No Heart for the Heartless

Posted October 5, 2007 in News

Within minutes of the official announcement Tuesday—Christian televangelist Jerry Falwell, dead from heart arrhythmia at 73—the cable networks broke out their mourning accoutrements: the frost-tinged graphics of the reverend in better days, the book-ended birth and death years, the maudlin violin track with which to open and close each commercial break. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer gave a long and poignant soliloquy on Falwell the Man—his illustrious life, his uncompromising politics. Fox, never a network to be outdone in the weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth department, flung open its studio doors for every Republican lawmaker in Roger Ailes’ Rolodex to wax elegiac on the legacy of Dr. Jerry the Good, the Pious, the Beatific.

It was all bullshit, of course. Falwell was an asshole, and a bigger asshole we’re not soon to find in our time. 

Falwell built a spiritual empire on the premise that all God’s creatures were welcome in His house, provided, of course, that the creatures were white, conservative and straight. The good reverend, you see, was a bigot. In the 1960s, Falwell aligned himself with opponents of the Civil Rights Movement, which he famously described as “the Civil Wrongs Movement.” He criticized the sincerity of Dr. Martin Luther King, insisted that racial segregation was God’s will, claimed that Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka was a satanic plot, and regularly provided such anti-segregationists as Lester Maddox and George Wallace stage time on his television broadcasts.

He was a terrific supporter of South Africa’s Apartheid government, saying that the country’s whites-only policies were “part of God’s great design.” He supported the continued imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and denounced Nobel Peace Prize winner and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, saying: “If Bishop Tutu maintains that he speaks for the black people of South Africa, he is a phony.”

In 1979, Falwell founded the Moral Majority, an organization of conservative Christian political action committees hell-bent on making their religious views the law of the land—to create a theocracy, not unlike what the Taliban did in Afghanistan. Exhorting millions of dollars from Christians by telling them God demanded a more active role in government, the Moral Majority supported politicians who opposed abortion and gay rights and supported censorship of the media and so-called “family values”—a loose term for any cultural belief with which the Moral Majority happened to agree. It also called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that public schools—in the words of Falwell—were “breeding grounds for atheism, secularism and humanism.”

The idea that religion should and could play an overarching role in American politics was arguably Falwell’s most damaging contribution to the world. Despite the reverend’s assertions that “God is a Republican” and “Jesus was the first American,” America was for most of its existence an overwhelmingly secular society, with religion kept as far away from the halls of government as democratic principles allowed. Our Founding Fathers wanted it that way, and most Americans were all too happy to keep it that way.

Not Falwell. “I have a Divine Mandate to go into the halls of Congress and fight for laws that will save America,” he declared.

Falwell’s animosity toward President Bill Clinton was legendary. In 1994, he financed and released a video titled The Clinton Chronicles, in which he personally interviewed “witnesses” who could prove Clinton was a cocaine smuggler who ordered the murders of people. It was later shown that one “witness” was a producer of the tape and two others were paid for their “testimony.”  

The pastor reserved the most odiferous portion of his spleen for gays and lesbians. When the AIDS epidemic hit in the ‘80s, Falwell publicly called the disease the “wrath of God” visited upon the gay community for its sins.

Falwell’s craziness just kept growing. In 1999, his newsletter warned parents that Tinky Winky—a purple character on The Teletubbies children’s show, was gay. On Sept. 13, 2001, he said that gays and lesbians (and abortionists, feminists, pagans, the ACLU and the People For the American Way) were responsible for the terrorist attacks two days earlier. He managed to piss off both the Islamic and Judaic worlds when he declared Mohammed a terrorist and repeatedly called America “a Christian nation.” As late as March 2006, he was advising his flock that the Antichrist “must be, of necessity, a Jewish male.”

This was the man of whom former House speaker Newt Gingrich called Tuesday “a great leader, a person totally sustained by his faith but able to work with many people from many different backgrounds without imposing rigidity on anyone else.”

So begins the Right’s rehabilitation of Falwell from hate-monger to deity. Just watch as it happens. But remember that, despite all claims to the contrary, Falwell was an asshole. Not even death will change that fact.




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