As a thinking woman of faith I was often repelled and appalled by Rev. Jerry Falwell and nearly everything that came out of his mouth. Founder of the Moral Majority and the face of the religious right in the 1980s, Falwell represented everything I oppose as a woman who tries to pattern her life and her politics after the teachings of the prophets who in various ways advocated that we “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly after our God.”
Why does Jerry Falwell deserve mention here on this blog? His passing on yesterday there in his office in Lynchburg, Virginia marks a milestone in 20th century history. Falwell will be remembered for helping to persuade masses of Christians to involve themselves in American politics as the way of preserving their rabidly conservative vision of family and as a way of helping God save America.
I am a Christian too, but I must say that I was not particularly interested in living in the world Falwell and his followers wanted to usher in. The faith I love does not look at all like the version Falwell advocated. But it wasn’t his fundamentalist worldview that made Falwell repulsive in my mind. Fundamentalism I know.
Jerry Falwell was one of the most negative, divisive, uncharitable ideologues of the 20th Century. Maligning one’s foes, talking over your opponents, and saying every odious thing that comes to mind about folks you disagree with, praise the Lord, was all fair game in the high stakes work of ushering God’s kingdom here on earth, it seems.
Take, for example, the comments he made right after the 9/11 attacks.
“The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be
mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad.
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
Every great movement in history is driven by passion. What makes the movements and their nearly fanatical leaders successful is a nearly crazed belief that what they are doing is right and that people who oppose them are not just wrong but evil. History is full of examples of religious folks who drove stakes through their opponents thinking they were doing the will of God.
Jerry Falwell, and movements like his, is a reminder of what happens when ideologues—and the theology they preach—run amok.
So, we come not to demonize Falwell, but to bury him.