Rev. Jerry Fal­well, founder of Moral Ma­jor­ity, dies

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ralph Z. Hallow and Au­drey Hud­son

The Rev. Jerry Fal­well, one of the founders of the so-called re­li­gious right and a friend and ally of Repub­li­can pres­i­dents, died May 14 from a heart rhythm ab­nor­mal­ity in his of­fice on the cam­pus of the Lynch­burg univer­sity he founded. He was 73.

He was dis­cov­ered in his of­fice, un­con­scious and not breath­ing, by an aide when he did not at­tend a meet­ing at Lib­erty Univer­sity, his doc­tor said.

Dr. Carl Moore, Mr. Fal­well’s physi­cian, said he was found at 11:30 a.m. in his of­fice with­out a heart­beat. Sev­eral ef­forts to re­sus­ci­tate him in his of­fice, en route to the hospi­tal and at the hospi­tal, were un­suc­cess­ful.

He was pro­nounced dead at 12:40 p.m.

“He was found with­out a pulse and never re­gained a pulse,” Dr. Moore said. It is too soon to de­ter­mine the ex­act cause of death, but Dr. Moore spec­u­lated that it was due to car­diac ar­rhyth­mia. “He [was] known to have a heart con­di­tion and this [. . . ] oc­curs with­out warn­ing.”

Mr. Fal­well, a South­ern Bap­tist, came to na­tional and in­ter­na­tional promi­nence by us­ing his lead­er­ship and en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills to com­bine re­li­gion and pol­i­tics and forge an un­prece­dented elec­toral coali­tion.

Pres­i­dent Bush said he and his wife, Laura, were “deeply sad­dened” by the loss of a man who “cher­ished faith, fam­ily and free­dom.”

“One of his last­ing con­tri­bu­tions was the es­tab­lish­ment of Lib­erty Univer­sity, where he taught young peo­ple to re­main true to their con­vic­tions and rely upon God’s word through­out each stage of their lives,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Fal­well formed the Moral Ma­jor­ity in 1979, which trans­formed U.S. pol­i­tics by gal­va­niz­ing long-dor­mant evan­gel­i­cal and fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians, who had largely ig­nored pol­i­tics, and by bring­ing them into co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tions with con­ser­va­tive Catholics.

“I re­ally think that it was the Equal Rights Amend­ment fight that got him go­ing in the mid-1970s,” Ea­gle Fo­rum Pres­i­dent Phyl­lis Sch­lafly said. “We did a rally to­gether on the steps of the Capi­tol in Spring­field, Illi­nois, in 1978, and he and I spoke. That’s when he ral­lied the Bap­tists to join the con­ser­va­tive move­ment.”

His re­li­gious con­tem­po­raries praised his lead­er­ship on learn­ing of his death. The Rev. Billy Gra­ham called Mr. Fal­well “a close per­sonal friend for many years. We did not al­ways agree on ev­ery­thing, but I knew him to be a man of God.” Chuck Col­son, founder of the Prison Fel­low­ship, said Mr. Fal­well was of­ten “un­fairly car­i­ca­tured,” but “when the go­ing got tough, Jerry just got stronger.”

“Jerry has been a tower of strength on many of the moral is­sues which have con­fronted our na­tion,” said Pat Robert­son, a fel­low evan­ge­list and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist. “Jerry’s courage and strength of con­vic­tions will be sadly missed in this time of in­creas­ing moral rel­a­tivism.”

Douglas Brink­ley, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the Univer­sity of New Or­leans, told Fox News that the term “moral ma­jor­ity” was “build­ing on Richard Nixon’s ‘silent ma­jor­ity’, ” in re­ac­tion to the ’60s coun­ter­cul­ture, in­clud­ing the loos­en­ing of laws and moral stan­dards against abor­tion and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“Here was Rev­erend Fal­well talk­ing about is­sues: We don’t be­lieve in Roe v. Wade; we don’t be­lieve in all as­pects of equal rights for ho­mo­sex­u­als; we be­lieve [. . . ] fam­ily val­ues are be­ing ne­glected.”

Since then, no Repub­li­can has won his party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion with­out first af­firm­ing the im­por­tance of re­li­gion in pub­lic life and claim­ing op­po­si­tion to abor­tion and, more re­cently, same-sex “mar­riage.” Ron­ald Rea­gan, Ge­orge Bush and Ge­orge W. Bush all de­clared them­selves born-again Chris­tians be­fore seek­ing the pres­i­dency.

Free Congress Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent Paul M. Weyrich, a key founder of the coali­tion that brought re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives into a new and mus­cu­lar elec­toral coali­tion with eco­nomic and na­tional-de­fense con­ser­va­tives, said that Mr. Fal­well “gave us the troops nec­es­sary to put to­gether a po­lit­i­cal move­ment.”

“With­out Jerry Fal­well, we would not have suc­ceeded in what we did in the early days.”

He founded Lib­erty Univer­sity in 1971 as Lynch­burg Bap­tist Col­lege. With Mr. Fal­well as chan­cel­lor, Lib­erty Univer­sity grew into one of the na­tion’s largest fully ac­cred­ited Chris­tian in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing, claim­ing an en­roll­ment of more than 25,000 res­i­dent stu­dents and cor­re­spon­dences­tu­dents from all 50 states and more than 50 coun­tries.

He is sur­vived by his wife, Ma­cel Pate Fal­well; two sons, Jerry Fal­well Jr., gen­eral coun­sel of Lib­erty Univer­sity, and the Rev. Jonathan Fal­well, the ex­ec­u­tive pas­tor of Thomas Road Bap­tist Church; and a daugh­ter, Jean­nie Fal­well Savas, a sur­geon in Rich­mond.

Mr. Fal­well founded Thomas Road Bap­tist Church in 1956 and was its se­nior pas­tor for sev­eral decades. The con­gre­ga­tion first wor­shipped in a build­ing that had been a bot­tling plant for Don­ald Duck Cola, and Mr. Fal­well once re­called that “for months we left Sun­day morn­ing ser­vices with the residue of syrup on the bot­toms of our shoes.” The church now en­rolls 24,000 mem­bers. He was an early pi­o­neer of ra­dio and TV evan­ge­lism, with “The Old Time Gospel Hour” grow­ing into a $100 mil­lion television min­istry.

Thomas Road’s as­so­ci­ate pas­tor, the Rev. Ed Dob­son, called Mr. Fal­well “a man of deep com­pas­sion and prayer.”

Ralph Reed, the evan­gel­i­cal po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, said that “he gave a voice to con­ser­va­tive peo­ple of faith who had been pre­vi­ously marginal­ized in our pol­i­tics.” He added that Mr. Fal­well “preached the Gospel in sea­son and out of sea­son. He wanted to lead as many peo­ple to faith and love of Christ as pos­si­ble.”

The new vot­ing bloc forged by Mr. Fal­well be­came known in the pop­u­lar press as “the re­li­gious right.” What­ever its name, the re­li­gious-po­lit­i­cal move­ment be­gun by Mr. Fal­well has be­come an im­por­tant part of the Repub­li­can elec­toral coali­tion.

The Repub­li­can Party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates de­bated in Columbia, S.C. on May 15, a state with a strong evan­gel­i­cal pres­ence. Even be­fore the de­bate, tributes to Mr. Fal­well poured in from the can­di­dates.

“Dr. Fal­well was a man of dis­tin­guished ac­com­plish­ment who de­voted his life to serv­ing his faith and coun­try,” said Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Fal­well’s fam­ily at this dif­fi­cult time.”

Mr. McCain clashed with Mr. Fal­well dur­ing the 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign when he called him and other evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers “agents of in­tol­er­ance.” All was for­given last year when Mr. McCain gave the com­mence­ment ad­dress at Lib­erty Univer­sity.

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney said Mr. Fal­well “built and led a move­ment based on strong prin­ci­ples and strong faith,” and “the legacy of his im­por­tant work will con­tinue through his many min­istries where he put his faith into ac­tion.”

Mr. Fal­well’s own life had an un­likely be­gin­ning. He was born Aug. 11, 1933, in Lynch­burg, Va., to an in­tensely re­li­gious mother and a fa­ther who said he was an athe­ist. His fa­ther was a boot­leg­ger dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, and in one scrap fa­tally shot his own brother in self-de­fense.

Af­ter high school, a young Jerry Fal­well briefly stud­ied jour­nal­ism at Lynch­burg Col­lege, then trans­ferred to the Bap­tist Bi­ble Col­lege in Spring­field, Mo.

Mr. Fal­well’s most en­dur­ing legacy is likely to be in the lives of gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents who have at­tended Lib­erty Univer­sity, and sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of wor­ship­pers at Thomas Road Bap­tist Church, which he es­tab­lished in the liv­ing room of his home, with a mod­est 35 fam­i­lies.

“Dr. Fal­well made big dreams re­al­ity — by in­spir­ing mil­lions to po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment, by ded­i­cat­ing him­self to higher ed­u­ca­tion, and most im­por­tantly, by fos­ter­ing Chris­tian out­reach to the spir­i­tu­ally and phys­i­cally needy through Thomas Road Bap­tist Church and its myr­iad min­istries,” Bev­erly LaHaye, founder and chair­man of Con­cerned Women for Amer­ica, said on learn­ing of his death. “Though he is now with the Sav­ior he loved,” Mrs. LaHaye said, “Jerry Fal­well’s legacy will con­tinue through the lives of those who were so pro­foundly touched by his vi­sion.”

In an in­ter­view in 2003, Mr. Fal­well told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the com­bi­na­tion of so­cial, re­li­gious and eco­nomic con­ser­vatism that had be­come the con­ser­va­tive move­ment by 1980 has pro­duced vic­to­ries in pol­i­tics — but not nec­es­sar­ily in pol­icy. “The big­gest fail­ure of all has been our in­abil­ity to turn back the ho­mo­sex­ual agenda and to end abor­tion in Amer­ica,” he said.

Mr. Fal­well’s views on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity were com­pli­cated. He was widely de­nounced by ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tivists as a “ho­mo­phobe.” But Mel White, who served as both friend and ghost writer for Mr. Fal­well’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and later left his wife and es­tab­lished a re­la­tion­ship with an­other man, of­ten at­tended Mr. Fal­well’s church, and the two en­gaged in a vig­or­ous pub­lic ex­change of open let­ters.

Mr. Fal­well once said from the pul­pit: “There has to be re­pen­tance. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is no more sin­ful than adul­tery or for­ni­ca­tion, but is as sin­ful. But if we were to stop sin­ners from at­tend­ing our church, this place would be a lum­ber­yard.”

He pros­e­cuted a li­bel suit against Larry Flynt, the pub­lisher of Hus­tler mag­a­zine, af­ter it ran a vi­cious par­ody of Mr. Fal­well en­dors­ing al­co­hol and de­scrib­ing a sex­ual en­counter with his mother. A fed­eral jury awarded him $200,000 for men­tal dis­tress, but the U.S. Supreme Court over­turned the judg­ment, ob­serv­ing that the par­ody was too far-fetched for any­one to be­lieve to be true.

In 1987, he took over for a short time the scan­dal-rocked PTL Club min­istry of the Rev. Jim Bakker, a Pen­te­costal television evan­ge­list, af­ter it foundered in bank­ruptcy. Mr. Fal­well dis­solved the Moral Ma­jor­ity in 1989 and in re­cent years took a smaller role as a new gen­er­a­tion of evan­gel­i­cal and re­li­gious-con­ser­va­tive lead­ers came to the fore. He sug­gested shortly af­ter the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks that ho­mo­sex­u­als, fem­i­nists and lib­er­als “helped this hap­pen.” He later apol­o­gized.

The Wash­ing­ton Times

The Rev. Jerry Fal­well and ac­tivist Phyl­lis Sch­lafly talked at the Shore­ham Ho­tel in 1982. Mr. Fal­well helped trans­form U.S. pol­i­tics by ral­ly­ing con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians.

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