(NOTE: This article was first posted at CNSNews.com on May 15th.)
(By Randy Hall, CNSNews.com) – The Rev. Jerry Falwell, a long-time television evangelist and president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., died of a heart attack Tuesday after being found unconscious in his office.
Ron Godwin, executive vice president of the university, told reporters at a news conference that he had eaten breakfast with Falwell, who missed an appointment later that morning.
Falwell, who was hospitalized twice for problems with his heart and lungs in early 2005, was discovered in an unresponsive state at about 10:45 a.m.
Dr. Carl Moore, Falwell’s physician and a cardiologist at Lynchburg General Hospital, said that all efforts to revive the conservative Christian leader were unsuccessful.
Falwell was born in Lynchburg in 1933 and attended Lynchburg Community College, which he left during his sophomore year. He then transferred to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo., graduating in 1956.
The founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church…[in] 1956 in Lynchburg, Falwell also founded Liberty University in 1971 and the Moral Majority conservative organization in 1979. He began publishing the National Liberty Journal, a politically conservative monthly newspaper, in 1995.
“The death of Dr. Jerry Falwell is a great loss to those of us in conservative Christianity,” said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition. “We are deeply saddened but look forward to that great and glorious day when we will join him to sit at the feet of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.
“He was an inspiration to all of us who are involved in defending traditional values, and his courageous stand in the face of strong opposition is deeply appreciated,” Sheldon added.
“Rev. Jerry Falwell gave his heart and soul to his family, his faith and his country,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of Cybercast News Service. “This is obvious when one looks at the decades of work he completed to grow his ministry, nurture his university and advance the conservative movement throughout the culture and in politics.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement that Falwell “motivated millions of Christian conservatives to engage the cultural and political issues of the day through politics. With his leadership and vision, he changed the landscape of American politics.
“As a pastor and a patriot, Dr. Falwell loved Jesus Christ and he loved America,” Sekulow added. “He leaves a lasting legacy that will continue to influence the national scene for generations to come. He will be truly missed.”
However, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, took a different view of the long-time conservative.
“Jerry Falwell politicized religion and failed to understand the genius of our Constitution, but there is no denying his impact on American political life,” Lynn said. “He will long be remembered as the face and voice of the Religious Right.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement in which the 2008 Republican presidential aspirant said he joins “the students, faculty, and staff of Liberty University and Americans of all faiths in mourning the loss of Rev. Jerry Falwell.”
“Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country,” McCain added. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Falwell’s family at this difficult time.”
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, McCain and Falwell did not see eye to eye when the senator was running for the GOP nomination for president in the 2000 election.
“I am a pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative and advocate of a strong defense,” McCain said in Virginia Beach, Va., on Feb. 28, 2000. “And yet, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate.
“They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don’t pander to them. Because I don’t ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message,” the senator added.
While leaders of several evangelical groups blasted McCain for “divisive” remarks, a spokesperson for Falwell said the evangelist would have no comment on the senator’s statements.
Several days later, McCain released a statement in which he apologized for his comments.
“While I disagree with the political message and tactics of Reverends Falwell and Robertson, Mr. [Bob] Jones and other self-proclaimed leaders of the Christian right, I do not consider them evil, and I regret that my flip remark may have mistakenly created that impression,” he said.
At the GOP convention in Philadelphia later that year, Falwell endorsed McCain’s opponent. “I’m very pleased with George W. Bush and with his policy,” the evangelist stated. “I think the desire has been there for many years, the desire of [inclusion], bringing everyone in. But Gov. Bush is doing something about it.”
Falwell was no stranger to controversy over the past decade. In 1999, he was criticized in some quarters for suggesting that one of the characters on the Public Broadcasting System children’s program “Teletubbies” was gay — a comparison that had already been drawn in a number of homosexual media outlets.
Then, in the aftermath of 9/11, the evangelist was again in the hot seat after suggesting that groups and individuals “who have tried to secularize America” had “helped [the attacks] happen.”
Under fire from liberals, Falwell said in a statement his remarks had been “taken out of context.”
“I hold no one other than the terrorists and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them responsible for Tuesday’s attacks on this nation,” he said. “I sincerely regret that comments I made during a long theological discussion on a Christian television program yesterday were taken out of their context and reported.
“My thoughts — reduced to sound bites — have detracted from the spirit of this day of mourning,” Falwell stated.
In 2002, Falwell came under fire for saying during a CBS television program that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was “a terrorist” and a “man of war.”
Falwell said that in his opinion, “Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses, and I think Mohammad set an opposite example.”
In a subsequent apology, he said he meant no disrespect to “sincere, law-abiding Muslims,” but a senior cleric in Iran issued death threats and in western India angry Muslims called a general strike in protest, accusing him of “blasphemy.”
During the 2004 presidential election campaign, Falwell was criticized for statements made in an email urging support for Bush.
“For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush,” Falwell was quoted as saying in the July 1 edition of the “Falwell Confidential” email.
But the following year, the Federal Elections Commission unanimously dismissed a complaint filed against Jerry Falwell Ministries and Liberty Alliance, a lobbying group.
2008 White House targeted
In 2004, Falwell announced the launch of a new organization called the Faith and Values Coalition, describing it as a “21st century resurrection of the Moral Majority.”
The new group aimed to lobby for a federal amendment barring same-sex “marriage,” for the election of a socially, fiscally and politically conservative president in 2008 and for pro-life judicial appointments.
“As national chairman of TFVC, I am committed to lending my influence to help send out at least 40 million evangelical voters in 2008,” he said at the time. “The thought of a Hillary Clinton or John Edwards presidency is simply unacceptable — and quite frightening.”
“I urge my friends around the country to immediately get involved and join me in this four-year commitment, which is really an investment in America, in our children and in our children’s children.”
Americans United responded to the announcement by saying Falwell was “wrong in assuming that Americans agree with his goals” of barring same-sex “marriage,” promoting pro-life judicial appointments and electing a conservative to the White House in 2008.
“The people do not share Jerry Falwell’s repressive vision of an America where church and state are merged and the views of intolerant TV preachers form the basis of our laws,” said Lynn, the group’s executive director.
All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2007 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. Who was Jerry Falwell?
2. In what similar way is Rev. Falwell remembered by most of the leaders quoted for this article?
3. How was Jerry Falwell influential in American politics?
4. Why was Jerry Falwell controversial?
5. In response to Rev. Falwell’s launch of the Faith and Values Coalition in 2004 (read their goals here), Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said that Rev. Falwell was “wrong in assuming that Americans agree with his goals” of barring same-sex “marriage,” promoting pro-life judicial appointments and electing a conservative to the White House in 2008. “The people do not share Jerry Falwell’s repressive vision of an America where church and state are merged and the views of intolerant TV preachers form the basis of our laws.”
Do you agree with Rev. Lynn’s assertion? Explain your answer.
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.