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Funeral returns
Falwell to his roots

Funeral returns
Falwell to his roots

The Reverend Jerry Falwell was remembered by thousands Tuesday as a champion of conservative Christian values who fearlessly galvanized the religious right into a powerful force in American politics.

The funeral returned Falwell to his roots, the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., where he started as a young preacher in 1956 with just 35 parishioners in an old, abandoned soda bottling plant. More than 10,000 people attended the funeral, many forced into overflow seating.

''He was a champion of the fundamental values that we hold dear,'' fellow Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson said as he entered the sanctuary. ''He stepped on some toes.''

Falwell, 73, died a week ago after collapsing in his office at Liberty University, which he founded in 1971 as Lynchburg (later Liberty) Baptist College. His physician said Falwell had a heart condition and presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality.

In many ways he was the architect of his own farewell: He designated the speakers and picked out the music for the service, according to Mark DeMoss, his former executive assistant. The most prominent of those attending were leaders of the religious right; none of the Republican presidential candidates attended.

Speakers remembered Falwell the politician, who became a force in the Republican Party in the 1980s after starting the Moral Majority and organizing the conservative Christian vote to send Ronald Reagan to the White House.

''He said, 'I believe God has called me to confront the culture,' and did he ever confront it,'' said the Reverend Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who gave a sermon that ranged from personal stories about Falwell to biblical references.

Falwell was outspoken in his condemnation of homosexuality and pornography, and his opposition to abortion led him to get involved in politics.

The Reverend Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, said he had been asked whether he agreed with Falwell. He drew applause with his response: ''Every time he opened the Bible, I agreed with Jerry Falwell.''

Even as a young preacher, Falwell broke new ground, launching television evangelism with the Old Time Gospel Hour in 1956. He built the Thomas Road Baptist congregation to an estimated 24,000 over the years by knocking on doors and listening to the people who answered.

To the end, he stayed in touch with his congregation.

Wendell Walker, who moved from Macon, Ga., 33 years ago to attend Liberty Baptist College, said he had helped Falwell with baby dedication ceremonies two days before his death.

''All the parents were coming forward to dedicate their babies,'' Walker said. ''I'd hand him the cards.''

Walker said he ''just loved helping a godly man.''

Falwell made careful preparations for a leadership transition after his death for both the church and Liberty University to his sons. Jerry Falwell Jr. is already vice chancellor at Liberty. Jonathan Falwell leads Thomas Road Baptist.

The White House was represented by Tim Goeglein, who told the crowd Falwell was ''a great friend'' of the George W. Bush administration. Among Virginia Republican leaders at the service were Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Atty. Gen. Bob McDonnell, and former U.S. senator George Allen.

Other conservative leaders attending included former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, and Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

''So many in politics aren't recognizing the social and moral issues in our society,'' said Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who gained a national following with his unsuccessful fight to display a Ten Commandments monument in the state supreme court building. ''People like Jerry Falwell were bold enough to speak out.''

More than 33,000 people had viewed Falwell's body over four days as it lay in repose.

A private burial was planned on the grounds of Liberty University near a former mansion where Falwell's office was located. (AP)

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