I'm probably going to get criticized, but I have to say this. I think it's a good thing for the Christians in the United States that Jerry Falwell has gone on to the next thing for him. While I'm positive that many Christians were aided by his brand of religion, I'm also confident that many non-Christians were driven away from the faith because of his divisive, insipid, and frequently ungraceful commentary.
There was something about his career of mixing politics and religion that created a noxious aphrodisiac of power and contributed to an overall loss of gentility in public discourse in our country. Forget his offensive conservatism. Forget his embarrassing abuse of the Scriptures I consider sacred. Forget the whole idea that his spiritual heritage as a Baptist includes countless men and women who have died for the separation of church and state that he tried to destroy. Forget the hatred he promoted toward gays and lesbians. The bottom line is that his public persona had a swagger of arrogance completely contrary to the humility that I find in Jesus. He fanned flames of hate-mongering and tacitly approved the abuse of humans in the name of Christianity.
I know what many of his supporters will say - look at all the good he did. But good at what cost? Isn't there a point in time at which we have to ask if the hatred he incited was an offense to the Gospel? Isn't there a sense in which his attempts at a prophetic word were an abuse of his ordination?
I never met Dr. Falwell personally, but I did live in his shadow. My first pastorate was in Skipwith, Virginia. It's about 90 miles or so from Lynchburg. The name of my church was Liberty Baptist Church, and folk often confused my church for his. I guess they thought that since he was president of the university that his church would be Liberty Baptist.
About three times a year I would receive mail addressed to my church intended for Thomas Road Baptist Church. The letters always contained money, usually a pretty good sum of it. One of the checks I remember in particular was for $1,000.00 and the "For" line on the check said something like this: "Political action fund against gays."
I wanted to shred it up, but I did the right thing. I properly forwarded it on to the Thomas Road Baptist Church, assuming they would know which designated church fund for which that was intended.
I haven't thought about that misdirected mail in years. But today I am thinking about it and wishing the people of this world - especially the Christians in our world - were a lot less hate-filled. I don't know your religious views on the gay question, and I'm not sure I'd want to know, anyway. But I do know that what Anne Lamott once wrote is true:
You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out he hates all the same people you do.
I don’t know the private Jerry Falwell, I’m sure like all leaders of mass movements he would be charming and disarming in an intimate conversation. But I do know the public Fallwell, and he was not a gentleman. He did not display the grace of God very well.