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Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority (1979), and mobiliser of possibly more than a million votes that helped to bring President Reagan to power in 1981, was identified by many as the voice of the American religious right. In his anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-family views, he was an instigator of single issue politics for many religious voters, for whom politics became polarised between Republicans (representing Christian values) and Democrats (representing leftist atheism).

Yet as a pastor, he was not the strident personality he has come to be seen as by many. He built up Thomas Road Baptist church in Lynchburg Virginia from small beginnings (35 members) by visiting every house in the town twice, and intense personal investment in people, having a remarkable memory for members of the congregation even after it had become a mega-church of over 24,000. Falwell went on to found Liberty University (1971), and took over the PTL Club and Heritage USA from Jim Bakker, shortly before scandal threatened to engulf both along with their founder.

Mel White, friend and ghost-writer for Falwell, who 'came out' as gay, remembers a Falwell who was quite different in private from the public person who took up the banner of American personal and national morality. He also recalls a Falwell who was able to change his mind on issues on which he had taken a public position: such as opposing racial integration in the 1960's, calling Archbishop Desmond Tutu a phony 'as far as representing the interests of black people', and describing Mohammed as a terrorist after 9/11. White regrets that Falwell did not live to retract his public opinions on gay people, and say sorry for some of his public pronouncements.

White also lays to rest the calumny that Falwell opposed the BBC's teletubbies as undermining American family values, and his reputed belief that Tinky Winky was a gay role model because he carried a handbag. Apparently, when challenged about this, Falwell did not know who the teletubbies were.

To many, Falwell will be remembered as someone whose gifts as a pastor and preacher did not transfer well to the national arena, and as reflecting the dangers of identifying Christian faith too closely with partisan politics. He may be seen as embodying the dangers of adopting too narrow a view of morality - in which personal moral issues were stressed at the expense of social issues of poverty and injustice.

Perhaps as much as anyone, Falwell may have unwittingly prepared the way for a course-correction in popular American Christianity, in which a quite different set of views about public life as well as personal and communal faith has been developing - represented by gurus of the new religious 'left' such as Brian MacLaren and Rob Bell. His passing may come to be regarded as a milestone in the change of an era of popular faith - from fundamentalist narrowness to a more eclectic inclusiveness; from the certainties of modernism as transferred to the evangelical faith, to the more nuanced positions of a postmodern, post-evangelical era.

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Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Peter,

It’s a little strange that you identified McLaren and Bell with the “religious left.” Neither are doing anything more than following the gospel as they see it. That’s different from Falwell who always said that politics was politics and was not be confused with the gospel. (He made this argument because he associated himself politically with ‘other’ faith groups—Catholics, conservative Jews—which angered his fellow fundamentalists who believed in a so-called “law of second separation” which mandated that one not associated publicly with those of other faith traditions or associate with those who do.) That’s funny, of course, since his sermons at Thomas Road would sometimes include lines similar to: “I can’t tell you whom to vote for from the pulpit—that would be illegal. What I can tell you is that I, personally, as your pastor, voted straight down the Republican ticket.” Classic.

McLaren and Bell—oddly you exclude Wallis, the most public of them all—do not try to set up a political arm. Far from it, actually. McLaren only comes close in that he is a board member of Sojo’s. But even Sojo’s keeps their distance.

Can you satisfy my curiosity?

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

I'm not familiar with Bell, but having read some of McLaren's book, as well as seeing (not reading, but seeing it around) another one he apparently co-wrote with Campolo, I have to agree that his position is definitely to the left.

Fortunately, there do seem to be some in the EC who see that, too, and are not for it.

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Just because you feel the need to classify everyone according to a right-left worldview doesn’t mean that everyone else must. Some people simply are following Jesus the best they know how and simply do not operate with your assumptions (and the severe limitations to the biblical worldview they bring with them).

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Probably my mistake. I wasn’t intending to put a label on the politics of McLaren or Bell - I used the word ‘left’ simply to imply contrast with Falwell. I’ve no idea what McLaren’s politics are; Bell is anti-war, so could in a loose sense be associated with the ‘left’ (though I’m sure he wouldn’t want to be so labelled). Wallis has suggested that the ‘left’ in US politics should attempt to recover the ground abdicated to the ‘right’ - which has staked a rather exclusive claim to the ‘Christian’ vote in recent years. The ‘left’ can just as validly appeal to the Christian vote as the ‘right’ - perhaps on more compelling grounds.

Incidentally, I greatly warm to the views of Wallis and Bell when they venture into the realm of politics; I think each demonstrates a correct Christian involvement in politics which does not stray into partisan politics in the way that I felt the approach of the ‘moral majority’/’religious right’ did. In that sense, I can also listen to what former President Jimmy Carter says, about the middle east for instance, and feel it’s like a breath of fresh air, as opposed to the partisanship of some of the pronouncements of ‘the religious right’.

But I’m only a Brit making friendly observations from a distance!

More on Jerry Falwell, the teletubbies and Tinky Winky

Following Mel White’s recent disclaimer about Jerry Falwell, the teletubbies and Tinky Winky, the controversy has now moved to Poland, where Tinky Winky’s sexual orientation has come in for close scrutiny and condemnation. To view the BBC news website article and a picture of Tinky Winky and the offending handbag, use the link http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6698753.stm

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Interesting, I don't normally take someones death as an opportunity to criticize them. It's a little sick.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that very few if any at OST saw Jerry Falwell as a positive force in Christianity or Politics. If there is no discussion to be had about him, why bring it up?

Aaron Christianson

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

At least someone stood on solid convictions against abortion and homosexuality. He did what he was commanded to do by the Bible; to be salt and light, to speak out against the moral rot in our society, and to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a good and God-fearing man with a huge heart for the lost. His life exemplified a healthy balance between loving the sinner while hating the sin. There are people who have been saved because of his ministry. I can only pray that I live with the same burning passion for the Gospel.

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Well said, AG. Falwell wasn't perfect, but he stood for the faith.

Concerning being a light in the world, sadly people are like John wrote about them, they "love darkness rather then light, because their works are evil".

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

It makes me sad to again see what “salt and light” has become to some. Especially among the crowd that claims to be literal in their interpretation. Reading the verse, of course, would give one a completely different take on salt and light.

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

You are sad? That’s a particularly strange response to the powerful testimony that Jerry Falwell had as a Christian on this planet. I’m sad too but it’s a sadness over his passing and over the loss of his ministry and its resultant impact on many. What crowd are you referring to by the way? There’s only one interpretation that I am personally aware of and I consider myself to be well-read. Having sat under the teaching of various and astute biblical pastors and heard many others address Matthew 5:13-16, it would most definitely be of great surprise to learn of yet another “interpretation.” So please feel free to enlighten me and I will test your interpretation according to previously revealed Scripture.

Matthew 5:13-16 couldn’t be more clear. We are instructed on how to live and act in this world as Christians. When Jesus told his disciples that they were salt of the earth and the light of the world, He was saying that the world was rotten and rotting. Wouldn’t you agree that this is still true today? The people of this world are wicked and sinful and have declared themselves to be against God. They glory in their shame. They defiantly declare their lesbianism, homosexuality and other deviant lifestyles. Evil has become good and good has become evil. Romans 1: 29-32.

All true Christians are the salt of the earth. Through our new birth and our new nature, we are commanded to live for the benefit of this rotting and rotten world. We are to avoid the error of being one with the world and embracing its values and ways. In a way, we act as a preservative to prevent our world from becoming even more rotten and corrupt. As we come in close contact with the sinful people of the world, the world is kept from progressing further into unspeakable foulness. Without our presence, the world would degenerate at an even faster rate.

As salt and light, Christians must function in a way that promotes the growth of that which is good in the world. We must oppose evil and promote good. For example, Christians can engage in political life to promote policies that are helpful to families and which will protect society from those who would seek to undermine the family structure.

Are you a true believer in Jesus Christ? It would be a great pity if you are trying to be like the world in speech and in conduct. In essence, you would be declaring that you are darkness, that you are rotting, and that you are not a Christian.

Being salt and light isn’t an option for those who are true children of God. It is our purpose and it is our mission. As someone once said, “We are to reflect the light of Jesus to the world. The light of salvation, the light of eternal life, the light of the knowledge of God, the light of the joy of salvation, the light of hope, and the light that shines in darkness. It is the light that opens the eyes of the blind and causes them to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

When the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned the apostle Paul, he told him, “I am sending you to [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17-18). Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Only by our proclamation and our practices will the world be pointed to hope in Jesus Christ.

Jerry Falwell and hate crimes against homosexuals

AB

This is a response to your paean of praise to Jerry Falwell, whom you describe as

a good and God-fearing man with a huge heart for the lost

Here are some of the things Falwell said about homosexuals

1. In 1977 in Dade County, Florida, in urging the repeal of an ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation Falwell told one crowd "gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you."

2. In the early 1980s he said AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

3. On Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" broadcast (March 11, 1984), when the mostly gay Metropolitan Community Church was almost accepted into the World Council of Churches, Falwell called them "brute beasts" and stated, "this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven."

4. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Falwell said on the 700 Club, "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.'"

5. Falwell's ghostwriter, Mel White, said Falwell remarked about gay protesters, "Thank God for these gay demonstrators. If I didn't have them, I'd have to invent them. They give me all the publicity I need."

You should not imagine that Falwell’s words had no practical repercussions – he and his like provide the moral underpinning to the many gay hate crimes that occur in the USA and elsewhere in the world.

According to FBI statistics there were 1017 hate crimes based on sexual orientation in the USA in 2005, nearly all to do with homosexuality. These offences comprised intimidation (about 50 % of the total), simple assaults (about 30 %) and aggravated assaults (about 20 %). I have not been able to get figures on the number of gay hate murders in the USA but I would remind you of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year-old student at the University of Wyoming, who on 6 Oct 1998, was abducted and brutally beaten by two young men, in an attack motivated by his homosexuality. 18 hours later, he was found tied to a wooden ranch fence outside the city of Laramie. His skull had been smashed, and his head and face had been burned and slashed; the two passing motorcyclists who discovered him at first mistook his figure for a scarecrow. On October 12, he died of his injuries.

I would add that it is commonly accepted among criminologists that gay hate crimes are significantly under-reported because of the general fear gays have of disclosing their sexual orientation.

You say all true Christians (among whom you obviously count yourself)

are the salt of the earth….we act as a preservative to prevent our world from becoming even more rotten and corrupt. As we come in close contact with the sinful people of the world, the world is kept from progressing further into unspeakable foulness. Without our presence, the world would degenerate at an even faster rate.

You may wish to reconsider this comment in the light of Jesus’ strictures on the scribes and Pharisees. I would also suggest to you that Falwell, at least as regards homosexuality, was part of, not an antidote to what you describe as the unspeakable foulness of the world.

Paul Hartigan

Re: Jerry Falwell and hate crimes against homosexuals

No fair jumping ahead Paul, though I completely understand why.

Re: Jerry Falwell and hate crimes against homosexuals

The last I recall, perfection was not yet a requirement for a person to be considered good and God-fearing. I seem to remember the Bible called someone "a man after God's own heart" who had been involved in adultery and even murder.

Yes, we all know Falwell had positions at times that were not right (although I'm not so certain every quote you gave is of that type). And I've no doubt we were reminded of that no small number of times by the media who enjoy trying to tear down people like him.

But, really, playing the Matthew Shepard card? Sheesh. Blaming Falwell for that is more then a bit of a stretch.

Fortunately, there's far more then the negative things that seem to be common fodder. Here's something that I found both unexpected and encouraging.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-flynt20may20,0,2751741.story?track=mostviewed-storylevel

Falwell was a man who preached the word, and lead many to the Lord. If you want to nitpick his message to tear him down, that's your business, but for what it's worth, I find the act of lacerating the reputation of a good and godly man in order to make oneself seem big to be disgusting.

Re: Jerry Falwell and hate crimes against homosexuals

Jazzact

Yes, we all know Falwell had positions at times that were not right (although I'm not so certain every quote you gave is of that type).

Which of the quotes I gave do you think expresses an opinion that was right?

PaulH

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Tell me, friend, how the bible teachers you have sat under have interpreted “salt and light”. Can you tell me, based on these verses, what Jesus thinks “salt and light” will look like? It’s right there in the text.

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Makaden, it’s a pity that you just don’t get it. But then again Paul wrote that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…”

I don’t know if you are even saved; you might even be homosexual or a supporter thereof but I hold out hope for you in any case. But you won’t find any help or direction here at this website. Perhaps someday those who contribute to the drivel with their empty philosophies and secular humanism will have their hearts awakened to the Truth.

….but now you are LIGHT in the Lord. Walk as children of LIGHT finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, BUT RATHER EXPOSE THEM” Epehesians 5:8,10-11.

Paul, as for the absurdities in your response, I can only say that your lack of logical thinking and reasoning ability are shocking to say the least. So one preaches against satanism and the rise in antagonism against satanists can be blamed on the one preaching against it? I think someone slept through 1st semester logic….

To link the stand against a vile abomination with crimes against it is completely without warrant and places into question the authenticity of your faith in Christ. In actuality, your problem is with the Holy Scriptures themselves that teach unequivocally that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. If Jerry Falwell is somehow responsible for the escalation in hate crimes, then by extending your faulty logic, so is the Apostle Paul who wrote that this behavior is unnatural, indecent, motivated by shameful lusts, and a perversion, and so are the writers of the Old Testament who condemned homosexuality in the strongest of terms.

What part of salt and light do you not understand?

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

AG, anyone who feels it necessary to begin consecutive website postings with questioning someone’s “salvation” needs to take a hard look in the mirror. Try it and then also please make an attempt to answer my original question. You can’t seem to give a straightforward answer for some reason.

You are not free to interpret salt and light according to your own whims. They aren’t free-interpreting metaphors nor a Rorshach test. What does the text imply salt and light are to refer to?

Conversations

A year or so ago, someone swung by this website and created a post which, I thought, was relatively incoherent.  And so I jumped in on the thread and challenged the poster (him? her?) to say something that made a little bit more sense.  Of course my (virtual) tone of voice was less than pure friendliness, and so the conversation quickly turned sour.

At that point, Andrew stepped in and said something to the effect of: "if this conversation is worth having at all, it's worth having without the insults."

I'll echo that here.  I would encourage you AG, to consider the wisdom of letting your (again, virtual) tongue get the best of you.  You're certainly welcome to your views, but you're not welcome to insult anyone here (regardless of their views).

If 'salt and light' means anything, it should at the very least mean being able to have a civil conversation with people you've never met face to face.

Cheers,

-Daniel-

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Light shines on dark things and exposes what is there. This is a call to the church to challenge evil within our society, however uncomfortable this may be. Light is an exposer of darkness, a symbol of truth; the light of salvation, the light righteousness.

Salt acts as a preservative. It signifies, among other things, our walk in purity and in holiness. While it brings glory to the Lord, and it can draw people to the Lord, it also exposes and convicts the sin and deception in the life of an unbeliever. We are commanded to live holy lives but we are also commanded to expose the deeds of darkness lies as seen in Ephesians 5:11 that I quoted earlier.

John the Baptist was both salt and light. He was, first, a preservative of God’s prophetic truth in an age of spiritual decay and second, a passionate, outspoken voice calling unbelievers to repentance and exposing their sin and hypocrisy.

In addition to being salt, John the Baptist was also a stadium floodlight in the wilderness for the ceremoniously religious and worldly sinners whose sins needed exposure. His laser light pierced the deepest recesses of Israel’s high and mighty. If this is still unclear to you, might I suggest that you review the response of the Pharisees. Or even Herod. They understood salt and light better than most Christians do today. And Herod had his head served up on a platter. No misunderstanding there!

I suspect that if someone were to quote a verse from Revelation and then expound upon it with additional detail not directly found word for word in the verse, your reply would be something to the effect that this detail is superfluous, incorrect, unnecessary, not reflective of the verse, misapplied etc. etc. ad nauseum. They would then respond that they had expounded upon detail from the Old Testament as 2/3 of the verses in Revelation are directly connected to Old Testament Scripture. You would reply at this point that this fact is immaterial because none of the detail just expounded upon can be found in the original verse quoted…..

Don’t be guilty of separating and/or isolating verses or words in verses out of their immediate and even general contexts. Anyone can so isolate a verse to the exclusion of the original language, supporting verses, cross-references, general context, and application to the point of completely emptying it of any significance which I fear you are doing, intended or not. This approach has become the trademark for the emergent church and it has left them theologically speaking in quicksand.

Your approach almost sounds Clintonian. As if your method of interpretation has become, “It depends on what the meaning of “is” is. It is a dangerous exercise in futility to zero in and break down a verse in isolation while ignoring the interdependencies it has to the rest of the Bible.

The inner transformation and regeneration of our lives through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ produces salt and light as an outworking of said regeneration. The salt and light lived out serves as a testimony to who we are and what we believe, draws people to Who we glorify, and convicts unbelief and sin as we directly and indirectly exercise our faith in the daily course of our lives.

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Your words of interpolation and nullification are of no use here. Many on this site deal with your approach daily. Your response to my asking you to simply interpret the verse according to the meaning given by the speaker in the text itself is bordering on absurdity. Nice try with the Clinton reference, though. That reference was helpful to me in building my case that your thoughts are representative of a worldview that you are trying to thrust upon the text, rather than letting the text speak to and challenge you. Nowhere is that more apparent than your insistence on bringing in other, out of context, verses to support your interpretation of these.

Here are the verses again, with the part you missed—almost willingly—highlighted for convenience:

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Living the way of Jesus, just as he taught in this sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, is how we are to be salt and light. Make it about Fallwellian microphone and TV blasting of hate all you want. Impose your will on the text at your own peril. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Salt and light and heat

It’s probably a mistake to think that the ‘salt’ and ‘light’ metaphors have the same meaning - so I would hesitate, for example, to apply the ‘good works’ statement to the saying about salt. I would also argue, as is my wont, that both sayings need to be understood first in the context of Jesus’ gathering of an eschatological community within Israel under judgment and facing destruction. I have posted a commentary on Matthew 5:13 in the hope of refocusing this heated debate. In my view, we have to be much more careful about how we make Jesus speak into out own context.

Re: Salt and light and heat

Thanks, Andrew. Quite helpful as always.

I’m not sure my argument changes much in the end, even to the exclusion of salt from the dual metaphor. In other words, “light” in that passage seems directly related to good works.

Re: Jerry Falwell: 11 August 1933 - 15 May 2007

Andrew, I look forward to following the new discussion thread.

Makaden, my final comment is simply this since you at least went to the trouble of highlighting your particular interpretation in the verses. It isn’t about our good works. Hence my silence. This particular slant on these verses doesn’t exist in any school or arena of theology. Yes, the inevitable outworking of our inner regeneration leads to good works but the works themselves are not the primary focus or point of the verse nor are they the primary focus or point of any other. I’m not trying to insult you but I implore you to follow the path and evaluate the content of the verses through to its logical end. It’s about whom we glorify. How we live our lives and to the extent that our lives are salt and light in the world will have both positive and negative influences of which both can and will glorify God. Our good works will glorify God when they encourage someone to accept Christ. Our good works will glorify God when we take a stand and speak out against sin and moral decay in our culture. I’m surprised that you feel so strongly that this verse only has one meaning and hence one conclusion. There are multiple parts with several applications but the one and only ultimate conclusion is that God will be glorified in all. Thank you for a lively debate. To His Glory!

Light of the world and good works

I have added some brief comments on the 'light of the world' passage in Matthew 5:14-16. They do not directly answer the questions raised here. My main concern is to highlight the fact that Jesus' teaching is historically contextualized and that we must be prepared to take that difficult detour in order to arrive at the meaning of Scripture for our own context.

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