The Rev. Jerry Falwell has passed away at the age of 73. Falwell was found unresponsive in his office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA at 10:45 am (ET). He was taken to Lynchburg General Hospital where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Falwell first started his fundamentalist church in 1956. That church grew to the 22,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church, but it was his televangelism on the “Old Time Gospel Hour” that made Falwell rich, famous, and able to build a fundamentalist empire. Falwell originally opposed the mixing of religion and politics, but that changed in 1979, and he founded the Moral Majority.

The Moral Majority was the forerunner of every Christian political lobbying group to come. The group’s strong support of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 was one of the biggest factors in his defeat of then incumbent president Jimmy Carter. Throughout the 1980’s the Moral Majority would develop into one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. The organization grew to include 6.5 million members and raise $69 million for conservative political candidates who opposed abortion, homosexuality, and pornography, but favored issues like school prayer, and supporting private religious educational institutions through government funded vouchers.

Falwell sparked the social conservative movement into politics, but his own political influence peaked in the 1980’s. In 1987, he stepped down from the Moral Majority to devote more time to his ministry and Liberty University, which he founded. In his later years, Falwell’s remarks became both more hateful and outrageous. In 1999, Falwell claimed that the Antichrist was probably a male Jew who was alive today. Falwell once said that, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

Falwell’s most outrageous remark might have been when tried to blame 9/11 on homosexuals, feminists, and abortion supporters. “And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, “You helped this happen.”  He was later forced to back off these statements.

Falwell’s moment of descent into self parody was when he tried to out Tinky Winky the Teletubbie as a gay role model because Tinky is purple and carries a purse. In 2004, Falwell tried to revive his Moral Majority as a new organization, the Faith and Values Coalition. However, it appears that Falwell’s time as a political force had come and gone. He had been surpassed long ago by organizations like Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and others. Falwell spent his later years preaching in his ministry, running Liberty University, and appearing on talk shows.

Religion aside, Falwell’s political impact can not be underestimated. He fundamentally changed the Republican Party, and his movement laid the ground work for the social conservative base that makes up today’s GOP. Without Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, the line between political and religious activism might not have been crossed. Whether this is a good or bad thing, strictly depends on your point of view, but the fact that he accomplished this, makes Jerry Falwell an important figure in late 20th Century U.S. political history. The social conservative political movement will stand as a big part of his legacy, but, like him or not, Falwell changed conservative politics in this country, and for that he deserves to be remembered.

Falwell quotes

Related AP story

 Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics


Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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