Why the Left Hated Jerry Falwell So Much

Jerry Falwell's funeral is today, and now that he is being laid to rest, it is appropriate to dissect the vicious treatment he has received at the hands of his enemies since his unexpected demise. We might have guessed that Jerry Falwell's death would be the occasion for a nice little corpse-kicking spree, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant to witness.

The San Francisco gays held an "anti-memorial" in light of Falwell's adamant opposition to gay rights (though Falwell was on record in his support for basic civil rights for gays). The posts at Democratic Underground and Kos were about what you'd expect - comparisons to Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Hussein (though not Fidel Castro, who actually ordered experiments performed on male homosexuals), mixed with various obscene and coarse speculations best left ignored.

The legacy media's take was identical in content if expressed on a slightly higher plane. Gerard Baker, U.S. correspondent for the Times of London, dismissed Falwell as a "religious bigot": "Though I call myself Christian, his brand of ‘I'm saved, you're not' fundamentalism was not exactly my cup of tea."

At the Chicago Sun-Times, the religious editor wrote "Ding-dong, the witch is dead," before going on to admit that Falwell had probably squeaked through the pearly gates all the same, despite his violations of her own lofty standards. Anyone who wonders what Jesus Christ meant by the phrase "whited sepulcher" need look no further.

Sometimes liberals don't treat themselves to such public hatefests. Their response when an enemy dies is often in the more-sorrow-than-anger vein, with much in the way of sighs, head-shakings, subtle digs, and carefully-wrought misrepresentations of the deceased's positions. But Falwell was a hate figure of the first order, on a level with Richard Nixon or George W. Bush. The held him to be a Bible thumper, bookburner, Nazi in a pricey suit, the Elmer Gantry of the postmodern epoch -- all in all, the prototype of the left's image of a Southern preacher. Under the circumstances, the mask of judicious tolerance could be tossed aside just this once.

But explaining the depth and viciousness of that hatred - that's something else again. As in many such cases (W being another), there's a serious disconnect between the reality and the reactions evoked. Yes, Falwell had flaws, hard though that may be to accept in a society with so many flawless individuals striding around. There was that remark after the 9/11 attack, which he repented quickly enough. His involvement in the Bakker scandal, however well intended, looked horrible and accomplished nothing. There was the problem with the smirk, which appears never to have gotten adequate attention.

But none of that seems like enough. Nor does the incident mentioned in all the media commentaries involving the Teletubbies, which, apart from being utterly bogus (Falwell had nothing to do with the article at the center of the uproar), also lacks requisite heft. Obnoxious as outing a cartoon puppet may be, it falls a little short of placing the perpetrator on quite the same level as history's great criminals.

But of course, none of that is what it's really about. Falwell was despised and loathed for a very simple reason: he defied the leftist consensus, and he won. He made them back down. He frightened them terribly, by confronting them with clear evidence that the country was not what they insisted it was, and that their utopian dreams would never come to pass. That was his crime, one for which he could never be forgiven.

It was in the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter, having rescued the economy, tamed communism, chastised the Sandinistas, and humiliated the mullahs, looked out over the country in search of more work for his restless farmer's hands. What he found sore displeased him. For it seemed that down South, his very own people, the blood of his blood, worshiping the God of his fathers, had opened private schools for the education of their young ones. And Jimmy was made wroth by what he beheld, because their purpose was racist; those schools had been founded for the sole purpose of keeping blacks out. It could be naught else. You couldn't fool Jimmy. He knew what those crackers were like.

So the future Nobel laureate ordered that the tax breaks customarily allowed religious schools be denied in this case, and that the IRS investigate with an eye to possible further action.

It happened that Falwell was associated with several such schools though his Lynchburg church. While it may have been true that similar schools had been founded to circumvent integration, most - including Falwell's - were established for the same reason as the Catholic parochial schools: to isolate and protect Christian children from the effects of a debased and worthless public school system.

Falwell was instrumental in starting the write-in campaign in which several million Southern Protestants wrote the Carter White House complaining about the harassment directed at their schools. Within weeks, the IRS was called off, the tax privileges restored.

That success would have been enough for many. But Falwell saw it only as a skirmish. The despised secular world may have been chased off, but it would be back. The proud seculars (and let's not linger over Jimmy Carter's "ministry" - the idea of Carter, one of the white-hot haters of this era, as a man of the cloth has always been on the same level as Bill Clinton being a Rhodes Scholar) would never admit defeat. They might have backed off this time, but there would be a next time, and a time after that.

Falwell understood this clearly, and knew that a response was required. He didn't want the responsibility. He was at the time preparing to enter into something called the "deeper spiritual life", a Baptist equivalent of the Catholic "life of contemplation", in which the individual retreats from the world seeking a closer connection to the divine. But the times demanded otherwise. And so when called on to head a new political action group, he acquiesced.

That's how Moral Majority was born. Not as an American Taliban, not as a vigilance committee targeting gays, abortionists, and feminists, not as a reactionary political cult, but as an organization to protect a despised religious minority from an overreaching government. Southern sectarian Protestants had previously avoided political involvement. Politics acted as an occasion of sin, to be avoided the same as sin itself. While this may have been an admirable stance - a limited version of the Amish and Mennonite philosophy - it left the Evangelicals wide open as American society became more politicized.

And eventually, an American president, supposedly a co-religionist, attempted to suppress conservative Christianity in violation of the Bill of Rights and every other document and principle this country is based on. And not a single voice was raised in protest. (In fact, to my knowledge, the IRS campaign wasn't even covered by the papers and broadcast networks of the time. Thank God for the internet we enjoy today.)

It was Jerry Falwell who gave those people a voice, who created the religious right out of whole cloth, and made it into a force that moves the country to this day. That was his achievement, and that is why he's so hated, and why the tolerant, life-affirming left has cheered so loudly at his demise. Because nothing was the same after the Moral Majority appeared.

Before the Moral Majority, liberalism went where it willed and did what it pleased. You took up against liberalism at your peril, and few carried it off successfully or for very long. It was the religious right that revealed the country's bedrock, the fact that its basic nature remained unchanged despite forty-odd years of effort to the contrary. The Evangelicals were the reef against which the left broke itself. It's impossible to imagine the conservative counter reformation that began with Ronald Reagan, one of the crucial events of our time, ever occurring if the religious right had not led the way.

That's how the history will read, after all the missteps and gaucheries are forgotten, all the lies and disinformation cleared away. That's how Jerry Falwell will at last be seen.

One final point: the single nonpolitical public figure with a kind word for Falwell was his old enemy, Larry Flynt. Though laced with plenty in the way of cynicism, Flynt's statement  is a clear expression of respect. So it happens that the only one to remember the decencies when the preacher dies is the smut merchant. There's something almost Biblical about that, something that calls to mind the one who walked with publicans, and sinners, and women taken in adultery.

I'm certain that Falwell would have seen that right away, and I don't think he'd have minded at all.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.
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