Jerry Falwell (1933-2007)

Reflections from a former fundamentalist

The Rev. Jerry Falwell—founder of the Moral Majority and the leader of the religious right in the ’80s—died Tuesday after he was discovered unconscious in his office. We at BustedHalo offer our prayers for Falwell’s family, friends, and flock. Our prayers also go out to Falwell himself.

Now that the evangelist has finally met his maker, we pray for his sake that God is an amiable old white guy with a long grey beard, and is not, say, a big purple Teletubby with a triangle above his head and a magic bag dangling from his arm. Tinky Winky as Divine Judge might have a beef with Falwell. Having outed Tink as gay, Falwell denounced the beloved children’s TV character as “damaging to the moral lives of children.” That had to hurt, considering TW’s line of work.

God is not…

We also pray for Falwell that God is not a feminist, an environmentalist, a pagan, a secularist, or, in any way shape or form, a supporter of an “alternative lifestyle.” We pray that God is not a liberal, or a member of the ACLU, and we pray that God is not a welfare mother. Or a child struck with AIDS—a form of divine punishment, as Falwell often reminded us.

And of course, we pray on behalf of Falwell’s soul that God isn’t Jewish. The Good Reverend once told a group of ministers that the Antichrist is a Jewish male, alive and walking the Earth today. (On a personal note, I pray that God isn’t like the folks at the fundamentalist church I attended as a kid. Though they considered Falwell a brother in Christ they judged him for not being separatist enough and fraternizing with people of false faiths, like Catholics and Mormons.)

But if God does turn out to be one of Falwell’s old punching bags, we pray that He will find it in His heart to forgive the founder of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, and to welcome him into eternity with open arms. After all, even though Falwell supported the apartheid regime of South Africa and, back in the day, opposed the Civil Rights movement—and even though he founded Liberty U as a haven from integration—the Rev. Jerry Falwell still did some good. He helped to keep alive the debate about the role of religion in public life—and he made it entertaining, however unintentionally. And Falwell’s outrageous voice gave his opponents across the aisle a bigger voice, from critics like Bishop John Shelby Spong to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn.

Gee, Thanks for Bill Maher

Falwell’s influence extended far beyond religion. Doesn’t Bill Maher owe his career, in part, to the likes of Jerry Falwell? And what about Larry Flynt? For years the Southern pornographer and the Southern preacher were linked in the public imagination like Frazier and Ali, Siskel and Ebert, Bluto and Popeye, and both their empires flourished as a result.

“However insensitive Falwell’s remarks were, we tolertated them because they reflected his religious beliefs, and a lot of people (voters, consumers) shared them. Jerry Falwell was good for business.”

Among Falwell’s virtues were his consistency and dependability. If Pat Robertson wasn’t available for a crackpot comment following a national disaster or an international crisis, Falwell could always be counted on to step up to the plate. After Sept. 11, Falwell infamously opined that the terrorist attacks were God’s punishment for our nation’s wickedness. (Footnote: Falwell made his 9/11 comments on Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club,” and Robertson amplified them in the same program, yet Falwell took the bullet. That’s what kind of soldier Jerry Falwell was.)

Falwell has left some mighty big shoes to fill. Though there are plenty of loose cannons out there, has anyone come out to declare that God had struck Falwell down for his iniquities? No, and they probably won’t, either. Like Robertson, Falwell was among the last of a breed that felt compelled to make such ghastly pronouncements—self-righteous condemnations somehow made less shocking by their frequency. However insensitive Falwell’s remarks were, we tolertated them because they reflected his religious beliefs, and a lot of people (voters, consumers) shared them. Jerry Falwell was good for business.

All Major Credit Cards Accepted

I don’t know what history will deem to be Falwell’s greatest legacy. For me, it will always be his Institute of Biblical Studies—a videotape home Bible college he touted as the “finest biblical studies program ever developed.” Years ago, I bought the video course—”just four easy payments, all major credit cards accepted”—and, for fun, I completed it, earning the diploma.

The many biblical lessons I learned included: 1) there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark and they “took up as much space as they wanted”; and 2) Jesus advocated the death penalty: “If ever there was a platform to cry out against capital punishment, our Lord had it on the cross.” No kidding. Read my report here.

Professor Falwell, we will miss you. And once you get settled on the other side, please report back what it’s like to finally be in a place filled exclusively with born-again Christians like you. Totally awesome, or what?

Oh, one more question. Just curious. How hot is it where you are?