This column was reprinted by permission of L. Brent Bozell and Creators
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Jerry Falwell, Rest In Peace
Almost 28 years ago I toyed with my
first professional writing adventure. My college roommate Joe Duggan had
approached me with the proposition that we freelance a profile piece on the man
who was grabbing national headlines with his political activism, so we drove
down to Lynchburg Virginia, attended a service at the Thomas Road Baptist
Church, and then settled in for an hour-long interview with its founder.
Yesterday I returned to that church, this time with my son David, and joined by
the 6,000 packed inside the building, and thousands more seated at Liberty
University's Vines Center and Williams stadium, we paid our final respects at
Jerry Falwell's funeral service.
His story is one of extraordinary professional accomplishments: The Thomas Road
Baptist Church, with 24,000 members; Liberty University, with 27,000 students
and 125,000 graduates; the Old Time Gospel Hour radio and television programs -
on and on it goes, a ministerial enterprise that operates on a $200 million
annual budget. Oh, and along the way he also founded the Moral Majority, the
political juggernaut critically instrumental in the election of Ronald Reagan.
That was the professional Falwell. Over years I came to know Jerry Falwell on a
personal basis, not nearly as well as others, but well enough to call him a
friend and know - and say unequivocally -- that he was one of the most gracious,
kindly, modest men in the public arena, deeply in love with Jesus Christ, his
country and his fellow man.
Which brings sadness. What, then, evokes the sheer venom aimed at him by so many
who couldn't wait, and wouldn't allow his family and followers a moment of
privacy before unloading broadsides of hate-filled vitriol?
It wasn't hard to disagree with Jerry Falwell. As a Catholic I could easily
disagree with many of his theological positions. I didn't always agree with him
on politics, either. But these disagreements never reached the point of enmity
because I could applaud him for so much more. Yet Falwell had many real enemies,
men and women who refused to applaud him for anything during his lifetime,
instead reserving their ovations for the news of his death.
Falwell, like any great leader, was controversial. True leadership by its very
definition always generates controversy. Falwell was controversial because he
dared re-introduce morality into the public square, with rhetorical passion.
And sometimes with excessive rhetorical passion. Every obituary in the
mainstream press has regurgitated Falwell's ill-timed statement after 9/11 for
which he was condemned by liberals and conservatives alike, and for which he
would later apologize. That is part of the historical record, and deserved
inclusion. But for his enemies it deserved to be far more than that. It needed
to be the centerpiece of his obituary, that which by its essence would define
Falwell as an extremist, at the virtual exclusion of his manifold achievements.
NRO's Kathryn Lopez provides insight. A reporter was in one of the congressional
galleries when word of Falwell's death arrived. He emailed her this: "The
reaction from the reporters? Grins and chuckles mostly. One grizzled journalist
said, 'I hope they (CNN) remember all the horrible things he said.' Another
reporter simply said, 'It is a good day.'"
Those sentiments were then made public by others. With the headline "Sigh of
Relief over Falwell's Death," Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani
wrote, "In fact, my very first thought upon hearing of the Rev. Falwell's
passing was: Good... 'good' as in 'Ding-dong, the witch is dead.'"
Vanity Fair's professional atheist Christopher Hitchens to CNN's Anderson Cooper
the night Falwell died: "I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go
to... The empty life of this ugly little charlatan... Such a little toad... This
horrible person... I'm glad to see he skipped the rapture, just found on the floor
of his office... He was a bully and a fraud."
Amanda Marcotte, the former official blogger for the Edwards for President
campaign: "The gates of Hell swing open and Satan welcomes his beloved son."
Bill Maher on HBO: "And now, New Rule: Death Isn't Always Sad... Millions asked
why, why God, why didn't you take Pat Robertson with him?... I know you're not
supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I think we can make an exception..."
A formal posting on the Wonkette blog site: "Dept. of Just Rewards, God Angrily
Awaiting Jerry Falwell's Arrival...At a time like this, people deserve sympathy
and good wishes... except Falwell, who is an evil sonofabitch." From another
liberal blogger: "The Devil's new concubine... Burn in Hell you demented ---hole."
On and on it goes, sadly. In the end God will sort things out, and at the moment
of His choosing will pass judgment on us all. As one eulogist reminded his
audience yesterday, "God doesn't promise us tomorrow, but He does promise
eternity." Eternity must be earned, however. At the end of the day Jerry Falwell,
like Pope John Paul II, was controversial to so many simply because he loved God
unconditionally. That alone will earn him that eternity, in Paradise.
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