Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell passes from the scene

Rev. Jerry Falwell died yesterday. He will be best remembered as a leading figure in the Christianist movement who used his church to launch various projects including a television program, a political organization and a university to promote his particular political views.

Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1956. The church has grown to a reported membership of over 24,000. He became a well know public figure outside the Lynchburg as a televangelist on his Old Time Gospel Hour that he used to expound his right-wing political views. During the 1950’s and 1960’s was a supporter of legal segregation calling the civil rights movement the “civil wrongs movement.”

He later changed his opinion on the desirability of the segregation of the races but founded Moral Majority – an organization that promoted narrow religious doctrine as public policy for everyone -- in 1979 and used that forum to espouse anti-gay diatribes.

In his later years he became more of a crank. In the mid-1990’s he promoted a video that claimed President Bill Clinton had orchestrated the deaths of journalists and supporters. Following September 11th he claimed the attacks were the fault of Americans and their lifestyles. He asserted AIDS was the wrath of God against gays. Just last year he claimed the Anti-Christ would be a Jew.

These are the thoughts of Michael Paul Williams in today’s Richmond Times-Disptach:
Falwell's loved ones warrant our condolences. But a figure as cruelly polarizing as Falwell does not deserve a grace period.

Compassion was nowhere to be found when, in the volatile aftermath of Sept. 11, Falwell anointed himself the spokesman for a wrathful God.

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

Fortunately, few people bought into Falwell's odious assessment of that horrific day, and he was forced to retreat from it.

His targets, in responding to Falwell's death, showed a restraint he seldom exhibited toward them.

"We express our condolences to all those who were close to the Rev. Jerry Falwell," Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."

People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas called Falwell "an effective advocate for his vision of America, a vision with which we strongly disagreed."

Falwell -- who in a February sermon declared global warming a myth -- struck me as more politician than preacher. He pastored a megachurch and founded a university. But his most enduring legacy will be how he and his Moral Majority hijacked America's political process decades ago.

No GOP campaign of note was official without the kiss of Falwell's ring or the stamp of approval from Bob Jones University. John McCain, who in 2000 branded Falwell an agent of intolerance, spoke at Liberty University's 2006 commencement. Mitt Romney, a Mormon running for president, sought his Religious Right bona fides as commencement speaker at the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent University this month.

If the outcome of this influence had been a nation with compassionate public policy, few would have complained. Instead, it unleashed a hatefully intolerant strain on the body politic.

Jerry Falwell, you helped this happen.

"He was clearly a strong and charismatic Virginian and that is part of his legacy," said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia. "Unfortunately, another part of his legacy is he used religion to divide us and through his actions really helped alienate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians from their families and their faith. And that hurt a lot of Virginians.

"We look forward to working with another generation of faith leaders," Mason said.

We all should.


Anonymous said...

The ironies of blog advertising:
Your critical bio of Falwell is being paired with google ads for Liberty Univeristy and an evangelistic webpage inviting you to take a quiz to determine your eternal destiny.

Sisyphus said...

You've got to love those guys at Google -- they have a sense of humor.