Jerry Falwell's Hit Parade
The right's holy fool.
God, they say, is love, but the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died May 15, hit the jackpot trafficking in small-minded condemnation. The controversies Falwell generated followed a predictable loop. 1) Falwell would say something hateful or clownish about some person or group associated with liberalism. 2) A public outcry would ensue. 3) Falwell would apologize and retract the offending comment. 4) Falwell would repeat the comment, slightly rephrased.
For 20 years, evangelicals have chided the mainstream media for treating Falwell's ghastly pronouncements as news; Falwell, they often confide in private, ceased being a significant figure well before he left his signature political organization, the Moral Majority, in 1987. If so, someone forgot to tell Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., who as a presidential candidate in 2000 condemned Falwell's intolerance ("The political tactics of division and slander are not our values, they are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country") but last year, as a presidential candidate positioning for 2008, made peace with Falwell and gave a commencement address ("We have nothing to fear from each other") to the 2006 graduating class at Falwell's Liberty University. On news of Falwell's death, McCain said in a statement, "Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country."
Nonsense. He was a bigot, a reactionary, a liar, and a fool. Herewith, a Falwell sampler.
On Sept. 11:"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.' "
On AIDS: "AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals."
On homosexuality: "I believe that all of us are born heterosexual, physically created with a plumbing that's heterosexual, and created with the instincts and desires that are basically, fundamentally, heterosexual. But I believe that we have the ability to experiment in every direction. Experimentation can lead to habitual practice, and then to a lifestyle. But I don't believe anyone begins a homosexual."
On Martin Luther King Jr.: "I must personally say that I do question the sincerity and nonviolent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations."
On Martin Luther King Jr., four decades later: "You know, I supported Martin Luther King Jr., who did practice civil disobedience."
On public education: "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again, and Christians will be running them."
On the separation of church and state: "There is no separation of church and state."
On feminists: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals. ... These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men; that's their problem."
On global warming: "I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. We'll be in global cooling by then, if the Lord hasn't returned. I don't believe a moment of it. The whole thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability."
On Bishop Desmond Tutu: "I think he's a phony, period, as far as representing the black people of South Africa."
On Islam: "I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war."
On Jews: "In my opinion, the Antichrist will be a counterfeit of the true Christ, which means that he will be male and Jewish, since Jesus was male and Jewish."
Rest in peace, you blowhard.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Jerry Falwell on Slate's home page by Alex Wong/Getty Images.