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    May 20, 2007

    Correcting a checkered history

    Posted by: Chris

    Falwell1967_200 In my earlier post on Jerry Falwell's death, I pointed out that "the fundamentalist ministers who are Falwell's ideological predecessors" have been on the wrong side of history on almost every major "culture war" this country has fought, including support for the segregated South of Jim Crow. 

    I've since learned, however, that Falwell didn't need to search the history of his fundamentalist forbears to learn his lesson of humility and biblical fallibility.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

    During the 1950s and '60s, Falwell spoke out against the civil rights movement and the Supreme Court's order to desegregate public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education. In his view, God insisted upon segregating the races, and he claimed to find proof of that in the Bible. (He later repudiated those remarks, apologizing and admitting he had been wrong.)

    Perhaps Falwell and other fundamentalist Christian leaders were momentarily chastened by the colossal error of favoring second-class citizenship for African-Americans, and that's why they retreated from politics in the 1960s and '70s.  But when they re-emerged, led by Falwell's formation of the Moral Majority in 1979, I can only wonder how they were presumed to have any credibility on contemporary social issues.  We Americans are condemned by our short memories.

    And Falwell and his ilk were doomed to repeat their mistakes.  In the mid-1980s, Falwell voiced support for the white apartheid government in South Africa and, of Bishop Desmond Tutu, Falwell said, "I think he's a phony, period, as far as representing the black people of South Africa."  Falwell later acknowledged that calling the Nobel-Prize winning leader a "phony" was "unfortunate."

    Still, Falwell was undaunted by these grand errors.  I wrote earlier, "The fact that Falwell and his fellow travelers suit up for battle against gays with no humility or regard for that very checkered history speaks of arrogance and a lack of compassion."

    Now that I know that this "very checkered history" was actually his own, it only serves as an exclamation on the point that Jerry Falwell's arrogance and self-styled superiority overrode the core Christian tenets of loving his neighbor.  I stand by my previous assertion that "hate" was not among Falwell's values, although those of us on the receiving end of his rhetoric often heard it that way.

    But arrogant, intolerant, cold-hearted, willfully ignorant — Jerry Falwell is guilty as charged.



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    1. Jeremayakovka on May 21, 2007 5:50:32 PM:

      If you insist on a litmus test for what's politically correct, you will always find important individuals and leaders who, in hindsight, have been "on the wrong side" of a crucial issue.

      Kennedys and Bushes conducting business with the Third Reich? Lincoln running for president not to abolish slavery but to preserve the Union?

      Not all opponents of the civil rights movement had evil motivations. For example, some who wanted to preserve the old social order recognized that the Old and New Left alike mined much political capital in manipulating the civil rights movement. Only those who would give leftwing movements a pass - something for which contemporary liberals are infamous - would choose to ignore that.

      Civil rights reform was, at best, a flawed remedy to guaranteeing equal opportunity and equal protection under the law for African-Americans. Similar reforms for gays and lesbians will also be (already are) flawed.

      As for South Africa, although the principle of white domination is odious to most of us, an empirical look at the reality of post-apartheid South Africa suggests that something in Denmark is more rotten than ever:
      (btw, the latter link is from a leftwing site.)

      Digging up Falwell's record on race is interesting, but not convincing. Paying attention to a present reality that's "checkered" is more profitable (if more difficult) than paying attention to an individual's "checkered" past.

    1. Andoni on May 22, 2007 4:07:40 AM:

      I think you can generalize beyond Falwell and ask how can these people have any credibility. The generalization extends to the Catholic Church as well as most Protestant religious fundamentalists. They have been on the wrong side of things from Galileo and Copernicus, through slavery, the equality of women and women's suffrage, through evolution and gay rights.

      With a track record that is nearly 100% incorrect, I do wonder why anyone believes a thing they say.

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