Affirmation of Jerry Falwell
"Mr. Jones, Meet the Master" is the title of a book of sermons
by the late Peter Marshall, former Pastor of New York Avenue
Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, and Chaplain of the
U.S. Senate. In some of his sermons he speaks of "a tap on
the shoulder" as the way in which God gets an individual's
attention to convey some specific message to that individual.
Last week the Christian world became aware of the death,
the home going, of Jerry Falwell. It was sudden and unexpected.
The media which had utilized his talents in life, was caught off base
in his death. The reports, the tributes, even the sometimes
vicious criticisms, have been many. Probably the finest tribute
by an outsider has been written by la Grande Dame of American
Conservative thought, Ann Coulter. And, of course, there is the
very perceptive testimony of his son Jonathan, who will carry on
the ministry of Thomas Road Baptist Church, even as his other
son, Jerry, Jr., will carry on the work of Liberty University.
I ask that you pardon the use of the first person in this week's
Commentary, but this is a personal tribute from a long time
personal friend of Jerry Falwell.
I first met Jerry Falwell in 1975. He and the late W.A. Criswell,
pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, were the main speakers
at a pastor's conference for which I was one of the sponsoring'
organizers. That was a most memorable week for me, spent in
the company of those two great Evangelical churchmen.
During the more than 30 years since that conference, I have
remained in touch with Jerry Falwell. His words of appreciation
for some things I have done, and his words of encouragement
for other things I should do, have meant much to me. In his
last email message to me he said that he hoped that at age
88 he would be as productive as I am. This was an amazing
comment from one who has been as productive for the Lord
as anyone I have ever known.
Those words from Peter Marshall's sermons have been
very much in my mind since Jerry Falwell's home going. I let
my mind wander to that sudden moment when, seated in his
office he felt a tap on his shoulder, and an unmistakable voice
said, "Jerry Falwell, meet your Master." In that nanosecond
between this life and eternity, the ministry of Thomas Road
Baptist Church, the influence of Liberty University and the
political impact of the Moral Majority, all faded away, and
Jerry Falwell stood face-to-face with the Lord he had served
so faithfully for so many years.
For a day or so the media, both press and television, gave
attention to the passing of Jerry Falwell. They didn't assign
to it the extent of coverage they gave to Anna Nicole Smith
and the effort to determine which of her lovers actually fathered
her child. Nor did they give the time and space they assigned
to Paris Hilton and her pouty complaint that she shouldn't have
to spend any time in jail for repeated violation of the laws that
govern all of us -- even a scantily clad, non-talented celebrity.
That fact in itself speaks to the challenge Jerry Falwell faced
in trying to move America back to the God-focused nation it
Most media coverage focused on the political influence
of the Moral Majority movement which Jerry Falwell had founded,
and which brought this nation, for a time, back to the moral
values upon which it was built. Only passing mention was made
of the Church which he founded in 1956, and which had grown
from the original 30 members to over 24,000 today. Or to Liberty
University, which he founded in 1971 and which is today perhaps
the largest Evangelical university in the world, and one of the
most influential Christian universities in America.
The tributes to Jerry Falwell have been many, coming from
his peers in the Christian ministry as well as from those who
opposed him theologically, but respected him for his fairness, his
scholarship and his integrity. I have watched him so many times
as a guest on various TV talk shows where he always appeared
as the "token" Evangelical to present the Christian view as opposed
to the exponents of political correctness and other Liberal theories.
I never saw him defeated, and difficult as the subject may have
been, and as vitriolic as his opponents may have been, he never
stopped smiling, and never spoke disparagingly of any of those
who disagreed with him.
I have just read one lengthy newspaper article by a writer who
strongly disagreed with him and his gospel message. On an
assignment, she went to Liberty University to interview him in
depth. Her concluding words, "I found I couldn't resist him. He
was polite. Sincere. He even seemed -- and I know this sounds
crazy -- kind."
I am perplexed at the wimpishness of some of Jerry Falwell's
co-laborers in the gospel ministry. They offer words of tribute,
but dilute them with this caveat, that they didn't always agree
with him. You wonder what they really believe. You never had
any doubt whatsoever about what he believed. His one message
through every medium available to him, was always of the power
of God to change lives through faith in Jesus Christ. I read one
tribute which cited a comparison I saw nowhere else: this from
Dr. David Dockery, President of Union University in Tennessee,
"Falwell was the William Bell Riley of this age." Dr. W. B. Riley,
long time pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, was
known to those of us of an earlier generation as the father of
modern fundamentalism. His influence on the Christian churches
of America in the period between the two World Wars was
profound. Jerry Falwell took those fundamentals of the Christian
faith and welded them into a modern day instrument of
Evangelical outreach which has made, and which will continue
to make, an impact upon those churches and upon this nation.
A few years ago -- in 1999 -- Jerry Falwell wrote a definitive article
for the magazine "Christianity Today." It bore the title that made
the heading for this personal tribute today: "I'd do it all again."
Given another opportunity to preach, teach or comment on TV,
Jerry Falwell's message would still be the same. . . his goals and
vision would still be as broad and as keen. And if you were his
adversary, he would assail you with faith and logic, and smile
even as you were (unsuccessfully) attacking him.
He was a regular reader of this newsletter, and once wrote that
he considered it "awesome." I shall miss his weekly newsletter,
"Falwell Confidential," but more I shall miss the personal email
messages we exchanged.
"His Lord said unto him, well done thou good and faithful servant;
enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." -- Matthew 25:21
Afterthoughts . . .
A thought for today and every day: from the Jerusalem
Prayer Team: "We must win the battle for the soul of
America. We can, if we unite and fight together. If those
with moral clarity sleep, America's next president may be
presiding over a nuclear 9/11."
It is still far too early to discuss in detail the positions
of one presidential wannabe over another. With some 20
individuals already competing for those two top spots in
the political sweepstakes -- the Republican and Democrat
nominations for the nation's chief executive -- it is within
the realm of possibility that the ultimate contenders aren't
even in the race as yet. But at least two previous nominees
are more or less out of contention: John Kerry, defeated
in the 2004 election, says he is definitely not going to be
a candidate, and Al Gore, defeated in the 2000 election,
may be adopting a non-candidate position -- at least he
says he is out of love with politics. He seems to have found
a new love in his very debatable theory of global warming
where he has found more success and acclaim than in any
of his forays into politics. So let's wait till 2008 before
getting involved in presidential election fantasizing.
For those of us who are concerned about the moral
values in our nation, the ever-present danger of the ACLU
must never be overlooked. Alan Sears, president of the
Alliance Defense fund (ADF) recently summarized this
danger very clearly: "We now live in a country where our
Christian faith and biblical values are openly attacked ...
where parental authority is undermined and children have
less protection from pornography and predators and
advocates of dangerous sexual behavior ... and where the
value of human life has been cheapened from the moment
of conception ..." and Sears says that much of this can be
traced to the ACLU. The clear message is that we must never
let up in our diligence to detect and oppose the ACLU in its
continuing attacks on the Christian faith.
Perhaps the most disturbing attack on the morals of
American youth was documented on the O'Reilly Factor on
Fox News Channel on Friday, May 18. A video clip of a
program at Boulder Colorado High School showed a panel
of special speakers actually encouraging the students to
experiment with sex and with narcotics. Here are some of
the exact words from the speakers: " I'm going to encourage
you to have sex. And I'm going to encourage you to use drugs
appropriately." In defining sex, the speaker said, "I don't
care if it's with men and men, women and women, men and
women, whatever combination you would like to put together."
And another panel member added: "It doesn't always have
to be about love, and it doesn't always have to be about long
term relationship. You know it feels the same both ways."
Colorado has long been a bastion of liberal thought, but
this brazen attack on the youth of the city of Boulder,
apparently with the knowledge of the school officials, goes
beyond what the American public will stand for. This is an
example of liberal thought run wild, and merits the careful
follow-up of Evangelical Christians across this nation.
The cry of the Liberals is often for fairness. Nobel Prize
winner in Economics and much quoted American intellectual,
Milton Friedman, spoke to this point: The word 'free' is used
three times in the Declaration of Independence, and once in
the First Amendment to the Constitution, along with 'freedom.'
The word 'fair' is not used in either of our founding documents."