One doesn’t want to take cheap shots at someone who can’t defend himself. Being dead, Jerry Falwell can’t. But his work, unfortunately, will live on, so it’s fair game for criticism.
What exactly was Jerry Falwell’s work? Frightening people about the threat of rampaging sexuality in their communities. Making people feel guilty about the sexual impulses in their hearts. Lying—yes, lying—about what others said, did, felt, desired. A man of the world, conversant with kings and princes, Falwell knew better. But his power was exactly as large as the fear and anger of those he inspired, and so he did whatever he had to excite fear and anger.
He also founded and ran Liberty University, which has already placed over 100 graduates in the upper echelon of the Bush Administration. Many have already been implicated in scandal—almost always in situations involving the withholding or manipulating of information. Liberty University is not a “university” in the sense of a commitment to teaching people how to question and think. It awards degrees, but its mission is to evangelize the world—which is to say, to inspire more fear and anger about sexuality. So says its website.
With Congress recently debating a hate crimes bill, it’s unfortunate that Falwell’s programme was not and will not be identified as the institutionalization of hate. Calling ideas “religious,” saying that ideas are the instruction of “a loving God,” should not blind us to the hate at their core. Falwell instructed people to hate a part of themselves and a part of each other. Tens of millions of people obeyed him, and will continue to do so far beyond his death.
That’s Jerry Falwell’s legacy.