Falwell, Jerry 1933-2007
Falwell, Jerry 1933-2007
See index for CA sketch: Born August 11, 1933, in Lynchburg, VA; died May 15, 2007, in Lynchburg, VA. Minister, university administrator, religious leader, and author. An ordained Baptist minister, Falwell went on to found a church, a college, and Moral Majority, Inc., a conservative religious organization that had a profound influence on American politics in the 1980s. As he related in his memoir Strength for the Journey: An Autobiography (1987), it was his family that had a profound influence on the course his life would take. Falwell's grandfather and father represented for him the impact of Satan on people's lives, while his mother represented the positive influence of God. His grandfather was a bitter man who became an atheist after his wife's and nephew's deaths, while his father, an entrepreneur who had businesses in oil, bus lines, and a dance hall, died of alcoholism after accidentally shooting his brother to death. On the other hand, Falwell's mother was deeply religious and was the key person who led him to decide to abandon mechanical engineering studies at Lynchburg College and instead enroll in Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Ordained a Baptist minister in 1954, he graduated two years later and founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in a building that was a former bottling company business. What sparked the sudden growth of his church was Falwell's idea of broadcasting his sermons on television. His Old-Time Gospel Hour was first aired in 1956, and it drew hundreds of new members to his church; the program went national in 1971. As the church grew, he added a variety of social services, such as counseling for alcoholics, as well as summer camps and missions through the Christian Academy. This, in turn, led to his founding Liberty University in 1971, where he served as chancellor until his death. At first, Falwell disagreed with the idea that religious leaders should become involved in politics, but this attitude changed abruptly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that permitted women to have abortions. Falwell was outraged, and he began making his voice heard on television and other public outlets as he rallied against abortion, as well as homosexuality, and for stronger families and conservative values. It was activist and commentator Paul M. Weyrich who planted the idea of a moral majority in Falwell's mind, and in 1979 he founded Moral Majority, Inc. The purpose of the organization was to rally all types of religious conservatives, no matter what their church affiliation, under a flag of moral values that they felt should be pursued by political leaders. They found their most sympathetic ears in the Republican Party, and some pundits felt that it was the Moral Majority that helped elect President Ronald Reagan in 1980. At its height in the early 1980s, the Moral Majority boasted millions of members and over one hundred thousand trained clergy among its ranks. While many Americans embraced their mission, others became fearful that Falwell's conservative message ran counter to America's fundamental values of personal freedoms. Even some Republicans feared that the Moral Majority had supplanted its original position of nongovernment interference in American's lives, and one U.S. senator, John McCain, labeled Falwell and evangelist Pat Robertson as leaders for intolerance—a declaration he later reversed. Nevertheless, by the late 1980s the Moral Majority was losing some of its clout; Falwell disbanded the organization in 1989, declaring their mission won. He remained in the news, however, and active in politics. Sometimes this was because he had made public statements that outraged Americans. In 1999, for example, he declared that Satan could be alive and walking the earth in the body of a Jew, and after the 2001 terrorist attacks Falwell declared that America was being punished for tolerating homosexuals and abortion. He later apologized for such brash statements. Although the Moral Majority is no longer a formal organization, its effects still resound in politics today, and many experts credit Falwell for organizing diverse groups into one voice for conservative, moral values in America. After his death, his son Jonathan Falwell assumed the post of senior pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, while Jerry Falwell, Jr., is now chancellor at Liberty University. Falwell was the author of such books as Listen, America! (1980), The New American Family (1992), Fasting Can Change Your Life (1998), The How-To Book: God's Principles for Mending Broken Lives (1999), Disarming the Powers of Darkness: Personal Victory in the Spiritual World (2002), and Building Dynamic Faith (2005).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Falwell, Jerry, Strength for the Journey: An Autobiography, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.
Falwell, Jerry, Falwell: An Autobiography, Liberty House Publishers, 1996.
Chicago Tribune, May 16, 2007, Section 1, pp. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2007, pp. A1, A12-13.
New York Times, May 16, 2007, pp. A1, A15.
Times (London, England), May 16, 2007, p. 64.
Washington Post, May 16, 2007, pp. A1, A6.