Cover Story

Falwell's mountains

"Falwell's mountains" Continued...

Issue: "Jerry Falwell," May 26, 2007

He is survived by his wife, Macel; his daughter, Jeannie Savas, a surgeon in Richmond; and two sons who have already become his successors. Jerry Falwell Jr., a lawyer, held the office of Junior Chancellor of Liberty University and immediately became Chancellor upon his dad's death. Jonathan Falwell automatically became pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church upon his father's death.

They have mountains to climb. Many in this city along the James River loved Falwell as a minister and enjoyed his zest for living. When he walked into Liberty's arena for a basketball game, they greeted him with cries of "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" He would pose for photos with body-painted students and add to the crowd noise. When an official once asked his help in calming fans within the arena that became known as "the Furnace," Falwell replied, "It's taken me years to get them to act like this!"

Three years ago he said, "One day in a wheelchair, I plan to be at the 50 yard-line in South Bend when we whip Notre Dame. . . . I may be in a coffin, but that's where we're headed."

In their own words: Supporters and detractors remember Jerry Falwell

"Over the years we became friends; sometimes we had polar opposite points of view. . . . He's left his footprints in the sands of time." -Jesse Jackson

"Next to my own father, he had more influence on my life than any other person. He was a man of deep compassion and prayer and he will be greatly missed."
-Ed Dobson, Falwell assistant who helped found the Moral Majority and co-authored the Moral Majority critique, Blinded by Might

"I have lost a great friend. America has lost a great patriot."
-Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president

"It breaks my heart to think that Jerry died without ever discovering the truth about God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. I sincerely hope that one day his school and his church will have a change of heart."
-Mel White, former Falwell staffer, now a homosexual activist and president of Soulforce

"The critics of Jerry Falwell will undoubtedly remind the nation of some of the times when he misspoke or made mistakes. . . . But from my vantage point, he was playing in the major leagues of the public square-the battle for the ideas that shape America."
-Michael Farris, Patrick Henry College chancellor

"Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country."
-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

"Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."
-Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director

"Rev. Falwell will be remembered for his consistent emphasis on the truth that Jesus Christ loves and offers salvation to every individual regardless of their past."
-Alan Chambers, Exodus International president

"For all of his polarizing statements and controversies, Falwell undeniably initiated a season of growing evangelical influence in American politics."
-Mark Tooley, Institute on Religion and Democracy

"I believe Jerry Falwell's primary legacy will not be his political leadership, but the church he pastored for 50 years; the university he founded that has produced two generations of leaders; the millions who heard him preach the Good News; the innovations in ministry he introduced; and the thousands of young pastors, like myself, whom he constantly encouraged, even when we did it differently."
-Rick Warren, pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life

-compiled by Kristin Chapman

A public journey

Jerry Falwell's journey began as a fundamentalist with the Baptist Bible Fellowship and ended as an evangelical with the Southern Baptist Convention:

Aug. 11, 1933: Born in Lynchburg, Va.

1956: Following graduation from Bible College in Springfield, Mo., he starts Thomas Road Baptist Church with 35 people, later launches "The Old Time Gospel Hour" ministry that includes radio and television programs.

1971: Opens Lynchburg Baptist College with 154 students and four teachers, later renames it Liberty University.

1972: The SEC sues the church for "fraud and deceit" for issuance of $6.5 million in uninsured bonds. Falwell won the case in court in 1973, but Liberty filed for bankruptcy and reorganized, losing millions in church investors' money.

1979: Founds the Moral Majority to advance conservatism and Christian values through political action.

1980: His work at rallying Christians to the GOP helps Ronald Reagan to win the presidency-"my finest hour."

1983: U.S. News & World Report ranks him as one of 25 most influential Americans.

1984: Loses libel lawsuit against Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine over an obscene parody, but a jury awards him $200,000 for emotional distress. The Supreme Court overturns the award in 1988.

1989: The Moral Majority disbands; he declares, "mission accomplished!"

1990s: He struggles with financial crises that began in the 1980s-with debt peaking at $73 million-but begin to clear when an anonymous donor in 1997 pays off the indebtedness and tighter financial controls are instituted.

1996: Aligns his church with the Southern Baptist Convention.

2001: Suggests that feminists, homosexuals, and the ACLU are partly to blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks; apologizes following an outpouring of criticism.

2002: Sparks international outrage by his comment on CBS' 60 Minutes that the Prophet Muhammad was a terrorist.

2004: Transfers day-to-day administration of Thomas Road Church and Liberty University to sons Jonathan and Jerry Jr., to focus on his new Faith and Values Coalition, later renamed the Moral Majority Coalition.

2005: Hospitalized twice with serious heart and lung problems.

2006: Celebrates the 50th anniversary of Thomas Road Church, which now claims over 20,000 members and a new 6,000-seat sanctuary.

2007: Dies May 15 in Lynchburg of a heart problem at age 73.

-compiled by Edward E. Plowman

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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