Jerry Falwell is dead. Like Dick Nixon, they can’t kick him around anymore.
For that matter I can’t kick him around anymore. Neither can the rest of the Christian community. How many of us for the last three decades have prefaced a statement of our religious commitment with a disclaimer that we aren’t like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson?
These men stepped out front early and they took an incredible amount of fire. Some self-inflicted. A lot of it because members of the fashionable class hated them and hated what they stood for.
I’ve complained before that too much attention has been paid of late to Jerry Falwell and that more should be focused on Chuck Colson and James Dobson, but in terms of history, Jerry Falwell deserves his day. I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly how much his efforts swayed Christians and encouraged them to enter the political process on the side of conservatives. His example, however, was undeniable. The Moral Majority preceded a vast network of policy shops, mini-think tanks, and advocacy organizations.
There are a couple of things I’ll always remember about Jerry Falwell.
First is that the celebrated Catholic author and National Book Award winner Walker Percy once wrote about watching a debate between Falwell and Bob Guccione, publisher of Hustler magazine. He remarked that he heard the Gospel according to Guccione and the Gospel according to Falwell and had no difficulty at all choosing the latter.
Second is that although he ended his career calling himself an evangelical Christian, he was truly a fundamentalist in the old time tradition. That word took on so many negative associations during the years that neither he nor anyone else much cared for it. Now, calling someone a fundamentalist is like using the N-Word. Alvin Plantinga said it has become a reference to any S.O.B. to the right of the person using it. But Falwell was a fundamentalist Christian who became convinced of the need to abandon fundamentalist isolationism. He answered evangelical Carl F.H. Henry’s call to Christian political engagement about a quarter century late, but when he stepped in he made a big splash.
Blessings to you, Jerry Falwell. I pray you are now with the Lord in whom we Christians have placed our hope.
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