Here in Greece, when a man dies, you never ask “How did he die?”, but “How did he live?” That’s the question that I’ve been wondering all day as I’ve been looking at the different reactions in the blogosphere and watching the various reports today on CNN.
Jerry Falwell came from a family of atheists and bootleggers to become one of the worlds best known, and often ridiculed, pastors in America, if not the world. He was married to the same woman for nearly 50 years and they raised three successful children. He became a confidant to US Presidents and world leaders and to say that he helped influence evangelical Christians votes at the ballot box would be an understatement. An endorsement from Falwell was either a blessing or a curse depending on the year.
Falwell was a controversial figure. He was a man who believed in segregation in his early years, denouncing Martin Luther King, labeling the Civil Rights Movement the “Civil Wrongs Movement”. He made the following controversial quote “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s Word and had desired to do the Lord’s Will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision [Brown v. Board of Education] would never have been made…. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.” He later changed his views as he did often throughout his career.
Other controversies followed. He was against sanctioning South Africa during the Apartheid years and called Archbishop Desmond Tutu a “phony”. He was behind the takeover of the PTL Club during the Jim Bakker scandal in the mid-eighties. To say Falwell ruffled some feathers would be an understatement.
1994 saw the “Clinton Chronicles” a documentary Falwell released accusing former President Bill Clinton of being a “drug addict” and having close friends murdered. In 2005 he stated “to this day I do not know the accuracy of the claims made in The Clinton Chronicles” yet never once apologized for any errors in his reporting.
Falwell’s fights with pornographers were legendary. Penthouse and Hustler Magazines often ridiculed Jerry Falwell. Falwell was the target of late night comedians and Saturday Night Live did sketches about him. He tried to sue and was unsuccessful.
Homosexuality was always something that Falwell spoke out against, and with gusto. He stated that “AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals.” He even stated that a Teletubby named “Tinky Winky” was a symbol for homosexuality because the character was purple. In regards to the 9/11 attacks, he had this to say “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”. He later publicly apologized for these statements.
Falwell made many other statements and allegations and allegations against others that I’m sure he regretted, yet never seemed to make excuses for his actions. He was at the top of the heap and Jerry wasn’t afraid to let anyone know this.
Jerry Falwell lived. Through raising a successful family, founding a church and college, he lived. Throughout the controversy, scorn and ridicule he lived. Did Jerry Falwell live God’s Way? Only God and Falwell have the answer to that question.
How do you think he lived?
Please keep the Falwell family in your prayers.