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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Falwell passes

Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) has passed away today. He loomed large as a formative figure in the politics of the American church in the 20th century. He was passionate about his beliefs. As I watch MSNBC on cable tv Rev. Al Sharpton is commenting on how he believes Falwell was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person whose beliefs and convictions did not change when he went off camera.

The landscape of church politics is certainly different today than it was in the 80s. It is fair to say that the church is no longer voting in a large block for the most conservative candidate. There is a growing diversity in the political views of Christians and religious people, in general. Homosexual rights, immigration, the environment, the use of the military, and domestic spending are a few of the issues on which Americans of faith differ.

With the increasing diversity amongst the American faithful the coming elections become more and more interesting.


The Rev Jerry Falwell, whose evangelical convictions and organisational abilities, including as a founder in 1979 of the Moral Majority movement, did much to place religious conservatives in a role of great influence in American politics, died on Tuesday in Lynchburg, Virginia, of apparent heart failure at the age of 73.

He was a figure of immense controversy over the last 40 years, outspoken to the point that his apologies appeared almost as regularly as his thundering denunciations. To him the three great scourges afflicting his country were "atheism, secularism and humanism," and nothing would deter him from defeating his evil trinity...

....But it was his role, along with two others, in setting up the Moral Majority in 1979 that made him a national political figure to be reckoned with. Until then evangelicals had been mostly apolitical, but his voter registration drives and his encouragement to pastors to use their churches as political pulpits introduced a new force into national political life.

Dismissive of President Jimmy Carter, whose was uncharacteristically contemptuous in return, he put his forces to work hard for the election of Ronald Reagan. In all subsequent Republican administrations, he has been a welcome guest at the White House, even though he disbanded Moral Majority in 1989.

Karl Rove, the current president's political mastermind, openly courted the support and advice of religious conservatives. With the passing years, others of similar persuasion but with less fiery oratory, like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, became, arguably, more influential, as in the anti-abortion and anti-homosexual struggles, but all owed a debt to the Rev Falwell. [Taken from MSNBC]


ktismatics said...

My wife grew up in Lynchburg; her family knew the Falwells, who were notorious bootleggers during Prohibition and not particularly well-liked around town. Falwell lays all this out in his autobiography, a free copy of which was given me at the Jerry Falwell museum on the campus of Liberty University. Alas, it's not a signed copy.

Jason Hesiak said...

I'll be blunt. I was happy he died. Acutally, I felt bad, and meant to pray last night about it, and forgot. But that guy has caused lots of trouble.

And...hello Jonathan :)

Jonathan Erdman said...

I didn't know your wife had the Lynchburg connection. Is she still of the "Moral Majority"? A certified Reaganite?

I wonder how all these various conservative cells will get along without Jerry: The university, the political connections, the church, etc., etc. With the way that things have changed in terms of the churches approach to politics will it be more and more difficult to convert youth to the cause without the charismatic Falwell?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hey Jason, good to hear from you.

What exactly are you talking about when you speak of "trouble"? Is it possible that Falwell was a man for his time, but that now the times have changed? Or do you think that the bad outweighed the good?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jason, I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out that he died. He stuck his foot in his mouth too many times for the "cause" of Christ and the Republican party (I don't know which one was more important to him, you can invert the order if you feel that the party was more important to him). I hope that if he is in heaven, and he finds Democrats there, he will hopefully be humbled. I only wish his disciples could get a preview.

Steve Qualley

Melody said...

Holy cow, children, Listen to yourselves talk!

You're glad/relieved that a man and a brother in Christ died, whom you have no other complaint against than that he was considered a pot stirrer and alot of people didn't like him?

That's beautiful. Moving, really.

I'd like to direct you to this blog

It's a nice piece by a guy who knew Falwell, dissagreed with him probably more than any of you (with the possible exception of kstimatics - who was nicer than some other people I could mention even though he has less reason to be) but still considers him to have loved Christ and people well.

Melody said...

P.S. It's the second post on there right now, scroll down.

Jonathan Erdman said...

It's right here to be precise!

Melody said...

Oh, well aren't we all fancy with our html linking abilities =p

Jonathan Erdman said...


Melody said...


Of course it is a little obnoxious that this window can't expand to fit the entire page. As long as you're being all fancy smancy, can you make it appear in another window?

ktismatics said...

Although this blog insists that you write comments inside this little window, you can click the title of the post (Falwell Passes) and it will string the comments at the bottom of the post just like a real blog. Then you can click the link you put up and it will manifest itself as a full-page link.

Jonathan Erdman said...

"Please, Blue Fairy, make me a real blog!"

I tweaked the settings of my blog a bit in regards to comments and hopefully it will be a bit more user-friendly. Also, I have had both comment moderation and word verification turned off for quite some time so as to provide as little hassle as possible to my beloved readers and commentators!

ktismatics said...

Now it's a real blog. Speaking of literature, have you ever read Pinocchio? A really weird book. The Blue Fairy is always already dead throughout the whole book.

Jonathan Erdman said...

No. Have not read Pinocchio. Do you recommend it?

Have you seen A.I. (Spielberg)? I may have asked you this question before. A.I. has a strong Pinocchio motif, and unlike the Disney version it probes a bit deeper and retains a darker storyline.

ktismatics said...

I liked AI -- definite Pinocchio thing going.

Melody said...

My mum decided to read Pinocchio to me and my sister when we were little. She got to the point where there where people were trying to kill Pinocchio for his spare change (which he was hiding under his tongue)and some one was being hung from a tree, but still talking (Blue Fairy?) and then she decided that this was all a bit much for kids aged 4 & 6.

And now I'm going to have to both read the book and watch AI. Blast you people.

Jason Hesiak said...


All I meant by "caused a lot of trouble" was his political cout, both then and now. His blessing on this war is a large part of its justification in the minds of many Americans. He said he disbanded his Coalition not because times had changed, but because its mission had been accomplished.

And Melody, I'm gonna have to go ahead and say you're right. I would, however, like to clarify what it is that you are right about, if I can. For one, I didn't dislike the guy because many others disliked him, but because many other DID like him. TOO many, clearly.

Secondly, you said that the person who wrote that blog and knew him had more reason probably had stronger disagreements with him than I, but I don't know about that. I consider the stupid things he said - which is all that that blog mentioned as being deservingly uncondoned - as silly nonesense to be dismissed, basically. Of course there's more to it than that, but nonetheless. I think what's important is what that blog DID NOT say. It mentioned nothing about his role in world events that have shaped so many lives and opinions (such as our current unjust war). That doesn't mean that that auhtor agrees with Fallwell, but it does mean that he or she doesn't disagree with Fallwell more than I.

Lasly, I found that blog author's accounts of Fallwell's care for folk fascinating. Makes me feel small and insignificant, in a sense. At the lest, it makes me aware that when I disagree with Fallwell on important stuff, I'm probably, in most instances, just stating my position of disagreement.


ktismatics said...

Melody -

For some reason I didn't read Pinocchio to my daughter, even though I read it myself when she was maybe 8. When she was 6 I read her Lord of the Rings -- all three of them. Incredibly, she never dozed off listening to all that traipsing through Middle Earth. Strangely, she was nervous about going to see the first movie, even after she'd heard the books, because it was PG-13. She loved it though, once I finally forced her to watch it (just kidding).

Melody said...

Sometimes I think kids have a better attention span than adults...I found Middle Earth a bit much at the age of 15 (then again, it's a bit different when someone's reading to you, did you do all the voices?).

My dad read the Chronicals of Narnia to my sister and I when were were...3 and 5 I think...but my sister couldn't stay awake so he started reading us Bible Stories instead...because they were shorter. I was furious, but of course I could read for myself so my dad didn't really have any pity on me.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Is the war really an unjust war???

Jason Hesiak said...

I'm going with "yeah." And that's granting that there is such a thing.

steve qualley said...

First of all, thanx for that new perspective. I guess when you only see the hate-mongering and stupid quotes that someone says, you loose perspective as to the total person. So thank you for that. I'm glad that he was actually a kind man.

But in regard to being "considered a pot stirrer" I have to wonder what he was stirring the pot about? If it was the gospel, that's one thing, but he wasn't doing that. At least not many times that I can recall. He was spouting off at the mouth about some Republican-thus-Christian viewpoint. One example is the idea that liberals and homosexuals are somehow related to the cause of 9/11!! That's a good Christian "pot stirring" comment!?!

Also in regard to "alot of people didn't like him?" Since I've worked as a waiter, I've seen how much Christian, or at least church, hatred and unwillingness to truly dialogue have turned people off to Christianity. And this was just at the local level!! Think about how a national level "Christian" figure could turn people off. (By the way, in regard to speaking the truth, the Bible talks about speaking the truth in love. I don't know if I could tell that Falwell was speaking "the" truth in love.)

I truly am sorry that I was relieved that he died, but when the un-churched are put off by what a supposedly high-level Christian says, I hope that those high-level Christians somehow are silenced, so that we can share and live the gospel without their additional stumbling blocks (that are of no recourse to the gospel).

Melody said...

Mmmm, Falwell's been around a long time, I can't say I keep real close tabs on the man, but I imagine he's stirred the pot more than once and on a variety of topics.

Are people only allowed to stir the pot if it's about the gospel? As for your example...everyone ws blaming everybody about 9/11. Liberals, Conservatives, the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration, random government employees, airlines, oil barrons...

I'm not saying that makes it ok...but why focus on Falwell?

I know, it's embarrassing. But badmouthing Chrisitans who make us uncomfortable is just as bad of a witness. Where's the love in that? All it does is show people that we can't even love each other when it's uncomfortable...how can they possibly expect us to have unconditional love for them?

Falwell was failable human being. He made mistakes. They just happen to be nationally known mistakes.

If the things that I do and say were paid attention to on that scale, I highly doubt that I would be able to stand any straighter.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Interestingly, Falwell actually apologized for some of his remarks, which makes me wonder: Was he the kind of guy that sometimes just got too carried away with things? That he quite easily got too caught up in the moment? I don't think that he was the kind of guy to worry about PR and PC, so if he says something he truly believes one would wonder why he would apologize. But if he just allowed himself to say things and then later realized that he had spoken wrongly.....Sometimes our very own speech doesn't come from us, it seems to come from somewhere else, and later on reflection we can either ratify it or we can reject it. We learn from our speech. Ktismatics has even suggested a chicken and egg type question: What comes first, me or words? Do I make my speech, or does my speech make me? Weird to think about, but I think I see this happening to many politicians and celebrities.

Melody said...

If you're upset about something you're bound to say things you don't mean. Not just celebrities and politicians...but everybody.

My journals are filled with disclaimers because I write when I'm angry and when I go back and read what I wrote I realize that I don't mean a word of it.

Jason Hesiak said...


I was struck when you said: "I know, it's embarrassing. But badmouthing Chrisitans who make us uncomfortable is just as bad of a witness. Where's the love in that? All it does is show people that we can't even love each other when it's uncomfortable...how can they possibly expect us to have unconditional love for them?"

I was like, "Ooohh...she's got a good point."

Then you said: "Falwell was failable human being. He made mistakes. They just happen to be nationally known mistakes."

Then I was like: "Wait, which mistakes is she talking about. Badmouthing gays, which everyone heard about, or helping lead us and our tax dollars ("where your money is, there your heart will be also") into this war-thing.

I mean...at the same time, maybe some folks outside the church might respect when some Christians try and stand up in the face of the "facists" in their own company. I use the term "facist" there somewhat loosely. ktismatics has thrown it at me recently. I find it entertaining.

Regardless, there is a balance between letting God judge, which comes with the idea of healing and trust, and standing up for what's right. On the topic of the Erdmanian Tornado's next post, there was a pastor who gave a sermon on that stuff at his service geared more toward unbelievers, getting to the "heart" of the matter (that porn kills the hear...and makes good sex impossible on top of it!), and he got a standing ovation from a bunch of non-Christians, who with their standing ovation seemed to say "FINALLY, someone is saying something about this crap!"

I mean...I admit...in certain situations...based on certain issues...I'm probably less ready to be trusting and trusted...and am too ready to take the axe to the root of the tree, so to speak. Maybe I should examine my heart, and see if I'm reacting violently to a sense of a betrayal of trust, of being hurt in some way. Because that would sort of cancel the merit of my words.

I can think of a whole host of other things I hold important on which Fallwell and I probably disagree, mostly implicitly on his part, probably. But things that I hold dear and that I take to be nourishing to my sould and to my life. Things he bashes. Bashes that hurt me, on a pretty deep level, due to their "totalizing" presence.

All of that, then, reminds me of another thing you said: "If you're upset about something you're bound to say things you don't mean. Not just celebrities and politicians...but everybody."

But when I look back on the things I say in this regard, I usually still agree with myself. We're still in war. Christians still don't know what the heck art is, because they're too busy trying to describe the world rather than make it. Meanwhile, the world is making the world under their noses. With a war, for one thing.


Jonathan Erdman said...

Erdmanian Tornado

I can't decide if this sounds like a theological movement on steroids or a professional wrestler who reads Kant.

Jason Hesiak said...

lol, its a Johnathan theologian who reads Derrida...Quoholet, dude.

Speaking of Ecclesiastes, you've been invoked as a desired conversation partner:


"I think the Erdmanian Tornado is misinterpreting the relationship between Ecclesiastes and postmodernism... But he knows pomo FAR better than I, so...In terms of the conversation I want to have with the Erdmanian, this is interesting: 'I think if one goes too far on one side or the other there is a danger: If you abstract God’s work on purely meta terms then you risk losing personal meaning for your own narrative and your meta-theology becomes more important than your own personal faith. On the other hand, I think that the Bible does present a meta-narrative, and if one construes the atonement strictly on a personal level, then how can one bring this to someone else as meaningful for them and not just for me.'"

Jonathan Erdman said...

I checked out that post. It is an interesting one, and I didn't know that the conversation had continued. It will be a while b/f I catch up.

Jason Hesiak said...

We can converse on Ecclesiastes at your post on Moreland, if you want.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sounds like fun.

Recently I posted a paper on Ecclesiastes/Qohelet. This paper specifically discusses the relationship between Ecclesiastes and deconstruction (as I understand it).

Jason Hesiak said...

Well, then, before even beginning to decide if you are misunderstanding...maybe I should read your paper on it!

Jonathan Erdman said...

I recommend that you do that. After all, it is a Friday night and the only kinds of things to do out there in L.A. will just get you into trouble!

Jason Hesiak said...

I plan to read as much of it as I can at lunch...right about...now...and then finish later.

Jason Hesiak said...

I got a third of the way through it during lunch. Its pretty interesting. I'm interested to see where it's heading. But you've already mentioned like twice the seemingly "personal" and/or individual "experience" of the Qoholet. I'm interested to see where you relate that pomo concern with what is "personal" (misunderstoodedly attacked as purely "subjective," I suppose) and the fact that such individual horizons of "experience" were FAR from existing prior to like 1750ish. I should have said this at the appropriate post, on your JP Moreland post. To be condinued there later, I suppose...


ktismatics said...

The comments began with some sense that the world and the church were better off without Falwell. The tone of these comments changed when personal morality got invoked: it's not Christian to rejoice in any Christian's death, Falwell was a nice guy.

Falwell took a prophetic stance, invoking God's name, God's will and God's judgment in support of a lot of controversial positions. Would you say that he spoke the unspoken for most evangelical Christians. That AIDS was God's judgment not just on gays but on public tolerance of gays? That homosexuals and lesbians and feminists and the ACLU and those who want to take God out of the public schools have to take a lot of the blame for 9/11? That separation of church and state was an idea invented by the devil to keep Christians from running their own country? Thank God that the anti-Biblical feminist movement is being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement? That the ACLU is to Christians what the Nazi Party is to Jews?

This seems like the same question as on Moreland: on what basis do emerging evangelicals respond to this sort of God-invoked intolerance purposefully intended to provoke a public reaction? Does personal morality (it's not Christian to wish bad things for a brother, Falwell is really a nice guy) always justify public immorality (claiming God's support of personal partisan positions)?

Jonathan Erdman said...

On what basis do emerging evangelicals respond to this sort of God-invoked intolerance purposefully intended to provoke a public reaction?

This is a good question. Do we tolerate it? If we are intolerant of it, then, as you say, on what basis are we intolerant? On the basis of a God-invoked disgust? Do we rise up in righteous indignation? If so, then as far as I can see we are, in priciple, no different from Falwell who also rose up and expressed his righteous indignation with what he saw as dangers to goodness and country.

I think context is important here. In America we grant anyone and everyone the right to say whatever they want. Presumably it is a country where we allow the free flow of ideas. I can say that I do not believe that 9/11 was God's judgment on America, but at the end of the day what else can I do with Falwell? It isn't the days of Inquisition. We don't burn fellow Christians at the stake anymore to resolve doctrinal discrepancies. Or are you suggesting that we bring back some of these old school traditions in the name of fighting Facist rhetoric? But if we do this, haven't we become what we hate?

ktismatics said...

He's free to say whatever he likes, no question. Falwell purports to speak not just for himself, but for God. Do you accept his prophetic voice? If so, then you have no reason to say anything against him. Do you believe that he's projecting his own opinions onto God? Then he's a false prophet. Tolerate his opinions; don't tolerate his role as God's spokesman.

Even if you agree with him, are you so he's right that you're prepared to let pass without objection his claims of divinely sanctioned certainty? I'd be skeptical of anyone definitively saying that the ACLU was God's agent for achieving justice in our society, or that God killed Jerry Falwell to shut him up.

Jason Hesiak said...


To be direct, I'll speak for myself, but not for "most evangelicals", for whom I really cannot speak, I don't think:

"Would you say that he spoke the unspoken for most evangelical Christians. That AIDS was God's judgment not just on gays but on public tolerance of gays?" No. Refer to my Mother Theresa comment at one of your posts.

"That homosexuals and lesbians and feminists and the ACLU and those who want to take God out of the public schools have to take a lot of the blame for 9/11?" No. I think we're all responsible, including Bin Laden, of course. In "Passion of the Christ," Gibson played the guy who hammered the nail into Christ's hand/wrist.

"That separation of church and state was an idea invented by the devil to keep Christians from running their own country?" No. That's stupid.

"Thank God that the anti-Biblical feminist movement is being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement?" Nope. That's a classical Liberal Protestant statement, if you consider the context. Therefore stupid in the same way as the notion of a Christian USA.

"That the ACLU is to Christians what the Nazi Party is to Jews?" I don't know a damn thing about the ACLU. They must not be but such an enemy.

Melody said...

I love that because you know nothing about something they're not a threat. Ignorance is bliss, no?

Jason Hesiak said...

If a tree falls, and no one is there to hear it...? Lol. Anwyay, I was speaking on my own behalf only. I don't regard them as an enemy, was my point. Maybe your point is that I should find out if they are or not.

Melody said...

Mmm, more or less. The "if I don't know about it, it can't hurt me" stance isn't one I have much patience for.

Jason Hesiak said...

Well since we're on the effect of patience upon our dispositions, I should mention that a large portion of my disregard for the ACLU is due to my "having it up to here" in my daily living at work with all thing political and beurocratic...since I'm an architect...architecture is inherently political...and yet all things contemporaneously political and/or beurocratic do nothing but get in the way of real architecture. It's a frustrating mess, and my going and educating myself on the ACLU after work is about the last thing I have the patience for.

Melody said...

lol, well I don't exactly sit at home browsing Lexis-Nexis for reports of recent ACLU activity. I wouldn't dismiss them out of hand either.

Jason Hesiak said...

Oh, I don't dismiss them, certainly not! Call it a character flaw, a lack of patience to do the work to figure out what's actually going on. Or call it "Jason's busy studying a bunch of other crap, and maybe he'll get to studying the ACLU when he finds the proper combination of time and patience for it."