons and daughters of the Moral Majority are prepared to assist in the creation of the founder’s brave new world.
Falwell’s notoriety as the outspoken head of the religious New Right has, of course, transcended his fame as the pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church here. His Moral Majority has been active in elections, launching its own candidates and targeting liberal office holders for defeat and has attempted to “clean up” school and public libraries round the country. Yet many people are unaware of the extensive educational complex building in central Virginia. Its schools range from kindergarten through high school and college to a graduate level Bible seminary for future Falwell-style ministers.
The project is more than decade old, and Falwell has come a long way toward realizing it. He opened his elementary and high school “Christian academies” in the late 1960s, and unveiled his new college in 1971. In the years since, Liberty Baptist, subsidized by funds from his Old Time Gospel Hour broadcasts, has seen its enrollment jump from 141 students to about 3000.
At the outset, Falwels schools were slated to be all white, but now all of them are integrated to some extent. This policy, like Falwell’s statements on race, has altered. Back in 1958, Falwell argued that God decreed segregation: “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made…. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.” But today, the Reverend Falwell, the chancellor of Liberty Baptist, is more interested in signs of growth.
— LBC now grants BS degrees in 33 major areas in the school’s eight divisions
(business, communications, education, music, natural science, religion, social sciences, and radio-TV-film).
— The college is approved to grant degrees by the Virginia Council on Higher Education and was accredited last December by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in Atlanta
— The faculty now numbers 128 full-time teachers, 40 percent of whom have
Doctorates. The student body includes people from 50 states and 23 foreign countries
— Dozens of buildings have been erected hastily atop a ridge outside Lynchburg named “Liberty Mountain” by Falwell in 1976. There, too, is the home of LBC’s new 100,000-watt FM radio station, recently granted a license to broadcast as an educational station by the FCC.
This educational complex, however, is simply another forum for the evangelist’s religious ministry and his personal views. Liberty Baptist is geared to turn out future Falwells for American business, preaching, broadcasting, and education. Considered in that light, LBC’s potential is immense.
Ultimately, Falwells projects have but one aim: to change the social, political, and spiritual direction of the country. The minister says he wants a “watchdog, Bible-believing church in every congressional district in the country. His means to this end is the training of the ministers and teachers who will go out and start new fundamentalist churches — and academies — in those districts. Falwell predicts that by 1992 there will be as many Christian private schools in America as public schools. Clearly, he hopes to help staff those schools.
“Jerry Falwell isn’t just the leader of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg; he is the leader of a religious movement,” says Elmer Towns, the dean of Liberty Baptist Seminary. “We are in the embryonic stages of a new denomination. Now, Jerry may not say that is true, but I think it is so.” Towns see Falwell as a “new John Wesley,” as a man capable of shaping history. “We’ve a long way to go to being a new denomination, but the potential is there.” Towns envisions Falwell’s church as a philosophical center, as a future publishing outlet, and as a training ground for future churches and schools.