To Falwell’s rescue
The press was unkind to the Rev. Jerry Falwell even as his life ended. After he died last May, the attendance roster for his funeral was scrutinized by the Associated Press, which cast the farewell service in a distinctly judgmental light.
“Some Republican luminaries will attend next week’s funeral in Lynchburg [Va.] for the founder of the Moral Majority, but it’s not a must-attend political event,” noted an AP account, which provided a laundry list of politicians who couldn’t attend - just three days before Mr. Falwell was laid to rest.
Shabby treatment in the news media was often a given with regard to Mr. Falwell.
“I’m not called to be popular. I’m called to be faithful,” he said on numerous occasions when journalists and satirists took aim with garish portraits, painting him as a greedy televangelist or a narrow-minded reactionary.
A powerful defender remains behind, though - someone whose voice has emerged a year later like a soloist in a church choir.
She is intent on setting the record right.
Mrs. Falwell has written “Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy,” which follows her husband’s birth in 1933 - he was the son of an agnostic bootlegger - to his death May 15, 2007, of a heart arrhythmia in his office at Liberty University, the college he had founded almost four decades earlier. CPR from two campus policemen could not bring him back, nor could the urgent voice of his son Jonathan.
“Dad, we still need you. Please. We’re not ready to let you go,” he called out, according to an account in the 254-page book.
“I believe Jerry died much the same as he lived. He walked to the edge of eternity, turned backwards on the balls of his feet, and with his arms splayed out and a smile on his face, he fell into the arms of his loving Father. It was that quick and simple,” Mrs. Falwell writes.
One of her husband’s last acts was to grant a full scholarship at the Liberty campus to a flabbergasted waitress in a local eatery - one of several young people over the years who benefited from Mr. Falwell’s largesse.
Somehow those moments didn’t make it into many news stories, which tended to dwell on hazy half-truths about the man who founded the Moral Majority and articulated the political aspirations of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.
It was the old “Tinky Winky” controversy and Mr. Falwell’s stark but ill-timed comments after the Sept. 11 attacks that tended to color much of the news coverage.
“The thing that amazed me after all these years was how many of the media portrayals had painted a bizarre public persona of Jerry that most of the world believed to be true. Some said he was a hatemonger, stern, humorless, rigid and uncompromising. But all you had to do was look at the laugh lines on his face,” Mrs. Falwell said.
“He was not like what people thought he was, he was actually the opposite. He loved everybody - he would do anything he could do, for anyone. People don’t know that,” she said.