Jerry Falwell Jr. reveals evangelicalism's authority problem

Liberty sits squarely in this freewheeling milieu: The university has a relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention, but particularly in recent years, Falwell has taken a contentious attitude toward the denomination and insisted he should not be thought of as a pastoral figure. So what makes Falwell an “evangelical leader”? Simply the fact that he claims the evangelical label and is (or has been) a leader.

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For better or worse, there’s no more rigorous test. Anyone who becomes famous in an evangelical capacity can be called an evangelical leader, even if the source of that fame is nothing more substantive than personality, wealth, or family connections. In Falwell’s case, it was all three…

The trouble is that a movement which chooses its leaders this way — and “chooses” is maybe too strong a word for such a democratized, organic, and sometimes hereditary process — will end up with a decidedly mixed bag. Some are “good and faithful servants.” Yet hucksters and shameless partisans take advantage, and the most well-intentioned leaders may become corrupt without institutional and spiritual safeguards.

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