Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell Kicks The Bucket

Check it, guys:

Television evangelist Falwell dies at 73

By SUE LINDSEY, Associated Press Writer

LYNCHBURG, Va. - The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist who founded the Moral Majority and used it to mold the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.

Ron Godwin, the university's executive vice president, said Falwell, 73, was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. "CPR efforts were unsuccessful," he said.

Godwin said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but he said Falwell "has a history of heart challenges."

"I had breakfast with him, and he was fine at breakfast," Godwin said. "He went to his office, I went to mine, and they found him unresponsive."

Falwell had survived two serious health scares in early 2005. He was hospitalized for two weeks with what was described as a viral infection, then was hospitalized again a few weeks later after going into respiratory arrest. Later that year, doctors found a 70 percent blockage in an artery, which they opened with stents.

Falwell credited his Moral Majority with getting millions of conservative voters registered, electing Ronald Reagan and giving Republicans Senate control in 1980.

"I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved," Falwell said when he stepped down as Moral Majority president in 1987.

The fundamentalist church that Falwell started in an abandoned bottling plant in 1956 grew into a religious empire that includes the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the "Old Time Gospel Hour" carried on television stations around the country and 7,700-student Liberty University. He built Christian elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and a home for alcoholics.

He also founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, which began as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971.

Liberty University's commencement is scheduled for Saturday, with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the featured speaker.

In 2006, Falwell marked the 50th anniversary of his church and spoke out on stem cell research, saying he sympathized with people with medical problems, but that any medical research must pass a three-part test: "Is it ethically correct? Is it biblically correct? Is it morally correct?"

Falwell had once opposed mixing preaching with politics, but he changed his view and in 1979, founded the Moral Majority. The political lobbying organization grew to 6.5 million members and raised $69 million as it supported conservative politicians and campaigned against abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer.

Falwell became the face of the religious right, appearing on national magazine covers and on television talk shows. In 1983, U.S. News & World Report named him one of 25 most influential people in America.

In 1984, he sued Hustler magazine for $45 million, charging that he was libeled by an ad parody depicting him as an incestuous drunkard. A federal jury found the fake ad did not libel him, but awarded him $200,000 for emotional distress. That verdict was overturned, however, in a landmark 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that even pornographic spoofs about a public figure enjoy First Amendment protection.

The case was depicted in the 1996 movie "The People v. Larry Flynt."

With Falwell's high profile came frequent criticism, even from fellow ministers. The Rev. Billy Graham once rebuked him for political sermonizing on "non-moral issues."

Falwell quit the Moral Majority in 1987, saying he was tired of being "a lightning rod" and wanted to devote his time to his ministry and Liberty University. But he remained outspoken and continued to draw criticism for his remarks.

Days after Sept. 11, 2001, Falwell essentially blamed feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal groups for bringing on the terrorist attacks. He later apologized.

In 1999, he told an evangelical conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief. A month later, his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, a purple, purse-toting character on television's "Teletubbies" show, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children.

Falwell was re-energized after family values proved important in the 2004 presidential election. He formed the Faith and Values Coalition as the "21st Century resurrection of the Moral Majority," to seek anti-abortion judges, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and more conservative elected officials.

The big, blue-eyed preacher with a booming voice started his independent Baptist church with 35 members. From his living room, he began broadcasting his message of salvation and raising the donations that helped his ministry grow.

"He was one of the first to come up with ways to use television to expand his ministry," said Robert Alley, a retired University of Richmond religion professor who studied and criticized Falwell's career.

In 1987, Falwell took over the PTL (Praise the Lord) ministry in South Carolina after Jim Bakker's troubles. Falwell slid fully clothed down a theme park water slide after donors met his fund-raising goal to help rescue the rival ministry. He gave it up seven months later after learning the depth of PTL's financial problems.

Largely because of the Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals, donations to Falwell's ministry dropped from $135 million in 1986 to less than $100 million the following year. Hundreds of workers were laid off and viewers of his television show dwindled.

Liberty University was $73 million in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy, and his "Old Time Gospel Hour" was $16 million in debt.

By the mid-1990s, two local businessmen with long ties to Falwell began overseeing the finances and helped get companies to forgive debts or write them of as losses.

Falwell devoted much of his time keeping his university afloat. He dreamed that Liberty would grow to 50,000 students and be to fundamentalist Christians what Notre Dame is to Roman Catholics and Brigham Young University is to Mormons. He was an avid sports fan who arrived at Liberty basketball games to the cheers of students.

Falwell's father and his grandfather were militant atheists, he wrote in his autobiography. He said his father made a fortune off his businesses — including bootleging during Prohibition.

As a student, Falwell was a star athlete and a prankster who was barred from giving his high school valedictorian's speech after he was caught using counterfeit lunch tickets his senior year.

He ran with a gang of juvenile delinquents before becoming a born-again Christian at age 19. He turned down an offer to play professional baseball and transferred from Lynchburg College to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

"My heart was burning to serve Christ," he once said in an interview. "I knew nothing would ever be the same again."

Falwell is survived by his wife, Macel, and three children, Jerry, Jonathan and Jeannie.


At 5/15/2007 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only person who will miss Falwell...is himself. Fortunately, if there is a heaven he will not go there...hypocrites go south. But lucky for him there is no heaven.


At 5/15/2007 6:01 PM, Blogger Dusty said...

Jerry is in heaven...Jesus' grace makes no sense, but Jerry hurt many people in the world with his hateful words at times, that he tried to say were loving and Christlike...I am grateful for the same Grace and love that Christ has for me, covers mr. Falwell as well...

Jesus is truly amazing...

At 5/15/2007 6:04 PM, Blogger Jeff BBz said...

agreed D-sty.

At 5/15/2007 9:34 PM, Blogger Andy said...

probably should consider the fact that while Falwell may have said a lot of things that hurt people the only difference between him and I is that he got to say them on TV. We're all jerks... we all deserve the worst and yet the cross provides more.

I'm sure we'll all have a good laugh when we get to heaven and he'll ask me why my friend stole that Jerry Falwell Bobble Head for me.

At 5/16/2007 12:15 AM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

Confident statements about people being in heaven and or hell are always akward, embarrassing, or remarkably cocky. This is why they should be reserved for funeral homes, counselling sessions, or theology classes. If you are not God, currently in heaven or hell, or forced to say things to make someone you love feel better you probably should not make a claim either way.

At 5/16/2007 12:50 PM, Blogger Jeff BBz said...

I meant agreed about the sweet grace of Jesus. And hope that he is in heaven or headed there or whatever. Additionally i wish i got to say more things on TV, especially confident statements about a broad range of topics. that would be sweet.

At 5/16/2007 1:01 PM, Blogger Liza said...

I did let out a joyous whoop when I first read the article, guys. So that's the truth on my end. I hope Jerry's in Heaven, really, because I hope everyone will be eternally with God and not eternally separated... but seriously I hope the Lamb has some sharp words for him. Like about that teletubby crap. And maybe a lamb bite.

At 5/16/2007 1:34 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

I hope no one lets out a joyous whoop when you or i die liza.

At 5/16/2007 11:03 PM, Blogger Joey said...

I'm not real sure on my theology about what happens when people die but I'd like to think there would be a little celebration any time somebody leaves to spend eternity with their creator. In that spirit, Jake, I'd shout a joyous whoop for you.

At 5/16/2007 11:11 PM, Blogger Liza said...

Well, I hope not either, Jake- but I know I've done things in my life to deserve people's whoops on my demise. Much to my chagrin.

In that first, unguarded moment, when I forgot to be PC, I whooped. I'll admit it. am I a jerk? probably. I give you permission (I almost wrote persimmon) to whoop at my death. I'll probably whoop a bit myself.

At 5/17/2007 1:21 PM, Blogger Molly said...

Back in my days before I became a girl-genius, my cockiness used to alienate people. For those of you who know me, this is probably difficult to imagine. Let me try to paint a mini-portrait for you. For example, my roommate freshman year at Huntington. I one time made the comment that I didn't know how to comfort a friend whose dad had died because, by all she had shared about his belief system, I determined there was no way he was going to Heaven. Yikes. The bad news (there's more) was that she sat on those thoughts for a couple of months instead of pointing out to me just how arrogant--and incorrect--I was.

The point, the point, I know there was a point when I started...oh! That I am an enormous jerk and so unbelievably thankful that God's grace covered my loud-mouthed, assumptive declaration.

So while Jerry F. was not my BFF (despite the scholarship he awarded me to entice me to Liberty University as well as the copy of his biography that arrived with my acceptance letter--no joke), I don't really wish eternal damnation on anyone, least of all a man who thought he was being persuasive and convincing to bring people toward Christ--and undoubtedly did encourage a number of people. (How else would have have amassed such a war chest for all of those years?)

At 6/01/2007 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't there a real danger in acting as though one has a lock on all things moral and Biblical? Something very...pharisee-ish? Falwell may have done stupid things or made mistakes...but who hasn't. Sitting around judging someone, espcially post motem, like some sort of "holy autopsy", is not only dangerous ground to tread, but is extremely tacky.


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