Rev. Jerry Falwell dies at 73

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HAT TIP: By SUE LINDSEY, Associated Press Writer 

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority and built the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.

Ron Godwin, the university’s executive vice president, said Falwell, 73, was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. “CPR efforts were unsuccessful,” he said.

Godwin said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but he said Falwell “has a history of heart challenges.”

“I had breakfast with him, and he was fine at breakfast,” Godwin said. “He went to his office, I went to mine, and they found him unresponsive.”

Falwell had survived two serious health scares in early 2005. He was hospitalized for two weeks with what was described as a viral infection, then was hospitalized again a few weeks later after going into respiratory arrest. Later that year, doctors found a 70 percent blockage in an artery, which they opened with stents.

Falwell credited his Moral Majority with getting millions of conservative voters registered, electing Ronald Reagan and giving Republicans Senate control in 1980.

“I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved,” Falwell said when he stepped down as Moral Majority president in 1987.

The fundamentalist church that Falwell started in an abandoned bottling plant in 1956 grew into a religious empire that includes the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the “Old Time Gospel Hour” carried on television stations around the country and 7,700-student Liberty University. He built Christian elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and a home for alcoholics.

He also founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, which began as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971.

Liberty University’s commencement is scheduled for Saturday, with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the featured speaker.

In 2006, Falwell marked the 50th anniversary of his church and spoke out on stem cell research, saying he sympathized with people with medical problems, but that any medical research must pass a three-part test: “Is it ethically correct? Is it biblically correct? Is it morally correct?”

Falwell had once opposed mixing preaching with politics, but he changed his view and in 1979, founded the Moral Majority. The political lobbying organization grew to 6.5 million members and raised $69 million as it supported conservative politicians and campaigned against abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer.

Falwell became the face of the religious right, appearing on national magazine covers and on television talk shows. In 1983, U.S. News & World Report named him one of 25 most influential people in America.

In 1984, he sued Hustler magazine for $45 million, charging that he was libeled by an ad parody depicting him as an incestuous drunkard. A federal jury found the fake ad did not libel him, but awarded him $200,000 for emotional distress. That verdict was overturned, however, in a landmark 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that even pornographic spoofs about a public figure enjoy First Amendment protection.

The case was depicted in the 1996 movie “The People v. Larry Flynt.”

With Falwell’s high profile came frequent criticism, even from fellow ministers. The Rev. Billy Graham once rebuked him for political sermonizing on “non-moral issues.”

Falwell quit the Moral Majority in 1987, saying he was tired of being “a lightning rod” and wanted to devote his time to his ministry and Liberty University. But he remained outspoken and continued to draw criticism for his remarks.

Days after Sept. 11, 2001, Falwell essentially blamed feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal groups for bringing on the terrorist attacks. He later apologized.

In 1999, he told a evangelical conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief. A month later, his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, a purple, purse-toting character on television’s “Teletubbies” show, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children.

Falwell was re-energized after moral values issues proved important in the 2004 presidential election. He formed the Faith and Values Coalition as the “21st Century resurrection of the Moral Majority,” to seek anti-abortion judges, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and more conservative elected officials.

20 thoughts on “Rev. Jerry Falwell dies at 73

  1. SB: When I saw that headline, I didn’t even read the rest of the article before I ran downstairs to call my best friend. Now, I’m back and read the actual article. Thanks for the news…

  2. Bronze Trinity,

    Some other wingnut “christian” fanatic will step into the breach. Anyway, the death of one monkey don’t stop no show, like my grandmama used to say.

  3. rikyrah

    I will not speak ill of the dead. I won’t speak well, but I won’t speak ill. My prayers are with his family.

  4. Al Wagenaar

    My guess is the Rev Falwell is in for a suprise if the “Pearly Gates” do in fact exist. His hatefull and narrow minded viewpoints will not be missed.

  5. david

    Though he was a formidable opponent, many of us feel joyful he is gone. He was a confusing nuisance to the genral public.

  6. Linda

    I don’t want to bash dead people and I am sure he has family that loved and will miss him. My sympathy goes out to them. For me, Falwell was not good for America. His outrageous, hateful comments will not be missed in this household.

  7. G. Wilhelm

    If there is one person, other than our “Valient Leader” (GWB) that won’t be missed, it is Jerry Falwell!!

    G

  8. NMP

    I hear you, rikyrah, but my philosophy is not to speak ill of the dead ONLY if you didn’t speak ill of them when they were alive. 🙂

    If deaths truly happen in 3’s, number 2 is Dick Cheney!

  9. “Some other wingnut “christian” fanatic will step into the breach. Anyway, the death of one monkey don’t stop no show, like my grandmama used to say.”

    So skeptical🙂

  10. NMP

    SB,

    You’re right! I saw Nancy Pelosi’s daughter’s documentary on their movement, and it was pretty scary.

  11. tammy

    my prays go out to jerry f family people make him sound as if he was the worst person in the world but as for me i believed in him but i still love like admire BILLY GRAHAM IF OR WHEN HE GOES HOME TO BE WITH THE LORD THAT WILL BE THE NEXT TO THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE NOT BECAUSE HES IN HEAVEN BUT BECAUSE THE LORD WORKED THROUGH HIM TO SPEEK TO ME but when it comes to jerry f we all have sinned we are not to judge are LORD will jugde us all

  12. Tammy,

    Thanks for your heartfelt post. However, I would beg to differ with you. Rev. Falwell, in my estimation. was nothing more than a right-wing hack politician with a clerical collar. He used his pulpit and his ministry to propagate a hateful right-wing theology of division that from my perspective was contrary to the word. Again, welcome to skeptical brotha.

  13. I did the same thing I did when I found out that Strom Thurmond was dead…went out with a good friend and had a drink.

    I’m sorry … I will speak ill of the dead…I’m glad that racist, hateful, evil man is dead.

  14. “the death of one monkey don’t stop no show”

    Ah that grandmomma wisdom. For someone like Falwell, who has been at death’s door for the past several years, my grandmomma used to say “Even the devil don’t want nothin to do with him”.

    And once again I am reminded of Hunter Thompson’s “heartfelt eulogy” for Richard Nixon:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/thompson02212005.html
    😉

  15. Now, now, people, consider this:

    Maybe it wasn’t Jesus who called the good reverend home, but someone else? (hint, he’s often referred to as “spawn of”)

    Speaking ill of the dead, all I will say that Rev. Falwell will not be around to talk out the side of his neck in Jesus’ name anymore, thus defaming and subjecting true Christians to ridicule.

    For the poster who asked about good things coming in 3s? Cheney’s heart keeps trying to help you out, but Cheney keeps subduing his ticker in that bunker he hides out in…but, remember, God is just….;-)

    Just sayin’ since I haven’t been around the last few days, and all.

  16. Rob

    I knew ol’ Jerry a bit. Honestly and with all seriousness, he was a pretty good guy. He was painted some nasty colors in the media, like most people. He was always good to everyone, respected everyone he met. He was in some ways naive, in some ways a good ol’ southern boy. He loved God and his country and he saw those things he opposed politically (declining morals, homosexuality, etc) as harbingers of our nations decline. Historically, these things have been harbingers of a powerful civilization on the decline, along with decreased birthrates and emphasis on the desires of the individual such as we see today. In that respect he was right. Though I would never have advocated church and state being intertwined as he desired. We (Christians)have already learned that lesson the hard way (Constantine) and shouldn’t soon forget it.

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