February 25, 1995 in City

Falwell Giving Christianity A Black Eye

Clark Morphew Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Jerry Falwell, one of the architects of the Christian political right wing, is in serious trouble, not only with angry liberals but with people inside his own political and religious system.

As you may guess, this is nothing new. Falwell has been a controversial figure throughout his ministry. He preaches a narrow brand of Christianity that now has just two tenets of faith: opposition to abortion and opposition to homosexuals. Strip those two bedrock issues from Falwell’s doctrine and he will have very little left to draw the millions of dollars of support that his television ministry requires.

Last year I warned readers about Falwell’s use of a videotape that trashes President Clinton and brings charges against our chief executive that are both shabby and unsubstantiated. Those tapes are still being sold by Falwell’s organization in Lynchburg, Va., and increasingly they are ruining Falwell’s reputation as a spokesman for the religious right.

The fact that Falwell persists in selling the tapes, in spite of numerous pleas from evangelical leaders to stop, is evidence either that Falwell has lost a grip on what is Christian, fair and decent or that his enterprise, which includes a major college, is in financial trouble.

But the base motivation for Falwell, I maintain, is a blind hatred of anyone involved with the abortion industry and anyone who is a homosexual. From the outset, President Clinton announced that he was pro-choice and that homosexuals would be included in his covenant with America. It doesn’t take much of a leap to conclude that much of the criticism of Bill Clinton comes from those on the radical fringe of anti-homosexual and pro-life America.

Falwell is simply the lightning rod, the figurehead who has the money and the television exposure to bring the message into the public arena. Behind him is a virtual army of people who track every political candidate or appointee, watching for any clue that might indicate a sympathy for homosexuals or an acknowledgment that abortion is both necessary and legal.

Disregarding any strengths that candidates or appointees might have, this army of Christian right fanatics will stop at nothing to vilify any person who promotes a stance that is in support of abortion or homosexuals. Read my mail. It is both ugly and leagues apart from any moral stance that most of us would conceive as Christian.

One of the puzzling things about these attacks on Clinton and his appointees is the conspiracy of silence from mainline Christianity. As if the historic churches were without moral muscle, few preachers, prophets and pundits have had the courage to speak out against this indecent tirade against human beings who are properly motivated and dedicated to the betterment of the United States.

Where are mainline churches in this unholy debate? Do preachers think that Falwell’s campaign does not taint the image of their churches? All of Christianity gets a pie in the face when a man such as Falwell is allowed to say anything on public television and never gets challenged by church people who have equal stature.

Where are the bishops of mainline churches, the seminary professors, the ministerial associations who should be separating mainline Christianity from Falwell’s narrow brand of dogma? Further, every time Falwell lobs another salvo at President Clinton, small-time radio preachers across America pick up the line and repeat it as if it were biblical truth.

Have mainline church leaders run and hidden, hoping this embarrassment will blow over and mainline Christianity will be unscathed? To the public in general and particularly the unchurched, when Jerry Falwell speaks, it is the legitimate voice of Christianity. For scores of people, when a television preacher pontificates, it is the voice of Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Catholics and all the other historic denominations that have driven this nation toward justice since its beginning.

As Falwell’s chronicle of injustice plays itself out, there is more than the reputation of a television preacher at stake. Church leaders have to step into the public arena and separate themselves from this diatribe. The question is: Who decides what the American church believes, Jesus Christ or Jerry Falwell?


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