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The Legacy of Jerry Falwell
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Media-savvy Jerry Falwell, acknowledged at his death as the best-known architect of the 1980s wedding of conservative Christians to the Republican Party, also came to symbolize the dangers of fundamentalism even while his influence waned in later years to a celebrity preacher's predictable sound bite from the right.

The partisan divide we see today has been attributed in part to the portly televangelist with the sonorous voice whose Moral Majority (1979-1989) routinely disparaged feminists, gays and lesbians, evolutionists, secular humanists, liberal Christians, and advocates of peace with justice, among others.

But unlike fellow Christian right leaders Pat Robertson and, later, James Dobson, who usually limit their access to the press, Falwell responded frequently to interview requests and sought to be liked by his political opponents. For example, Falwell's debate with Senator Ted Kennedy at a National Religious Broadcasters convention followed cordial visits to each other's homes.

The postmortem mixture of comments about Falwell surely reflects not only the desire to say something good about the recently deceased but also the fact that Falwell sought to befriend his foes. From Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton, from Larry Flynt to Soulforce's Mel White, many indicated in remarks that they knew Falwell himself to be warm and personable--however distasteful or ill advised they found his beliefs and harsh denunciations.

This In the News session gives a summary of Jerry Falwell's life and impact. Discussion questions follow in the handout.

John Dart, news editor for the Christian Century, covered religion news for thirty years at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author or coauthor of a half-dozen books, mostly on biblical research findings.

The Legacy of Jerr...
John Dart
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