Reverend Jerry Falwell seemed prepared for his passing.
A little more than two weeks ago, the founder of the Moral
Majority in Lynchburg, Va., preached of man being
indestructible until he has finished God's work, then
told churchgoers he was at peace with death.
On the day before
he died, Falwell called his son and asked him to take a
drive up the mountain that overlooks Liberty University,
where he posed for pictures near a new, massive LU
logo with students from the school he built.
''He said he was
feeling better than he'd felt in a while,'' Jerry
Falwell Jr. said. ''He'd been feeling kind of tired in the
past two weeks.''
morning, the 73-year-old Falwell was discovered without a
pulse in his office at Liberty and pronounced dead at a
hospital about an hour later. Dr. Carl Moore,
Falwell's physician, said he had a heart condition and
presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality. His funeral
was set for Tuesday.
The big blue-eyed
preacher with a booming voice used the power of
television to found the Moral Majority and turn the
Christian right into a mighty force in American
The rise of
Christian conservatism made Falwell perhaps the most
recognizable figure on the evangelical right. The Moral
Majority's condemnation of homosexuality, abortion,
and pornography was praised in some circles and
reviled in others.
Over the years,
Falwell waged a landmark libel case against Hustler
magazine founder Larry Flynt over a raunchy parody ad
and created a furor in 1999 when one of his
publications suggested that the purse-carrying
Teletubbies character Tinky Winky was gay.
politics by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established
the right to an abortion, Falwell founded the Moral Majority
in 1979. He credited the conservative lobbying group
with getting millions of like-minded people to vote,
and one of its greatest triumphs came when Ronald
Reagan was elected president in 1980.
''I shudder to
think where the country would be right now if the
religious right had not evolved,'' he said when he stepped
down as Moral Majority president in 1987.
Falwell was both
a businessman and a preacher, roles that each of his
sons embody. He had made careful preparations for a
transition of his leadership to Jerry Jr., vice
chancellor of Liberty University, and Jonathan,
executive pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church.
But neither is
involved in politics, an area where Falwell's influence
had declined in recent years. He was quietly led in and out
of the Republican Party's 2004 national convention.
Just four years earlier he was invited to pray
from the rostrum.
political impact was monumental.
''Jerry was the
seminal figure in bringing evangelical and fundamentalist
Christians out of the catacombs and energizing them into a
political voting bloc that helped elect Ronald Reagan
twice and was responsible for a lot of Republican
success after that,'' said Cal Thomas, syndicated
columnist and vice president of the Moral Majority from 1980
evangelist Pat Robertson, a one-time Republican candidate
for president, declared Falwell ''a tower of strength
on many of the moral issues which have confronted our
the fundamentalist preacher for being divisive.
executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,
extended condolences to those close to Falwell but added:
''Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder
and leader of America's antigay industry, someone who
exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the
onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized
and vilified us for political gain and someone who used
religion to divide rather than unite our nation.''
In recent years,
Falwell had become a problematic figure for the GOP. His
remarks a few days after September 11, 2001--which
blamed feminists, gays, and liberals for bringing on
the terrorist attacks--drew a rebuke from the
White House, and he apologized.
started a fundamentalist church in an abandoned bottling
plant in Lynchburg in 1956 with just 35 members, built it
into a religious empire that included the
24,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the Old
Time Gospel Hour carried on TV stations around
the country, and 9,600-student Liberty University, which
he founded in 1971 as Lynchburg Baptist College.
From his living
room he broadcast his message of salvation and raised the
donations that helped his ministry grow.
Majority grew to 6.5 million members and raised $69 million
as it supported conservative politicians and railed
against liberal social issues.
In 1983, U.S.
News & World Report named Falwell one of
the 25 most influential people in America.
With his high
profile came frequent criticism, even from fellow
ministers. The Reverend Billy Graham once rebuked him for
political sermonizing on ''nonmoral 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
In 1999, he told
an 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, the children's TV character, was a
gay role model and morally damaging to children.
reenergized after family values 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 antiabortion judges, a
constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and more
conservative elected officials.
that Liberty would grow to 50,000 students and be to
fundamentalist Christians what the University of Notre Dame
is to Roman Catholics and Brigham Young University is
As a student,
Falwell was a star athlete and prankster who was barred
from giving his high school valedictorian's speech after he
was caught using counterfeit lunch tickets.
He ran with a
gang of juvenile delinquents before becoming a born-again
Christian at 19. He turned down an offer to play
professional baseball and transferred from Lynchburg
College to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.
''My heart was
burning to serve Christ,'' he once said in an interview.
''I knew nothing would ever be the same again.''
survivors include his wife, Macel, his two sons and a
daughter, Jeannie Falwell Savas. (Kristen Gelineau,
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