Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Read Cal Thomas on Jerry Falwell's Legacy

The rest of this post will make little sense unless you check out Cal Thomas' On Faith post first. It's a worthy read.

When the Moral Majority organized in 1979, I was just old enough to realize that Jimmy Carter was a horrible president—not quite savvy enough to have any awareness of the ramifications of Jerry Falwell's new movement. But from what I can tell from reading various accounts over the years and several today, Falwell's great genius was his ability to convince isolated fundamentalists to engage politically.

For his tactics of cobelligerence with non-separatist evangelicals, Falwell was excoriated by separatist fundamentalists. But Falwell still won. Almost 30 years later, a great irony is the fact that some separatist fundamentalists are politically engaged as well, often as cobelligerents with the heirs of Falwell's coalition of evangelicals and Roman Catholics.

The other irony is that though Falwell recognized the unhealthy disengagement from the world on the part of the separatist fundamentalists, he re-engaged Christians in for what I believe were the wrong objectives. No matter whether evangelicals have found or will at some point find political success (even what has arguably been accomplished is pretty sparse at best for 30 years of work), such success will be minimal and brief apart from a transformation of American culture that results from the work of the gospel.

History will judge, but on this day, as we remember one man's sincere and influential labor and legacy, I think we'd be foolish not to consider what legacy we want to leave for those who come behind us. Cal Thomas instructs us well. Let's labor for the world that employs "tactics and tools that [can] change lives."

P.S. If you want some encouragement, read some of the other On Faith posts and comments that spew venom about Falwell. Why is this encouragement? Well, it seems like these folks who despise all moral absolutes finally found a man they're convinced represented absolute moral evil. I'm not sure whether that's a silver lining, or just more sad irony.


Michael C. said...

It was with sadness that I heard the news of Falwell's death today. For some time I've found him an interesting person. He was a talented motivator and organizer and was by all accounts a gifted people person. For all the right-wing shenanigans he was involved with he also had better moments, such as when Ted Kennedy visited Liberty in response to a joking invitation in the Washington Post from Cal Thomas.

I'm sympathetic to Falwell because I think that given his talents and opportunities, I might have taken the same path. Having the luxury of viewing the work of the religious right at a distance, I've become convinced that the concept is tragically flawed. Falwell meant well, but I disagree with Mohler's judgment that Falwell's Moral Majority was "successful beyond all expectations."

Most of the religious right's successes have been GOP victories that ended up having little impact on the issues Christians were most concerned with. The Moral Majority failed to make significant headway against abortion, pornography, homosexual behavior, and drug use--its chosen issues. Virtually any legislative progress the religious right made in the 80s was undone when Bill Clinton came into office.

The lesson of the Moral Majority should be that the church is selling out its true power when it seeks to change the nation by political rather than spiritual means.

Even so, I hope that by giving prominence to moral issues Falwell and others have at least succeeded in reminding unbelievers that they fall short of God's standard and need a Savior( the idea of the law as a schoolmaster).

PinkAngel said...

You understood that Jimmy Carter was a horrible president when you were FIVE?

But, then again, if you were reading encyclopedias before you entered kindergarten, you probably did understand.

Coach C said...

I listened to and understood talk radio when I was 4... There wasn't much around except for Open Line on WVCY and NPR. The first time I hear Rush, I went running upstairs to tell my parents that there was a conservative on the radio - in 1988. I was 14.

John Brown said...

I am indeed conflicted. In my life I have had three heroes. John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and yesterday, the third went to heaven. I am obviously a Reagan Republican.

On one hand, I appreciate Jery's involvement in politics because I think Christians have the duty to vote and be responsible citizens. Yet, on the other hand I think it's very important that the unsaved does not confuse God with the GOP, or any partisan party.

But then Jerry was such a wonderful pastor, father, and people person. He cared so much for those kids at LU. And they loved him back. He was a prankster who was never "too big" or "too good" to hang with them. As a pastor of TRBC, before he got sick in 2005, he had only missed 11 Sunday morning services in 49 years! He loved doing what he did. And yet, somehow, he put his family above all of it.

Go rest high on that mountain Jerry......physically. But we know where you are today!

Anonymous said...

Josh, we were 14 when we met. The image of you racing to tell your parents that is indeed a true reflection of your character back then...you were a character...

Jeff said...

Thomas's thoughts on WTOP Radio this morning were also quite good. His book Blinded By Might, is a must read for anyone thinking through issues of Christian political involvement.

Ben said...

Aw Jeff, you're killing me, man. Now I'm going to have to subscribe to another podcast.

Seriously, thanks for the link.

Coach C said...

G-knee, I know you thought I was a geek, but what other 14 year old could spell out the nuances of Iran-Contra or followed the Bork hearings with passion? I even called a talk show when I was 5 or 6. Here is a test to see how much of a geek or how naive you are - quickly, off the top of your head, name as many of the GOP presidential candidates as you can. I was only 6 for 10.

Ben, sorry to carry on a personal repartee on your serious blog...

Falwell was one of those people who would have been fascinating no matter where he was on the political spectrum. It will be interesting to see if anyone attempts to fill the space that he left behind in American politics. No one has filled Reagan's.