The Passing of an Ugly Giant of the Religious Right




By Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho (


For a response to a Falwell apologist click


Click here for a
humorous exchange about a guy

wanting to apply for the position of

Merciful Father, hear our prayer: Please let the death of your
wayward servant the Rev. Jerry Falwell be a sign that an era has ended, and a
new one has begun.

–Mary C. Schulken, Charlotte Observer (5/17/07)


The closest I ever
came to Jerry Falwell was a 1983 debate I had with Cal Thomas, then the
Vice-President of Moral Majority (1980-85) and now a nationally syndicated
columnist. For the first time in my debating career I actually experienced stage
fright, but after 15 minutes I recovered my confidence and made some good
points. At the end of the evening, Thomas came over to me, put his arm around
me, and said: "Nick, I would love to take a class from you sometime."
 (Cartoon done by Bill Mitchell’s "Left of Center.")


Falwell himself, however, was rarely so gracious.
Mel White, a speech writer who left Falwell’s employ after coming out as gay,
said that Falwell was always nice in person, but when he appeared in public he
grew horns and a tail.


In 1980 Falwell agreed with Bailey Smith, President
of the Southern Baptist Convention, that God does not answer the prayers of
Jews.  Falwell always condemned secular humanists, but for someone to restrict
the actions of an omnipotent and free deity is the height of humanistic hubris. 
My 1983 debate with Thomas was on the topic of the alleged threats secular


In a 1958 sermon Falwell
that the segregation of the races was divinely ordained: "When
God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."
Here is yet another example of the arrogance, usually attributed to humanists,
of fundamentalist ministers claiming to have the truth about texts written and
transmitted by fallible human beings who were not witness to the events about
which they were writing.


In October, 2002,
Falwell’s statement that Mohammed was a terrorist
caused protests in India that left 8 dead.  Of course
the rioters themselves were responsible for the causalities, but Falwell was
equally guilty for causing the reaction. The National Council
of Churches condemned Falwell’s remarks and was particularly concerned about the
safety of its missionaries around the world.



After the Holocaust, there is nothing uglier and more
reprehensible than anti-Semitism, but the Jewish prayer example was only one of
many.  Falwell was always in legal and financial hot water,
and he objected to one ruling against him on the grounds that the judge was
Jewish. In Janua
ry, 1999, Falwell proclaimed that the Anti-Christ was now
alive among us and that he was a Jewish male.  Falwell’s
clarification that Jesus was a Jew, so the Anti-Christ would also be Jewish, did not at
all satisfy those who objected. 


Falwell was an outspoken supporter of South Africa’s apartheid
regime, paying personal visits to members of the
racist government.  Falwell criticized the world-wide
disinvestment campaign by calling on Christians to buy Krugerrands and reinvest
in South Africa.
He called South African Bishop
Tutu, winner of
the Nobel Peace Prize, a "phony." During his South
Africa visit, Falwell ignored local
churches that supported the oppressed blacks, and
historian Richard Lovelace
predicted that
"his reputation is bound to suffer."


Falwell did not kind words for the women’s movement, which he
said was "mainly staffed by a large group of frustrated failures, many of them
lesbians, and all of them anti-biblical."  The
Bible he said called for the complete submission of women.
He called National
Organization of Women
the "National
Organization for Witches."


most famous offense was the linking of the 9/11attack to the ACLU, People for
the American Way, pagans, abortionists, gays, and lesbians.  Addressing them directly,
he said: "You made this happen."  Earlier Falwell had
said that the sins of these same groups had led God to use the AIDS epidemic as
a divine judgment for a world that had ignored the laws of God.


Speaking about his brash statements to NPR on June 30, 2006, he said that "none
of them [happened] by chance."  This makes all of his apologies for the
statements above rather suspect. They all appear to have been shrewd PR
calculations. For example, he apologized for his 9/11
statements, but then essentially repeated them, not once but twice, on NPR
(6/30/06) and on CNN (5/8/07).  He once said: "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."


When Larry King was asked why he had Falwell on his show so many
times, his response was: "He gets people mad."  Journalists such King are
partially responsible for the fissures that Falwell and other preachers like him
have created in American culture.


there are many evangelists waiting in the wings to take Falwell’s place. 
Douglas Wilson, pastor of Moscow’s second largest
church, is one of them.  His religious empire includes a K-12 Christian school
and over 160 clones all over the country.  He has also founded New St. Andrews
College, which will soon have campuses in other American towns and cities. 
He is also co-author of Southern Slavery As It Was, a defense of slavery
in the Antebellum South.


One of Wilson‘s
books is entitled The Serrated Edge, in which he defends the use of
cutting humor to advance the Gospel.  Wilson and Falwell are masters at
applying their wicked blades to the body politic. Wilson, however,
is different from Falwell in at least one respect: he has
yet to apologize for any of his serial serrations. He warns his flock never
to be embarrassed by what the Bible literally says, even if it means ancient
laws that allows slavery or mandates capital punishment for homosexuality,
adultery, child disobedience, and apostasy.


In 1987, when Falwell dissolved the Moral Majority, he said: "I shudder to think
where the country would be right now if the Religious Right had not evolved." 
Yes, Jerry, we are all shuddering, but for the opposite reason. 
David Kuo, an evangelical who once headed Bush’s faith-based
initiative, said that "
Jerry Falwell almost single handedly blurred the
line between Jesus and conservative politics to the detriment of both."
Falwell’s former Vice-President Cal Thomas sums it up best: "Little was
accomplished in the political arena and much was lost in the spiritual realm."


Mary Schulken finishes her prayer: "We commend to you, Lord, the
soul of your wayward servant. He had a profound influence on politics and
culture in the past two decades.  But he led us by dividing us, and invoked your
name to do it."


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