Rev. Jerry Falwell – Lessons from a Sincere and Intelligent but Deluded Man

The American religious leader and morals crusader, Jerry Falwell, well known for making outrageous statements, passed away today at the age of 73. People in religious circles held the famous televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, in great honour and will mourn his passing. Outside the church however, people saw Falwell at the least a joke and at worst a dangerous bigot.

The top of the list of his now infamous and bizarre comments would possibly be his suggestion that Teletubbie, Tinky Winky, was a gay role model because He is purple — the gay-pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay pride symbol and he carried a handbag.”

Next on the list would be his warning to America after 9/11. ” 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’.”

Running a close third would be one of his relentless attacks on the gay community. AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals… AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

What can we learn from the life of a man who was sincerely religious and intelligent but whom at times seemed so out of touch with reality? It demonstrates how living in a closed environment with limited information causes you to have a narrow and warped view of the world. Often people heavily involved in Christian churches live in a protected unreal environment. Maintaining a defensive position to uphold the beliefs foundational to their lives, anything that challenges or threatens that security is not entertained. Those involved in leadership like Falwell often live an even more isolated life.

Falwell’s life also demonstrates that change is possible. Originally, Falwell was a segregationist Baptist preacher, who opposed interracial marriage and used the Bible to justify his position. In 1958, Falwell gave a sermon on segregation, stating that. The true Negro does not want integration…He realizes his potential is far better among his own race… It will destroy our race eventually……It boils down to whether we are going to take God’s Word as final.” 

That all changed a few years later when a black shoeshine man asked him, “When will someone like me be allowed to become a member of your congregation?” Something happened and through those simple words, the Rev. Falwell, ended segregation at the Thomas Road Baptist Church he’d founded and he saw the injustice of the churches opposition to civil rights for Afro-Americans.

Unfortunately, it seems that power, influence and a self-righteous belief that he was especially chosen to put America back on the straight and narrow, blocked Falwell from gaining greater understanding in the areas of same-sex-orientation and other issues.

There are sobering lessons for us all in the life of the Rev Jerry Falwell. Saying you have the truth and are right makes everyone else with a different understanding wrong. And that my friends is not only the height of arrogance but unchristian.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8  (ESV)