Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Falwell dies

Jerry Falwell died yesterday. An extensive front page obituary in the NYTimes detailed his leadership of the "Christian" right, his founding of the "Moral" Majority, his enormous following at his church, and the development of his Liberty University into a major college. The obit highlighted the devotion of his followers and Falwell's power on the national political scene. What this obituary, and all others it seems, failed to include is the fact that the foundation of Falwell's "ministry" was a repugnant racist appeal from the pulpit in the 1950's and '60's.

Using television like many evangelists of that time, in the late 1950's and throughout the 1960's Falwell covered southwestern and southern Virginia with a style of "preaching" that was a constant attack on black people and any effort at integration. Using every possible way to attack with the exception of the n word, Falwell used scripture to "prove" that the races should be separate and that they were unequal. In a time when billy clubs and hoses were being used on men, women and children in Birmingham, Jackson, Selma and Danville, he inflamed passions and built his church. He was a talented speaker, but so was Hitler. Jews and even Catholics were by no means immune from his biblical admonitions, but they could repent and join the true church of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It was sickening to watch this man at the time, and amazing that he would rise in this country to a position of such influence and power. It is more amazing still that this background is completely overlooked, presumably for some political correctness related fear that the "Christian" right will be insulted if this man with such a heinous background is not honored.

Of course one could say that he changed, that his "ministries" aided many people in education and rehabilitation, that there are black people in his church and at Liberty University today, and that's the proof. Some of that is true. But one could also say that he had just milked the race issue for all it was worth and needed to go on to bashing gays and women in order to keep filling his coffers and feeding his ambition. Everyone can have their own opinion on that, but there can be no debate on the facts of his behavior in the '50's and '60's, and it is completely overlooked.

As reported in the Danville(VA) Register and Bee today, Falwell, as recently as 1997, was in Danville for a speech at the all white Westover Christian Academy and in 1999 for a sermon at The Tabernacle, that former bastion of racist preaching where, in 1967, I heard the preacher use the n word repeatedly from the pulpit and refer to Martin Luther King as the devil, and much more. The son of that preacher was quoted today as saying "Falwell has been a brother in Christ with me for many years".


Anonymous Julie said...

Thank you, John, for setting the record straighter.

I was in college in NC in the early 1970s and my white roommate fell in love with and eventually married a black guy. Will never forget how her mom "sicked" the pastor on her, for lectures on miscegenation -- a rap about "cardinals" and "robins." It was years before my friend and her mother even spoke. The damage is ongoing.

Strange that while all of this is within current memory (for some of us anyway) there are pressures (from...?) to pretend it never happened.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Julie, thanks for your comment. I have since found an acknowledgement by only one major news source that all was not hunky dory with the Falwell legacy. While NBC and CBS chose to lead with the Falwell story on the evening news that day, ABC did not because Charles Gibson decided that "there are some very positive and very negative" associations with Falwell. As an aside, it's encouraging to see that an anchor has some editorial involvement,as I doubt that Syrupy Katie and Dogface Brian do.

10:05 AM  

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