By: Joe Strupp
The death Tuesday of conservative minister Jerry Falwell, who led the rise of Christian politics, but sparked controversy with his anti-gay and anti-liberal comments, drew mixed reactions on editorial pages today as some papers sought to point out his successes, while others called him a divider and an exploiter.
While The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times or USA Today did not offer editorials on his death, a string of other dailies weighed in, from Maryland to California.
The News & Advance of Lynchberg, Va., where Falwell’s Liberty University is located, praised the late leader, calling him “a minister who loved the Lord and took seriously Christ’s admonition to carry the Gospel to the four corners of the globe.” The paper also devoted its entire front page to Falwell’s death, with more than four pages of inside coverage.
“Falwell was determined to counter what he saw as a coarsening of American culture with a message calling the country back to its faith, the faith of a simpler time from his days growing up in the Brookville section of Campbell County,” the editorial stated.”
By contrast, the more liberal San Francisco Chronicle, while noting Falwell’s impact and political power, stressed his use of faith to counter progressive beliefs.
“Falwell … knew how to exploit the growing power of television to expand his ministry by reaching out to new audiences. His rise as a political force in the 1980s, however, came through his adeptness at identifying and exploiting cultural and religious divisions,” a Chronicle editorial stated. “Over time, Falwell marginalized himself with his over-the-top statements, such as his contention that purple-clad TV character Tinky Winky was a gay role model and morally damaging for kids. Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, Falwell suggested that abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, the ACLU, liberals and others who tried to ‘secularize America” had made God angry and had “helped this happen.’ He later apologized.”
Some quotes from other newspaper editorials on Falwell are below:
The Dallas Morning News
“This editorial page often disagreed with the Southern Baptist minister, such as when he said that 9/11 might be God’s judgment on America because of gays, feminists, pagans and liberals. Those remarks were embarrassing and silly, and a long line of ministers and lay leaders rightly denounced them for their venom. In fact, that reaction demonstrated how Mr. Falwell’s brand of political Christianity was beginning to lose its luster within evangelicalism. New leaders were rising, pushing issues like care for the environment and compassion for Africans suffering from AIDS. Younger pastors like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes have become voices of a less partisan movement that engages the wider world but is not as closely tied to the Republican Party. Mr. Falwell’s death marks not only the passing of a man, but the passing of an era.”
The Times of Shreveport, La.
“Whether you were a fan of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell or not, the fact is he and the Moral Majority could not have moved their way into the corridors of power three decades ago if there hadn’t been widespread dissatisfaction with the nation’s direction. In the late 1970s, Falwell tapped into the fear and frustration of many Christian conservatives disoriented and frustrated after a decade of social upheaval that included expanded abortion rights and a meltdown in moral leadership from Washington evidenced by the Vietnam War and Watergate.”
The Sun of Baltimore
“He could be so outspoken, often outrageously and sometimes cruelly, that it blunted his message. In recent years, he drew the most notice for asserting that one of the Teletubbies was homosexual and for blaming the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on ‘the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and lesbians … all of them who have helped secularize America.'”
“Yet he played a key role in giving voice to conservatives, many in rural areas, who believed their views were being ignored in Washington. His Moral Majority, the 6-million-member lobbying organization Mr. Falwell founded in 1979, helped deliver the White House to Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and shaped the course of American politics through six more presidential elections.”
The Orange County Register
“While the Rev. Falwell struck us as a genuine and decent person, his movement left a lot to be desired. In particular, the Christian right had trouble separating its religious and political elements. He and other such leaders often viewed the government as the means to achieve their social aims.”
The Star Tribune in Minneapolis
“It’s tempting, at the death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, to wonder whether he finally found what he seemed to be looking for. Whatever his personal faith might have been, Falwell’s public and very political spirituality seemed based on a belief in a vengeful God: AIDS was punishment for homosexuality, Sept. 11 was punishment (though he later recanted) for abortion, paganism and the ACLU. Oh yes, and homosexuality.”
“One did not have to believe in the Rapture to see that, under Falwell’s leadership, huge numbers of Christians disappeared from mainstream U.S. politics. He ran the Moral Majority almost as a party in its own right, and he claimed credit for helping put Ronald Reagan in the White House.”