Conversion Story

A Former Jerry Falwell Follower Reflects On How The Religious Right Gets It Wrong

I was a Liberty University-trained evangelical pastor. I was sure that I was right and that every other person not of my faith was going to burn in hell forever. I was taught that we as Christians should take this nation back, only to find out later that we never had it to begin with.

After five years of teaching this homophobic, divisive message that has hurt so many millions of people in our world, I went through a divorce. The Southern Baptist Convention will not let you remain in the ministry after a divorce, so I had to think of something else to do with my life. After several years of selling cars, I decided to become a truck driver –; you know, see America and all that jazz.

Well, I did see America, and the country I saw was very different from the one I was taught about by Jerry Falwell and my mentors at Florida Bible College. What I found was that this nation is filled with people from all walks of life, and from every different culture. I met thousands of people, from the beautiful forests of Washington state to the bayous of Louisiana. I found that these folks are not the wicked sinners I was taught about. They are just good-hearted Americans from all faiths and cultural backgrounds, trying to pay their bills, care for their families and have a few good times with their friends and lovers.

I began to notice a change in me as well. I started reading a lot of books that were not on the seminary reading list and listening to NPR as I was driving 10 hours a day. It was a great second education. I decided to return to Alabama and work to help all of the people of my great state, and to protect them from the oppression I was once a part of propagating.

I want you to know that the fundamentalist political movement is the beginning of a cultural revolution that will take our nation to a very dark place. You have to understand that this has been methodically planned and is being carried out with the utmost vigilance. In accordance with their worldview, my old friends do not in the least care about what you think. They are against democracy, and they are seeking to end the rule of the majority in our great country.

They truly believe that if you have not been “saved,” you are living under a curse and are incapable of knowing what is best and that because of this you should be ruled over. You should also know they do not believe that even centuries-old Christian communities (Catholics, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc.) are “saved,” only those who think like they do.

You might be thinking that a minority fundamentalist group of zealots can’t really take over the direction of a society. Just look at Iran, or the countless other places where people have allowed this to happen. Are you all really going to sit back and watch this happen? They will begin to attack all sources of accurate information. Public radio was first, next will be museums and then science books. Just listen to them argue against the scientific facts about the peril our planet is facing, because it does not fit in with their ideas. They represent a clear and present danger to our union.

If I told you that the Amish in Pennsylvania were running for public office in record numbers with the intention of outlawing electricity and forcing others to act, dress and think like them, you would not believe it. Well, that is exactly what is happening in America, only it is not the Amish, it is the fundamentalists. It is not outlawing electricity, it’s placing limits on being a human with free will. Enjoying art and music, loving the person of your choice, dancing, –; the things that fundamentalists call “sins” –; are a big part of what it means to be a human.

The good news is that we are witnessing the beginning of a new era in human existence. While we watch the revolutions across the Middle East, we are seeing a great truth: that people have within them the natural desire to be free. It is so sad that as the people of the world are fighting for freedom, we here in the United States are going in the opposite direction. The far right, under the control of fundamentalists, is declaring an all-out war on human progress.

The consequences of not acting are dire. We are not just fighting for ourselves. We are struggling to protect the future generations of Americans who will suffer from these ruthless actions of the far right. We are speaking out against the measures being taken against those in our community who can least afford to be marginalized.

Jason Childs is the founder and director of the Center for Progress in Alabama, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization.