Farewell to Fal­well: Evan­gel­i­cal pi­o­neer praised by thou­sands

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Seth McLaugh­lin

LYNCH­BURG, Va. — Thou­sands of mourn­ers on May 22, many ar­riv­ing be­fore dawn, bade farewell to the Rev. Jerry Fal­well, the Bap­tist evan­ge­list who be­came a leader in win­ning souls to Christ, founder of Lib­erty Bap­tist Univer­sity, and a moral force in na­tional pol­i­tics.

The con­gre­ga­tion at the Thomas Road Bap­tist Church in­cluded po­lit­i­cal and civic fig­ures who came to mourn, but the 10,000 men and women in the au­di­ence were drawn to pay trib­ute to the Gospel that Mr. Fal­well preached with fire and pas­sion for Christ in a min­istry that spanned five decades.

“No one ever had a bet­ter friend than Jerry Fal­well,” said the Rev. Jim Moon, a child­hood friend and co-pas­tor of the Thomas Road Bap­tist Church, where the ser­vice was held. “Jerry Fal­well was a man who trusted in the Lord with all his heart. He sought the wis­dom of God in ev­ery de­ci­sion he made.”

Mr. Fal­well founded the church in 1956 with just 35 parish­ioners in an aban­doned Don­ald Duck Cola bot­tling plant. The church now en­rolls 24,000 mem­bers.

The Rev. Jerry Vines, for­mer pres­i­dent of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, told the packed church of the early days of the min­istry, when Mr. Fal­well preached and his wife, Ma­cel, played the pi­ano.

Their ef­forts at­tracted 800 mem­bers by the end of the first year, he said, and the Fal­wells had built a megachurch “be­fore megachurches were cool.”

Mr. Fal­well was re­mem­bered as a “saint,” “prophet,” “a dreamer who dared” and a “gi­ant of a man” who un­der­stood the “will and work” of God, and made all he met feel like they were his best friend.

Inside the big man was a “mis­chievous lit­tle boy,” Mr. Vines said. He gave sur­prise bear hugs that left peo­ple check­ing for rib in­juries and once drove a car equipped with a horn that made a train­like sound.

Mr. Vines said Mr. Fal­well, who had care­fully planned his ser­vice, once told him “I’m go­ing to walk out” if the funeral ran longer than 45 min­utes. “So I have been watch­ing care­fully,” Mr. Vines said.

The Rev. Franklin Gra­ham, son of evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham, said Mr. Fal­well was a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure be­cause of his un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in moral stan­dards, such as his op­po­si­tion to abor­tion, pornog­ra­phy and same-sex “mar­riage.”

Mr. Gra­ham praised Mr. Fal­well for “be­liev­ing that moral de­cay weak­ened Amer­ica.” He said Mr. Fal­well’s pas­sion changed U.S. pol­i­tics, par­tic­u­larly when he started the Moral Ma­jor­ity in 1979, which helped elect Ron­ald Rea­gan pres­i­dent and united evan­gel­i­cal and fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians who had avoided pol­i­tics.

Rabbi Yechiel Eck­stein, head of the In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship of Chris­tians and Jews, said be­fore the ser­vice that Mr. Fal­well was one of the “first to build a bridge be­tween evan­gel­i­cals and Jews in Amer­ica and evan­gel­i­cals and Jews in Is­rael.”

Mr. Fal­well, who had suf­fered heart prob­lems, died May 15 af­ter col­laps­ing in his univer­sity of­fice. He was 73. Mr. Fal­well’s physi­cian said that he was found “with­out a heart­beat,” and he sus­pects Mr. Fal­well died of a heart-rhythm ab­nor­mal­ity.

Mourn­ers be­gan ar­riv­ing at the church as early as 5 a.m. About 300 po­lice of­fi­cers and other per­son­nel helped man­age the crowd, said Lynch­burg Po­lice Chief Charles W. Ben­nett Jr.

Among the mourn­ers were Ge­orge Allen, the for­mer Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Vir­ginia; television per­son­al­ity Pat Robert­son; Ralph E. Reed Jr., the one-time chair­man of the Chris­tian Coali­tion, and Roy Moore, the for­mer jus­tice of the Alabama Supreme Court who was re­moved from of­fice af­ter re­fus­ing to re­move a Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment from the court­house. Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling at­tended as well, and Pres­i­dent Bush sent aide Tim Goe­glein.

Mr. Goe­glein said Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were “deeply sad­dened” and were pray­ing for Mr. Fal­well and his fam­ily.

“Jerry lived a life of faith and called upon men of all back­grounds to be­lieve in God and serve their com­mu­ni­ties,” Mr. Goe­glein said. He said Mr. Fal­well would be proud to know that in­terns from Lib­erty Univer­sity are work­ing in the White House.

Mr. Fal­well’s daugh­ter, Jean­nie Fal­well Savas, a sur­geon in Rich­mond, thanked the con­gre­ga­tion for the prayers of sup­port and said she was proud of her brothers for step­ping into lead­er­ship roles. Jerry Fal­well Jr. is the univer­sity’s vice chan­cel­lor and Jonathan Fal­well is pas­tor of Thomas Road Bap­tist Church.

More than 33,000 peo­ple had viewed Mr. Fal­well’s body over four days as it lay in re­pose. A private burial was planned on the grounds of the univer­sity.

The funeral was not dis­rupted by the pro­test­ers across the street. Camp­bell County au­thor­i­ties ar­rested a Lib­erty Univer­sity fresh­man on May 21 on charges of man­u­fac­tur­ing an ex­plo­sive de­vice, af­ter they found sev­eral homemade bombs in the trunk of his car, said Maj. Steve Hutch­er­son of the county sher­iff’s of­fice.

Mark David Uhl, 19, told a fam­ily mem­ber that he had made ex­plo­sive de­vices and planned to at­tend the funeral, Maj. Hutch­er­son said. How­ever, au­thor­i­ties did not know what Mr. Uhl’s plans were.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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