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Some Reactions to Jerry Falwell’s Passing

May 15, 2007

 One of my favorite things in life is to bear witness to when bitter enemies come to hold a hearty affection for one another. Larry Flynt offered this up today regarding Jerry Falwell (Access Hollywood):

The Reverend Jerry Falwell and I were arch enemies for fifteen years. We became involved in a lawsuit concerning First Amendment rights and Hustler magazine. Without question, this was my most important battle – the l988 Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Jerry Falwell case, where after millions of dollars and much deliberation, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in my favor.My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.

Love it. I especially love it when both parties are people that are easy to despise: both come out looking better. And I suppose I come out looking worse for having enjoyed the cat-fight I felt so superior to.

Falwell is another one of those cultural caricatures I grew up despising without really knowing why. Not being in any way a Christian until college (my late 30’s for being politically conservative) I took my cues from the cultural powers that be. I don’t know much about Falwell even now, but I’m willing to bet he’s a lot more worthy of respect than I ever gave him credit for. Albert Mohler recaps Falwell’s legacy here. I think there’s probably a lot to thank Falwell for- even anti-abortion progressives like Timmy C.

Crucial to Flynt’s story is the face-to-face aspect of it. How easy it is to demonize those we disagree with. I’ve been busy for the past week or so working with a pretty famous feature comedy director who I experienced as a very nice and loving fellow, if a bit crude, and of course extremely liberal. His reaction to the news? “I didn’t know Jerry Falwell died!” he exclaimed to the room as he surfed the web. “That’s GREAT!” That’s just horrible. You’d think the guy ran around blowing up innocent people and cutting their heads off. Maybe some day I’ll be in a position where I can call out someone of his stature on such a cruel thing to say. For now I just shake my head, pray for his soul, and try to enjoy the rest of him for the genius filmaker and amazing person that he is. I’ve met him face to face. I know he’s not all bad.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2007 4:38 pm

    Very well said Count; a good reminder to depersonalize disagreements.

  2. May 17, 2007 11:28 pm

    Something I wish that S.O.B. Asghar would do!

  3. Tim C. permalink
    May 18, 2007 5:59 pm


    Well written posting also…glad to hear you are working with talented folks…and a good reminder to be gracious and showing fruit of the spirit – kindness, patiences, gentleness in how we deal with our supposed “enemies.” And it does seem like both Falwell and Flynt (a one time professing Christian) did show one another a bit of gracious kindness even with their public – historic – disagreements.

    Regarding the late Rev. I think that former Bush and Ashcroft aid David Kuo did the very best balanced look at Fallwell’s heritage:

    Here is an excerpt:

    “Three Sundays ago Jerry Falwell stood up in from of Thomas Road Baptist Church and gave a sermon entitled, “The Indestructibility of God’s Servant.” It was a beautiful sermon about the storms that life brings and the God who is there throughout:

    We are to expect storms. Eventually every saint will know the choppy waters of disappointment, the swelling tide of discouragement, the howling wind of defeat and the darkened skies of death. They are to be expected…. But God is in control. He holds not only the saint in His hand, but also the storm.
    To the saint, Jesus says, “Peace”.
    To the storm, Jesus says, “Be still”.

    It was Jerry Falwell at his best – a pastor well versed in the Bible’s words speaking God’s peace and assurance to the biggest problems.

    Two Sundays ago, Jerry Falwell, from the same pulpit, began his sermon telling a joke about how Osama Bin Laden had been killed, sent to heaven, and gotten the tar beaten out of him by Madison and Washington and Monroe. It was, Falwell said, the fulfillment of his destiny – eternity with 72 Virginians – not virgins. Then he said this:

    Which reminds me of another story from Washington last week reporting that Chelsea Clinton had interviewed some Marines just returning from Iraq. She asked one Marine, “What do you fear most?” He quickly answered, Osama, Obama and your Mama”.

    This was the worst of Jerry Falwell, using Jesus’ pulpit for his own angry “Christian” conservatism.”

  4. May 18, 2007 9:51 pm

    72 Virginians. That’s pretty good!

    As for Osama, Obama and your Mama, not too shabby either. But I don’t think I’d want to go to Falwells church for a number of reasons. Socially I don’t think I would fit in. Or want to. Thologically there are probably some issues. And even if I might agree with SOME of his political assessments, the focus on politics would probably make me feel uncomfortable. However, to think that “angry Christian liberalism” never makes an appearance in well known pulpits cannot possibly be your poin, can it? The thing I’ve realized about the hatred directed at Falwell (and President Bush for that matter) is that the unforgivable sin committed is not connecting politics and faith but making a connection between conservative politics and faith. That’s really the issue. Conservative christians were supposed to sit there like good quietists and just take it like they had always done. And to this day most liberal christians consider it a sacred duty to keep whatever “conservative” elements of their faith they have carefully concealed in public. Falwell deserves some credit for discarding that notion.

    I personally don’t respond to his approach. At least I think I don’t: it’s hard to guage what a person like Falwell has really done when I’ve never really paid attention to him in any way except to accept the conventional wisdom that he is a beyond-the-pale charlatan who is an embarassment to the faith. The reality is obviously more complex than that. So in my new frame of mind here previously maligned people like Falwell are getting a bump up in my estimation, whereas the Cool Ones, the liberal ones like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are looking worse and worse. That’s still a shock to my system.

    Just because someone says things in a nice way doesn’t mean that what they’re saying isn’t outrageously false or worse. Neither does a blunt or angry delivery necessarily make me tune out. It all depends on whether I agree with the underlying values or not. Civility in itself is a value, but it is subordinate to other things.

    There are plenty of people who consider George W Bush and the Republican party a bigger threat to world peace than Osama Bin Laden. There called Canadians, Europeans and Democrats. Jim Wallis has called the war “an offence against God”. In today’s world, Falwell looks pretty tame to me.

  5. Tim C. permalink
    May 21, 2007 10:39 am

    “72 Virginians. That’s pretty good! As for Osama, Obama and your Mama, not too shabby either.”

    True, they are kinda funny if mean and unchristian jokes, maybe socially acceptable over a bar between friends, David Kuo’s point was it was examples of Jerry’s worse aspects when delivered “from Jesus’ pulpit.”

    You are half right here:

    “…the unforgivable sin committed is not connecting politics and faith but making a connection between conservative politics and faith.”

    But I rather think it was intertwining conservative politics (not simply a valid way for some Christians to express their faith in their politics) but portraying it as the ONLY valid way for Christians to express their faith in their politics.

    For example, in his fund raising letter before this last election:

    “Christians continue to want to elect those candidates that best reflect their biblical values and support the issues that have defined our movement since we swept Ronald Reagan into the Oval Office in 1980. Our values have not changed.”

    Note that he didn’t there or most places only say “Some Christians” or “Members of the Moral majority,” Nope, his stance was if you are a Christian, and you believe in “biblical values” you’d vote our way.

    And of course, some of the dislike of him came from his more crazy and non-biblical statements such like:

    “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals…”

    – When he criticized Muhammad as “a terrorist. I read enough by both Muslims and non-Muslims, [to decide] that he was a violent man, a man of war.” but then said some pretty violent things himself in the same breath with his violence being being done “in the name of the Lord”…

    Such as:

    “You know when I see somebody burning the flag, I’m a Baptist preacher I’m not a Mennonite, I feel it’s my obligation to whip him. In the name of the Lord, of course.” And wanting Bush to “chase them [the terrorists] all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord…”

    And of course this: “This ‘turn the other cheek’ business is all well and good but it’s not what Jesus fought and died for. What we need to do is take the battle to the Muslim heathens and do unto them before they do unto us.”

    He preached that the Women’s Rights movement was Anti-Biblical:

    “I believe the women’s liberation movement is mainly staffed by a large group of frustrated failures, many of them lesbians, and all of them anti-biblical.”

    he said “I listen to feminists and all these radical gals… These women just need a man in the house. That’s all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they’re mad at all men.”

    – But in the 80’s he supported Apartheid and encouraged his listeners to buy Krugerrands to support the Botha government in South Africa, and called Bishop Desmond Tutu “a phony.”

    – In the 50’s he had preached that the Civil Rights movement was actually “The Civil Wrongs Movement.” And publicly opposed the work of Martin Luther King Jr. (Positions to his credit, he later discounted)

    – He railed against critics of President Bush, but earlier he himself was behind the funding and distribution of “the Clinton Chronicles,” video which accused the President of involvement in drug smuggling and murder…

    – And of course blaming ” 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” as making 911 happen.

    – and of lastly, employing his own gadar that devined that Tinky Winkey was clearly gay.

  6. May 27, 2007 11:18 am

    That Flynt came to terms with the man and showed a LOT more class upon his demise than most on the left caused Flynt’s stock to rise considerably with me.

  7. Melanie Stephan permalink
    August 24, 2008 9:05 am

    Where did Jerry Falwell go when he died? This is what God had to say about where Jerry went after death. Jerry falls into a catagory of people that God does not want in Heaven and he does not want to punish him in Hell either. Jerry just vanishes, disappears. It was very quick and plainless.


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