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Jerry Falwell: 1933-2007

May 15, 2007


jerry_falwell-copy.jpgThis morning, puffy evangelist Jerry Falwell was found dead in his office at Liberty University.  I am no doctor, but one look at a recent picture of the man would have told you his days on this planet were numbered.  Forgive me if I forgo the fake reverence one is expected to extend to the recently departed.  Jerry Falwell was a buffoon who claimed to be a Christian, yet he never missed an opportunity to exploit national tragedies for his own political gain.

Although he sometimes used the title “Doctor,” Falwell held no earned doctorate. He held three honorary degrees: an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple Theological Seminary, an honorary Doctor of Letters from California Graduate School of Theology (an unaccredited institution), and an honorary Doctor of Laws from Central University in Seoul, South Korea (an unaccredited institution).  Those facts didn’t prevent his friends from referring to him as Doctor Falwell when they announced his death at a press conference this morning.

1101850902_400.jpgNews anchors did their best to whitewash his legacy of hate and ignorance as they interrupted television programs to report the news.  I guess we have the Anna Nicole Smith spectacle to thank for lowering the bar enough to warrant this kind of media attention for the death of someone who proclaimed: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”  With that choice quote in mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane…

Falwell openly supported racial segregation for the first few years of his career. In 1958, he was quoted regarding his stance:

“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 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.”

In 1965 Reverend Falwell gave a sermon at his Thomas Road Baptist Church criticizing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement (which he sometimes referred to as the Civil Wrongs Movement.) Around that same time period he regularly featured Segregationist politicians like Georgia Governor Lester Maddox and Alabama Governor George Wallace on his Evangelist program The Old-Time Gospel Hour

mccainfalwell-copy.jpgIn 1979, long after Falwell and his cohorts were unsuccessful in keeping African-Americans from gaining equal rights under the U.S. Constitution, he co-founded the Moral Majority.  It openly sought to outlaw abortion, opposed state recognition and acceptance of homosexuality, and pushed for censorship of media outlets that promoted what it labeled as an ‘anti-family’ agenda.  It boasted millions of members and mainly consisted of conservative Christian political action committees, which campaigned on issues it believed central to upholding its Christian conception of moral law.  It dissolved in 1989 but its impact is still felt in national political races (just ask John McCain.)

Falwell was critical of sanctions against the Apartheid regime of South Africa during the 80s.  He claimed that he was opposed to Apartheid, but he feared that sanctions would result in a worse situation for South Africans in the form of a more oppressive white minority government or a Soviet-backed revolution.  One of his greatest gaffes at that time came about when he called Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) a phony “as far as representing the black people of South Africa.” He later apologized (as he often did following this kind of remark) and claimed that he had misspoken. 

clinton_chronicles.jpgIn 1994, Falwell released the documentary “The Clinton Chronicles”, a video that connected Bill Clinton to a conspiracy theory involving Vincent Foster, James McDougall, Ron Brown, and an alleged cocaine-smuggling operation. Despite the theories being discredited by all major investigations, the video’s sophisticated production techniques served as effective exposure, and sold over 150,000 copies.  Falwell’s infomercial for the 80-minute tape included footage of Falwell interviewing a silhouetted journalist who was afraid for his life.

The journalist accused Clinton of orchestrating the deaths of several reporters and personal confidants who had gotten too close to his illegalities. However, it was subsequently revealed that the silhouetted journalist was, in fact, Patrick Matrisciana, the producer of the video. Matrisciana later admitted that it as Jerry’s idea to present him in that manner because he “thought that would be dramatic.”

tinky-copy.jpgOne of the most bizarre episodes from Falwell’s storied career came in 1999, when he published an article in his National Liberty Journal entitled “Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet.”  It focused on disturbing clues that one of the characters in the hit children’s show Teletubbies was designed to promote the gay lifestyle:

"Now, further evidence that the creators of the series intend for Tinky Winky to be a gay role model have surfaced. He is purple -- the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay-pride symbol."

Falwell instantly became the laughingstock of mainstream media for his in-depth analysis of the sexual politics of a show aimed at preschoolers.  It was becoming pathetically apparent that he was running out of top shelf material to keep his hate machine going. 

On September 13, 2001, during an appearance on The 700 Club (in what became his final major act of stupidity on a national stage) Falwell tried to pin the attacks of September 11th on his harshest critics:

“The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. 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.'”

jfalwell.jpgI hope all of the people we are going to see praise this fool over the next week remember those words.  You couldn’t find a better quote that sums up the warped sense Jerry Falwell had of the world and his own religion.  Unfortunately such beliefs will hardly die with the man.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the photo you see to the left.  It features Jerry Falwell sliding down the Typhoon water slide at Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Heritage USA theme park.  He was fulfilling a promise to his supporters that coughed up $20 million to save the ailing PTL empire.  It was selected as “The Best of Photojournalism” in 1987 Pictures of the Year book presented by the National Press Photographers Association. In September 1999, The Associated Press selected it as one of the top 100 national photos of the century.  

I have to admit it is a great picture. Who wears a suit (with suspenders) on a water slide? I would like to think of it as a little preview of the trip he is taking down to the place where a water slide would be downright refreshing. 

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