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Falwell remembered as political strategist and arch critic of gays


It is said that by nature Jerry Falwell, the US evangelical Christian leader who died this week, was a compassionate pastor but in his preaching an often ferocious critic of feminists and gays. Now, in the days after his death, Falwell is also being remembered as a brilliant political strategist and organizer.

"He was probably the major architect of the coalition between conservative Christians and the Republican Party, an alliance that has lasted for twenty-five years," said Professor Mary Cayton, a specialist in religion and US politics at Miami University in Ohio.

"Without the movement he inspired and, for many, personified, the course of American politics from Ronald Reagan to the present might have been very different," Cayton told Ecumenical News International.

Falwell was already well known nationally because of his work as a television evangelist when he founded the Moral Majority movement in 1979. The organization grew to more than six million members and raised hundreds of millions of dollars to promote its political agenda.

Ironically, it was frustration in the late 1970s with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, also an evangelical Christian, that led Falwell to promote the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and, later, George H.W. Bush, the father of the current US president.

However, Falwell’s political strength weakened over time, as he made a number of controversial comments that included rebuking gays and lesbians. "AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals," he said on one occasion.

"I think he could have had a fine legacy if he’d stayed away from bigotry," said Chris Glaser, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, a denomination that focuses on ministering to homosexual Christians. "He really reinforced the idea that the church actually hates gay and lesbians. Not just that it discriminates against them but actually hates them."

Glaser told ENI, "I do think he’s meeting gay and lesbians in the realm where he now dwells – people he never thought he’d see in heaven. It’s just too bad he couldn’t experience them in a more loving way in this world."

The Rev. Mel White, founder of SoulForce, a religious and political organization created to help gays and lesbians, said, "[Falwell] said he loved us but his rhetoric certainly led to greater hatred of gays all over the United States … He was sincere in his views but his sincerity did a lot of damage to gay people."

(c) Ecumenical News International