Jerry F. Falwell (1933-2007), Baptist preacher and televangelist, was born one of twin sons in Lynchburg, Virginia to a successful, but alcoholic, businessman father and his devout Baptist wife.
After graduation from the local public high school as valedictorian in 1951 he began attending Lynchburg College.
One evening during his freshman year Falwell was greatly affected after hearing a broadcast of Charles E. Fuller’s “Old Fashioned Revival Hour”; he began attending a local Baptist Church and underwent a conversion experience.
In 1971 Falwell founded Lynchburg Bible College—later Liberty University, a fundamentalist Christian university—which he led until his death.
In the late 1980s he unsuccessfully sought to revive the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club, the conservative Christian organization and television network of the disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker.
Falwell advocated a conservative Christian faith and condemned what he perceived as the sinfulness and godlessness of contemporary society.
A segregationist in his early years, he later abandoned that view.
He opposed abortion, feminism, gay rights, and other causes associated with the social and cultural transformations of the 1960s and ’70s.
In the 1990s, despite fading somewhat in the public eye, Falwell was an outspoken critic of the Democratic Party and especially of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Throughout his career Falwell was a staunch supporter of the State of Israel as well as the Republican Party; his Liberty University became an important stop for Republican presidential candidates in the early 21st century.
In 2004, buoyed by the electoral victories of George W. Bush, Falwell founded the Faith and Values Coalition—now the Moral Majority Coalition—as a successor to the Moral Majority.
In July 1979 Falwell formed the Moral Majority, an organization designed to promote grass roots political activism (pro-life sentiments, opposition to homosexual rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, battling pornography, and support for the state of Israel) among conservative Protestants and other like-minded religious Americans.
Falwell became a media “go-to” figure at this time and the Moral Majority played an important role in bringing out the vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election–though not as important role as many agitated journalists, scholars, and Falwell himself seemed to believe at the time.
During the course of the 1980s the Moral Majority’s support began to wane and in 1986 he formally closed its doors.
Although he attempted to foster similar political programs in the years that followed, none ever approached the impact of the Moral Majority.
Nonetheless, Falwell’s empire prospered: by the dawn of the 21st-century Thomas Road Baptist Church attracted 8,000 people to its Sunday morning services and Liberty Baptist University had more than that many students.
While never quite the powerbroker secular media pundits made him out to be, Falwell was an important player in the political re-engagement of evangelicalism, particularly in drawing many separatist fundamentalists out of their cultural shells.
Falwell also began to ally with powerful Southern Baptist leadership, who would exhibit a more conservative and outspoken outlook by their 1997 national convention.
Now in his sixties, Falwell still preaches Sunday services at the Thomas Road church, and there are hints that the youngest of his three children, Jonathan, may someday assume its pastorship.
The younger Falwell was appointed administrator of the church in 1995; his brother Jerry Jr. serves as in-house counsel for his father’s projects, and Falwell’s only daughter is a surgeon in Richmond, Virginia.