When Jerry Falwell Jr left Liberty University Jerry Prevo became the acting president. But who is Jerry Prevo? Prevo is a culture warrior from Alaska who is quite political. He was close to Jerry Falwell Sr and is a loyalist to the Falwell family. This is an overview of his history and his time at the Anchorage Baptist Temple and what his selection of president means for Liberty University.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus[d] entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”
Luke 10:38-39 ESV
Culture war video from Anchorage Baptist Temple
When Jerry Falwell Jr resigned and left Liberty University Jerry Prevo became the leader of Liberty. In writing about Liberty this blog has wanted to do a biographical look of Liberty’s new leader. There is a lot of ground to cover and likewise there is a lot of controversy as well.
Biography and Anchorage Baptist Temple
Jerry Prevo was born on January 12, 1945 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He graduated from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He then did graduate work in Belmont University, Tennessee Temple University, the University of Tennessee and Chapman College. He got his Doctor from Divinity from Hyles-Anderson College which is not accredited as a university. Prevo was a pastor at Pincecrest Baptist Church in Signal Mountain, Tennessee and in 1971 he left and drove a mini van to Alaska to start a small church. In time he acquired a number of buses which picked up many people for church. He grew Anchorage Baptist Temple into a mega church in the United States which has about 2,200 people involved today. Anchorage Baptist Temple also started a school, Anchorage Christian School which has about 600 people enrolled today. One issue I discovered in my research are allegations about racism by Anchorage Christian School and Anchorage Baptist Temple that came forward as part of the debate of racism after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. You can read more aboyt the issue here, here and there is spill out on Reddit.
Anchorage Baptist Temple became a campaign stop for Republicans in Alaska politics. And Jerry Prevo was drawn to criticism by engaging in the evangelical culture wars. He focused and spoke often about gays and abortion. In the Anchorage Daily News, the local newspaper people wrote letters about the hate and behavior of Jerry Prevo. And there were times that people protested and picketed outside the church. Jerry Prevo earned the nickname as the “Loudest Evangelical Voice” in Alaska. In January of 1980 Prevo founded the Alaska chapter of the Moral Majority. The Episcopal Church in Alaska rebuked Jerry Prevo after the Moral Majority launched and claimed that it “distorts Christian truth and threatens American religious freedom.” In 2016 Jerry Prevo was one of the honorary co-chairs for Alaskans for Trump. If you check out the list he is the only pastor on the list.
When he retired from the senior pastor role at Anchorage Baptist Temple is was quite a spectacle. The who’s who of Alaskan politics showed up to celebrate Prevo’s life. Alaska Governor Mike Dunlevy showed up to honor him as did Alaskan Senate President Cathy Giessel who also gave remarks as well to the church. Former Alaska Governor and John McCain running mate Sarah Palin was also in attendance. As current Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan sent a video honoring Prevo that was played. The basketball gym was transformed into a banquet hall that served a large lunch after each worship service. If you would like to read more you can do so at the Anchorage Daily News’, “The Rev. Jerry Prevo, Anchorage’s loudest evangelical voice, is retiring after 47 years.”
Jerry Falwell Sr and a Stunt About South Africa
Jerry Prevo according to my research was deeply close to Jerry Falwell Sr. In fact he was a loyalist to Jerry Falwell Sr. Jerry Falwell Sr is the individual who had the vision to launch Liberty University. And allegedly there are faculty at Liberty who will say that the most important time of their career was when they sat at the feet of Jerry Falwell Sr. That story kind of reminds me of Luke 10:39 where Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Its almost as if at Liberty Jerry Fawell Sr is deified or made God in many ways.
In 1985 Jerry Falwell Sr traveled to South Africa to discourage sanctions being placed on the country for its policy of apartheid. Jerry Falwell Sr after returning to the United States attacked Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu as a “phony” and also called him a “Communist agitator.” Jerry Prevo also traveled to South Africa with Jerry Falwell Jr. But Jerry Prevo also did a racial stunt in 1985 that is quite disturbing. When several hundred protestors marched outside Anchorage Baptist Temple three strange protestors popped up. They were dressed as devils and carried signs praising Communism and Satanism and criticized Jerry Prevo. The goal was to divert the protest from anti-apartheid activities and discredit it. What eventually emerged is that the three devils who protested were three members of Anchorage Baptist Temple and encouraged to do so by Jerry Prevo. Prevo viewed the protests as a personal attack on him. On October 15, 1985 Jerry Prevo apologized for what took place. He sent a letter that said the following. “Have you tried to pull a joke and have it backfire? Maybe I should not have approved it, but sometimes the only way a person can rationally bear up under the opposition and criticism I get is to laugh about it or to try and have some fun while it is going on. When I approved the devils I thought it would be funny. It was to some, but not to others. I am sorry it was offensive to some.”
Reaction to Jerry Falwell Jr Scandal
Jerry Prevo has long ties to Liberty University. He has been a member of the Liberty University Board of Trustees since 1996 and filled the role of Board Chairman since 2003. On August 7, 2020 Jerry Prevo who chaired the Board of Trustees issued a statement on Friday August 7, 2020 describing Jerry Falwell Jr as an inspiration and praising him. Here is the statement that Prevo released.
“In the 13 years that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has served as president of Liberty University, Liberty has experienced unprecedented success, not only academically and financially, with a world-class campus, but also spiritually. As we enter our 50th Anniversary year, we have been blessed to grow to a record 120,000 students, both residential and online, and continue to fulfill our founder’s mission to Train Champions for Christ across the world.
Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure. Today, my colleagues and I on the Liberty University Board of Trustees and Jerry mutually agreed that it would be good for him to take an indefinite leave of absence. This was a decision that was not made lightly, and which factored the interests and concerns of everyone in the LU community, including students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, leaders of the Church, as well as the Falwell family.
To support Jerry through this period, we ask that our entire community lift him up in prayer so he may be able to fulfill God’s purpose for him and for Liberty University.”
Jerry Prevo became the acting Liberty University’s president on August 10, 2020.
How Should Jerry Prevo Be Viewed?
So when you look at Jerry Prevo how should he be assessed at Liberty University? How serious is he to reforming and bringing the needed change to Liberty? In the view of this blog Jerry Prevo was put in place because he is a Falwell loyalist. His pulpit in Anchorage, Alaska was a political platform that all Alaskan politicians had to grovel at to get the conservative vote. Its not a surprise that individuals from local to national all sought Jerry Prevo’s support. Jerry Prevo in this context is not going to bring much change to Liberty University. The Falkirk Center is not going to be dismantled under his leadership. Liberty will still be Trumpist and have strong political vibes that will be of more importance than theology. The racial problems at Liberty are still going to continue as Jerry Prevo is not going to be capable to deal with them. Jerry Prevo tells us that those who hope for reform should have low expectations. But it also raises other questions as well. Will Liberty properly investigate allegations of misconduct by Jerry Falwell Jr or will the investigation be a whitewash to protect Falwell? Will Jerry Falwell’s family who still works at Liberty be treated in a special fashion or will they face discipline like any other employee in any normal job? Or will favoritism still be an issue? As the Liberty University scandal unfolds will there be an interest to get to the truth or to cover it up? From the perspective of this blog Jerry Prevo is the worst possible candidate to follow Jerry Falwell Jr. This blog will be continuing to watch this issue. The next Liberty post that I plan to work on is a look at the Liberty Board.