The Legacy of Jerry Falwell

“Why did Jerry Falwell die?… Because he was fat.”

These were the words of a homosexual radio personality this morning, of whom a co-worker said “I have never heard an evil word come out of your mouth until today.”


I have never been a fan of Jerry Falwell. I have never been a fan of any Christian who was known only for what they are against and not what they are for. I have heard many Christians over the last 24 hours tout how they knew Jerry as a man who “passionately wanted others to come to Christ”, and a man who was passionate about “changing the country”. I heard Robert H. Schuller tell Katie Couric last night, in the most vague way possible, that he was proud of Falwell’s courage. As a 26 year old church planter with dreams of seeing God change Las Vegas, l look at Falwell’s life as a great example of a man with great courage and vision who accomplished many great things for the Kingdom. Yet I can’t help but wonder, “Why did I never hear of any of this before? Why did I only hear him say horrible things like blaming 9/11 on the gays and ACLU?”

While I applaud many Christians for not slinging mud on their dead brother, rather focusing on the good Falwell accomplished, I have to wonder: is this man’s legacy the kind we want to hold up as an example for all Christians to follow?

I have to say NO.

Like John Calvin, Falwell fought long and hard to give the church a voice in government. He rallied many Christians to become involved in the betterment of their country through political involvement. Only he forgot to teach his people that above seeking the good of the city (Jer. 29:7), we must first love the city. If we do not love the city (or country) first and foremost, we will be seen as a interest group (no irony intended) who only cares about its own interest. Whether intentionally or not, this separates Christians into their own culture, and forces people to both accept our culture and Jesus to become a Christian. In Falwell’s case, what started out as an attempt to do what was best for the country, created a barrier for the gospel in that same country.

What is the cause of all the evil in the world?
Who is guilty of sin?

How then can a pastor blame specific groups for evil against our country? Where is the humility of one, who without the grace of God, would be in the same boat as those whom he is blaming for God’s judgment? Don’t get me wrong, I love good old school make people feel bad for their sins type preaching. But why would one preach like that? So that people might see the love of God in Christ. Not to lay blame on an event or series of events when people are already scared and hurting. The cause of this type of reasoning is purely speculative, but when combined with the sectarian moral majority initiatives a body of evidence begins to appear. Once again we are stuck confessing that a man who started out trying to do what was best for a country, has created many roadblocks to the gospel in that country.

So why did so many homosexuals party last night? A man, whom they perceived as someone who HATED them, was dead. When the people God has called you to love and share the gospel with think you HATE them, you have done something seriously wrong. Is the gospel offensive? OF COURSE. Then let them hate the gospel, not our political agendas. Let them hate the gospel, not us blaming them for all that is wrong in our world.

Jerry Falwell was a brother in Christ, who is now home with Jesus. Jesus was beaten, flogged, hung on a cross, and buried in a tomb becuase of Jerry’s sin, my sin, and your sin. His grace is powerful enough to forgive us all. May we as Christian leaders take Dr. Falwell’s life as example of courage, vision and hard work. May we also take it as an example of what can happen when we don’t make the gospel the single issue we stand on. May we see that when we make things other than the gospel what we battle for, people will not feel loved, they will in fact feel hated. May we seek the good of our nations, and our cities, and may the proverb be true of us: “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,
and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.”

What will your city or nation say of you when you are doing well? What will it say of you when you die? By God’s grace, I pray we would be a blessing to our country and cities.


3 Responses

  1. Man it is easy right now, and probably a bit trendy to really throw dirt on Falwell. It does make me realize, and also in light of some of Driscoll’s verbal mistakes that with the big stage you will get branded so quick for some stupid comments. We live in a soundbite era in which it does not matter if it is the Bible or someone’s thoughts, we are to lazy and often prideful to understand words in their proper contexts.

  2. I think we as Christians forget that Falwell came from a different era. I don’t excuse or condone some of the things he said but that is what he knew. That was his brand of faith. Just like a lot of older people we know today in conservative Baptist churches. The times we live in now don’t allow for that brand of preaching. We have to use new ways to reach people for Christ. But we cannot attack Falwell for doing what Christ commanded him to do, even if we don’t agree with the method.

  3. Thanks for commenting Marcus, a couple of thoughts:

    – That article was far from an attack on Dr. Falwell

    – I didn’t criticize his contextualization of the gospel, nor did I ever say a thing about his preaching.

    – I did point out that the things he championed instead of the gospel got in the way of his gospel preaching, as well as thousands of others gospel preaching.

    That was really the heart of the post. There is a reason so many guys like Miller, McLaren, and Bell are trying to pull Christianity out of the sub-culture it is in. A sub-culture where you convert not just to the gospel but to a right-wing. legalistic lifestyle. You cannot argue with the facts that in both his public speaking and the interest groups he created, Dr. Falwell helped perpetuate that sub-culture. It doesn’t matter what time or place you preach in, if you make anything other than the gospel what you champion, you will inevitably create barriers for the gospel in your culture.

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