Outside editorial: Falwell: a preacher's legacy

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer:

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Jerry Falwell, who died Tuesday, built a religious empire based on archconservative values both religious and political, and on tireless fundraising that was aggressive and sophisticated. He was a guest of Republican presidents, and his Liberty University was a forum for those who desired to attract religious conservative voters.

Falwell's father and grandfather, he wrote, were atheists. But the reverend found his calling as a youth and never wavered. He became a powerful preacher - in terms of style and delivery, among the very best, using the natural gift of a powerful baritone to its fullest.

Falwell had the ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, speaking to large and enthusiastic crowds wherever he went. And he truly believed his Liberty University would one day become to conservative Christian students what Notre Dame was to Catholics.

Falwell saw the Christian conservative movement (which was spurred on by his Moral Majority) ride a roller-coaster in terms of public perceptions of it, but there is no question that he helped organize a group under a philosophical umbrella that still wields considerable heft in the Republican Party.

On occasion, Falwell was given to extreme statements for which he later had to apologize: after 9/11, he seemed to blame the tragedy on feminists, gays and liberals.

That tendency made some mainstream ministers a little nervous. The Rev. Billy Graham praised Falwell as a man of God upon hearing of his passing, even if there were times when Graham disagreed with the Lynchburg, Va., preacher. But Graham was right. Falwell was a firm believer in his brand of Christianity, and a strong advocate for those beliefs who made his mark in the religious and political worlds.

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