Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell -- R.I.P.

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Jerry Falwell died unexpectedly this morning while sitting at his desk in his church office. He was 73 years old.

Falwell was a pastor (of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, a church he founded). He was a founder, President and Chancellor of a University (Liberty University). He was the founder and leader of the "Moral Majority," one of the most successful political organizations in the history of the United States, registering over 15 million voters between 1979 and the early 1980s.

Falwell was a Christian fundamentalist and proud of it. I can't say that I agreed with his theology or that I even agreed with his politics. Only the Rev. Dr. Pat Robertson made more outrageous comments or expressed more controversial opinions than Falwell (his early segregationist positions, his "Clinton Chronicles video, his opposition to sanctions against South Africa's aparthied government, post 9/11 comments, his diatribe against the Teletubbies, etc.) Unlike Robertson, however, Falwell often apologized for his statements and, over time, changed his mind in several important matters.

Above all else Falwell was a Christian. He was a disciple of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To the best of his ability he served his Lord faithfully and well. He used his many talents wisely and well and left behind a legacy of accomplishments unstained by financial or moral scandal.

Falwell was a passionate man who inflamed passion in millions of Americans who saw in him a champion of their conservative social values.

No one ever accused Jerry Falwell of being wishy-washy or being a flip-flopper in his central beliefs.

He was intelligent enough to change with the times and, when he felt that the Moral Majority had served its purpose and had begun to be a stumbling block for his Christian ministries in Lynchburg, he let it go, leaving to others the torch that he had raised and carried for so many years.

Falwell worked hard and, in the end, died quietly.

He was a phenomenon and he was a personality filled with just the sort of "sound bites" that fed the hunger of the news media.

His life on this earth has now passed away. He is at home with the Lord and, as the Lord himself says, "His works will follow him."

He leaves behind a nation divided on whether his influence on America was a good thing or a very, very bad one. History and historians are, of course, fickle and biased. So are pundits and media commentators. Each of these will have their say in the days ahead. In the end it will Jesus who will render the final judgment on Jerry Falwell.

Falwell, like myself, trusted in the mercy of Almighty God and the forgiveness of sins through the atoning death and saving resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do not believe that his faith and hope have been disappointed.