A Balanced View of Jerry Falwell

by May 23, 2007

He’s been dead for a week, but he’s still stirring up controversy. That’s a pretty amazing feat in our country, where we’re usually on to the next news story within 24 hours. Bill Maher is still making wisecracks about him, and conservative groups are calling for Maher to be fired for his comments. The wheel of rhetoric just keeps rolling.

That’s why it’s refreshing for me to read a balanced take on the life and ministry of Jerry Falwell. In this post, Dan Edelen starts with the undeniable legacy of Jerry Falwell:

No matter what any Christian thinks of Jerry Falwell, he decisively answered a most important question that all Christians must consider: Does a sacred/secular divide exist? For most of Christian history, the answer has been yes. Jerry Falwell said no. And I believe he was right.

We can’t underestimate the profundity of pulling down the curtain between the sacred and the secular. Many of us today fail to realize how much we’ve gained by understanding that all of life is sacred, and it loses none of its sacredness when it intersects with everyday living. Eliminating that divide better frames the Kingdom of God in its proper context. The Kingdom penetrates everything it touches when Christians advance.

Jerry Falwell believed that Christians should not be ashamed to enter secular realms with the Gospel. Before he came on the scene, too many of us lived a double life. He didn’t found the idea, but he made it popular for Christians to go into the highways and byways of the world confident in Christ.

We forget what it was like before Falwell, don’t we?

Yes, we do. Since I was only six when Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, I don’t remember any time when evangelical Christians didn’t have a voice in the public sphere. By the time I was a political science major in the early 90’s, the voices of conservative Christians had grown into a fierce roar. And that’s where things began to turn for the worse. Edelen explains:

Sadly, while the idea reflects God’s heart, the execution of that mandate doomed itself by going too far. Instead of letting the light of Christ speak, we decided to make something happen. Like Moses striking the rock, we overstepped our bounds and made a laughingstock of Evangelicalism. We equated expanding the Kingdom into secular realms with attempting to rule it with a not-so-subtle iron fist. In effect, the mishandling of the elimination of the sacred/secular divide led to power grabs from overly smug Evangelicals, rather than a humble glowing of light from within the traditionally dark areas of life long ago abandoned by believers.