Kids Need to Party


Lynchburg, Virginia, 1983—An intersection: Liberty Baptist College, Lynchburg College, Jerry Falwell and me. Here’s a fun fact: Liberty and Lynchburg have both become universities. I’m not really sure what turns a college into a university. Obviously, I could look it up, but then I’d have nothing but white space where these two sentences now stand.

I stopped by Lynchburg University last spring. I drove through Virginia with my family after touring a couple of North Carolina schools on Sophie’s radar. Taking advantage of our collegey mood, we swung by Lynchburg for a look. In every way, Lynchburg University appears identical to the Lynchburg College I graduated from in 1984. No wait, there was one new academic building, and the main facility for Business Administration classes, known as Hopwood Hall, now has computers lining the desks. But in every other way, it’s identical.

Liberty University, on the other hand, has become one of the largest schools in the country.

Lynchburg is a pretty campus. In fact, Virginia is a pretty state—at least the part that includes the Blue Ridge mountains. As a college student, unnecessarily disdainful of the residents of my four-year home, I stood on rocky outcroppings in the middle of autumn hikes, looking out over distant farmlands or hollows or mountain lakes and recited my favorite saying of the era: “Virginia is wasted on Virginians.”

Touring the campus with my wife and kids, memories of my college years flooded back: There’s the one lane driveway where I parked my roommate’s motorcycle ‘for a minute’ to run into a dorm, but I got stoned and forgot I drove there, so I walked home. There’s the steep hill I rode down that time in a shopping cart. There’s the place Mike and I dropped the keg we stole and the tap broke off.

I kept my memories to myself.

At Mike’s funeral this week, I saw the whole cast of characters from my college days—well, not Mike, but the rest of them. More memories, more things not to tell my kids.

In 1983, Liberty Baptist College and Thomas Road Baptist MegaChurch were run by Jerry Falwell. Besides serving as President Reagan’s spiritual adviser, he was the principal spokesman for the Moral Majority. Oh, you’re under forty-five? The Moral Majority was a ‘Christian’ organization that expounded right-wing dogma such as the woman’s place is in the home, homosexual acts are a sin, and advocated for Christian prayer in public schools. They littered Lynchburg with KIDS NEED TO PRAY bumper stickers.

In the late sixties and early seventies, American colleges and universities were a place for deep thought, opinion and dissent. All over the country, students took a stand against the evils they witnessed including corporate greed, political overreach and the status quo. College students protested the Vietnam War, environmental degradation, and advocated for civil rights, women’s rights and even gay rights. But by the eighties, students, raised on college-themed movies like Animal House, simply used college as an excuse to party.

I’ve long held a theory about my substance abuse excesses starting in my later years of high school. In 1978, Animal House was a huge success in the theaters. I watched it three times. Like so many others around me, I used it as a blueprint for how young men are supposed to act when away from home. It’s where I learned how to go to college.  My heroes in the movie were unconcerned about the consequences of their actions, they simply lived to have a good time. I tried this—with some success—and determined that I was onto something brilliant. This, unfortunately, lasted into my thirties.

My social circle at Lynchburg was the drink-until-dawn crowd. Fueled with various stimulants including a nightly overdose of pharmaceutical-grade caffeine pills, we had plenty of energy to go looking for trouble. My roommate Tom made a cottage industry of chopping up KIDS NEED TO PRAY bumper stickers and reassembling them to say KIDS NEED TO PARTY. He distributed them around the dorm. One Sunday morning, he suggested we attend the televised church service at Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Falwell had a national following, he said. We could wait until the middle of the service and then stage a protest—just like real college students. Despite the intervening decades and the ridiculous amounts of alcohol we drank, I clearly remember us scouring my dormitory hall, waking up other students, trying to come up with plausible church clothes to ensure we got in.

Here’s something interesting: Thomas Road Baptist Church has bouncers. Like so many times in my coming future, a large man deemed that I wasn’t the right kind of person to enter his establishment. We arrived on a crisp spring morning, eight people piled in Mark’s powder-blue Delta 88, and approached the front doors, yelling, chanting, singing, jumping up on each other’s shoulders. Organ music could be heard piped outside. Two men, probably from the defensive line of the Liberty Baptist football team, told us to hit the road or they’d call the cops.

As we drove back to Lynchburg College for dining-hall pancakes and then bed for the rest of the day, we called bullshit on Jerry Falwell. What kind of pastor turns away worshipers at his door? Especially ones who clearly needed saving.

26 thoughts on “Kids Need to Party

  1. “…we called bullshit on Jerry Falwell. What kind of pastor turns away worshipers at his door? Especially ones who clearly needed saving.”
    Whenever I think about the Moral Majority, I think of Green Day “Minority” (beware, it contains the “F” word😉)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Because of my time in Lynchburg, I’m drawn to news about Liberty U. Falwell’s son has taken the helm, and he’s worse than Falwell. And with a student body of over 100,000 he’s got quite a platform.


  2. I totally get your blueprint for college. I went to Penn State and was THRILLED it was ranked the number one party school in the country. I went out of my way during those years to make sure I lived up to the expectations. And the moral majority – Ugh. I grew up with the moral majority in my house. It sucked. And “I’m not really sure what turns a college into a university. Obviously, I could look it up, but then I’d have nothing but white space where these two sentences now stand.” actually made me laugh out loud.


    • So I looked it up:
      Most four-year colleges offer bachelor’s degrees with some also offering associate degrees. In contrast, an institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees is considered a university. They offer undergraduate programs that will lead a student towards a master’s degree or a doctorate.

      This doesn’t really make sense to me because when I was at Lynchburg, they offered advanced degrees, but it didn’t become a university until about five years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This is what I call the sobriety paradox. Alcoholics tell fondly remembered stories from their drinking days in a positive light. It was nice to see all my old drinking buddies this week, and it was nicer that there was no alcohol present. Some of them still drink like 18 year olds.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s a very clever and tidy combining of events there. Love that: and interesting insight, re: effects of Animal House. I think one of our new Supreme Court nominees fell “pray” to that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I missed out on that side of the college experience. Oh, I went to a few parties, but I was far too busy with coursework and earning enough money to pay for classes. I barely had enough money for food. Paying for alcohol? Nope, it didn’t happen often.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha! Loved the ending. Although I’m not a fan of religious zeal, I figured their bouncer must have known what your group’s intentions were at some level and he was probably right to protect the peace. But yes, absolutely, from their perspective at least, “clearly needed saving.” This is the problem with this kind of “spirituality” (which is exclusive and aims to convert) — and, I believe, why local churches here in France are usually near-empty.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Soooo many events from our past to hide from our kids. I sometimes wonder how I made it out alive. I think you guys should have worked on your stealth moves in order to get into the church. You would have made headlines! 🙂


  7. Pingback: Kids Need to Party — The Other Stuff – Truth Troubles

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