I had a lot of thoughts on Jerry Falwell's passing. Though I had many, many disagreements with him and I felt he hindered more often than he helped; I still wished he and his family peace and I pray that a merciful Father embraces him now.
The gentleman over at Subversive Christianity had one of the best commentaries on Falwell's passing. Normally, I would simply link to it, but the blog will be erased as of May 20th. So I am going to paste it here. If you read this prior to that date, I suggest you head over there for some of the best spiritual commentary around.
May Light Perpetual shine on him
Jerry Falwell's dead.
It's hard to believe, at least for people of my generation. I was born two years before Falwell founded Thomas Road Baptist Church, and the Moral Majority was a major player on the American scene from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties. Falwell's been a national presence during my entire lifetime. His death is strange, like the sudden disappearance of a familiar landmark. As my wife exclaimed when I told her Falwell had died: "Dead!? Jerry Falwell?! Are you serious?!"
The reactions to Falwell's passing are, I suppose, predictable. He was hated and he was loved. Those who hated him are chortling with delight. Some of their responses are downright mean (Goldbricker and the comment thread on Atheist Revolution), others (No More Hornets) joyous but a bit more precise in their reasons for celebrating, and some (Salon and Feminary) measured and reflective. Those who loved him--for example, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and folks at Liberty University--are erring in the opposite direction by offering encomiums of Falwell that whitewash the genuine harm to others--and, I fear, to God--that some of his actions and pronouncements inflicted. Both kinds of responses are understandable.
But both are also unsettling because in their rush to vilify or sanctify Falwell, they don't bother to try to see him as a human being. This failure or refusal only encourages an "us" versus "them" divide between Falwell groupies and Falwell loathers and, more importantly, between the worldviews they represent.
Falwell's understanding of what it means to be a Christian strikes me as so obviously broken, so obviously defensive and exclusionary and judgmental, that I can only conclude it was embraced by a man who was suffering from wounds that cut deeply into his soul. A man who could condemn and thunder jeremiads as well as Falwell could is either a total charlatan or someone who's in a state of chronic anxiety, fear, anger, self-doubt, and envy--a man who exudes ill-being rather than well-being. I don't think Falwell was a fake. He was a victim whose personal suffering drove him to embrace a spirituality and value system that victimized others. He was a guy whose own wounds drove him into the arms of a god who demanded that he wound others. When I think of him in these terms, I realize that Falwell deserves our compassion more than our hatred or reverence. Nor do I mean this in a holier-than-thou, patronizing way. Because my guess is that many of the demons that haunted Falwell haunt us as well. We may not have the clout that Falwell did, and so our destructiveness may be on a less public scale. But it's real nonetheless. Admitting this doesn't whitewash Falwell's life. But it does begin the process of bridging the "us" and "them" divide.
I so dislike what Falwell did to Christianity in the U.S. But I do so hope that his demons have been at last exorcised. And even though the words stick in my throat--a reflection of the thousands of demons that inhabit my own soul--I say (and pray that I might say it sincerely): May light perpetual shine on my brother, Jerry.