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  • « Bye-bye to Jerry Falwell | Main | Let's unite all our families »

    May 17, 2007

    Hate was not a Falwell value

    Posted by: Chris

    Falwell The death of televangelist Jerry Falwell has brought the expected chorus of praise from the right and cries of "hate-monger" from the left. I am no fan of Falwell, but I've always thought that liberal critics did themselves and their cause no good by portraying Falwell as some sort of hateful villain.

    Jerry Falwell no doubt became intoxicated with the notoriety that came from always pushing the rhetorical envelope to the extreme, and he rationalized away the damage he did by arguing it was necessary to bring attention to his cause (and him).  Ultimately, it was his own undoing, as his pronouncements on 9/11 and Tinky Winky radically diminished his mainstream political influence.

    But a hater? No.  Those of us who have real, firsthand experience with fundamentalist Christians, who have known them as our friends and as our family members, know that the vast majority of them are not motivated by hate.  We may think of them as wrong-headed, or as willfully ignorant of our lives and the lives of others they condemn, but the vast majority are not animated by some irrational animus toward gays and pregnant women and so on.  The same, I believe, can be said of Jerry Falwell.

    My best guess, having watched Falwell for years, is that like so many other fundamentalist Christians, he overreacted with fear and worry to all sorts of societal change — some legitimately bad, some good and some neutral — by retreating to his Bible for solace and guidance. 

    The problem is that looking to an ancient manuscript to make sense of modern social ills makes about as much sense as looking to a text of similar vintage for scientific or medical understanding.  Not only has our knowledge of physics, biology and the human body advanced dramatically since biblical times; so has our understanding of human beings, including their emotional and psychological makeup.

    In its broad strokes, the Bible offers a system of values that has generally served humankind well for centuries, but when you drill down to the particulars, it is ultimately limited by the scope of knowledge and understanding at the time it was written.

    Even still, Falwell and his fundamentalist followers don't get off quite that easily.  The evidence is all around us — and them — that there is enormous capacity for error in interpreting and using the Bible to guide the resolution of modern social conflicts. Just in this country's short history, the fundamentalist ministers who are Falwell's ideological predecessors have been on the wrong side of almost every "culture war" we've fought, whether over slavery, Jim Crow, Prohibition or women's rights.

    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. But not of hate.

    The distinction is one with a difference.  When Falwell's critics call him and his followers hate-mongers, there are millions who are either fundamentalist Christians themselves or who know fundamentalist Christians and know the charge to be false.  It is another example of what we like to say about ourselves — that once fair-minded people know us as gay people and come to know our relationships, they can see for themselves that the caricatures of the right are unfair and inaccurate.  Well, the same goes for the cries of hate that come from the left.

    We would do far better to engage the rhetoric of fundamentalist Christians in a more respectful way.  We should answer their opposition to our civil rights by pointing out that they are attempting to legislate their own theological views, in the same way (if not based on the same theology) as the fundamentalist Muslims we call our enemy today.

    It's difficult at times not to stoop to their rhetoric; to not caricature them the way they have caricatured us. I remember being among the first in my group of friends back in the early '90s to slap a bumper sticker on my car that said, "Hate Is Not A Family Value."  Well, hate was not a Falwell value, either. So let's not hate him back.



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    1. gleeindc on May 18, 2007 7:55:52 AM:

      I have a problem dealing with people who state that "Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions." just one of the shorter quotes attributed to Mr. Falwell. C. Hitchens put it well when he said, "They don't want freedom of religion, they want freedom for their religion, exclusively. While Falwell may be gone, his people and the dangers they pose to our democracy and our freedoms and our religions." Did Falwell hate? Never really met the man to judge. Did he fan hatred? Yes.

    1. Rob Power on May 18, 2007 12:25:17 PM:

      If you think Falwell wasn't about hate, you should read the autobiography of one of his students, Marc Adams, entitled "The Preacher's Son." It's a powerful story, and Marc is doing a valuable service through his Heartstrong.org for all those unfortunate LGBT teens trapped in Christian schools.


    1. Sean on May 18, 2007 3:48:29 PM:

      When will a gay person stand up and say who we are? Gay people are all too willing to let others define us. They are all too willing to let others question our humanity.

      Let me clue everyone in on something; you don't have to say you hate someone to hate someone.

      Osama Bin Laden never said explicitly that he hated the United States but no reasonable person would question whether he did.

      The people that HATE gay people have our number. They know most gay people will back down. They know they can say whatever they want because most would support them over us no matter what. And I hope that there will never by a day where parents can test if their child is gay or not because then you'll have people exercising their physical right to hate by aborting the child. Apparently words are not enough for gay people to see hate, they have to feel it.

    1. Tim on May 18, 2007 5:06:40 PM:

      You have to be joking on this one Chris. You don't think the person who said "AIDS is God's punishment to gay people" is full of hate? Give me a friggin break.

    1. Citizen Crain on May 18, 2007 5:32:49 PM:

      Sean, are you really concerned that gay people haven't stood up to Falwell? Gays have given at least as good as they've gotten from him, and in the process sunk to his rhetorical level and taken his bait. I don't see the need to match his willful ignorance with a fresh batch of our own.

      Tim, that's exactly what I think. Billy Graham (and many others) said and thought the same thing and I'm sure honestly believed it. Don't confuse ignorance with hatred, even when it's willful.

      Most importantly, let's not confuse how we felt upon hearing Falwell's rhetoric with how he felt saying it.

    1. RHH on May 18, 2007 6:01:01 PM:

      I have to say I appreciate the thoughtfulness in this commentary. I only wish the people in many other blogs put as much thought into their posts before they declared that "Falwell is in hell with Hitler and Reagan." Those quotes are going to passed around as proof that Falwell's opponents were the true haters, and I just hope the therapeutic value of making those posts was worth the trouble they'll cause eventually.

    1. Sean on May 18, 2007 9:52:52 PM:

      Chris, Falwell knew what he was saying. It wasn't ignorance. It was hate, plain and simple.

      There is a way to address the haters without saying they are haters but when you deny they are haters then I'll have to say it.

      Gay people have downplayed their lives and the discrimination they face for far too long. Most people don't even believe gay people face discrimination and some think we have more rights. That's all because some downplay our situation in order to please straight people and letting them define us.

    1. KJ on May 19, 2007 11:13:24 AM:

      I can only assume that those who confuse ignorance, fear, and assurance in literal understanding of scripture with hate have had little experience living within the conservative Christian world.

      I grew up in a faith setting that agreed with Falwell regarding the topic of homosexuality. The anti-homosexual "agenda" was driven by the three factors I've listed above, not hate. When I came out and received the expected reaction, I had to remember that part of the reaction was driven by the church members not wanting me to go to hell. That may be horribly misinformed and have terrible consequences, but it's not hate.

      But, even if it were hate, to hate back does nothing to change hearts and minds. To hate back does nothing to educate and reduce fear. To the contrary, I think it makes those things only worse.

    1. John on May 19, 2007 3:21:20 PM:

      None of us can every know what was really going on in Falwell's head (or anybody else's) but there is a point where that doesn't matter. An abusive husband may think he loves his wife as he beats her almost to death, but so what?

      The effect of Falwell's words and actions was to stir up hatred and violence against gay people. The effect of his ideas was to treat gay people as subhuman and dangerous. Falwell was not a stupid man, and if he was deluded enough to ignore the connections between the things he said and their effects in the world, and to convince himself that as he told a traumatized nation that the horror they just witnessed could be blamed on gay people that he wasn't expressing hate, that's interesting, but not terribly important to anyone but Falwell.

      You don't have to know you're hating to be doing it.

    1. Citizen Crain on May 19, 2007 8:32:11 PM:

      I appreciate the way Falwell's rhetoric feels to us, and his failure to take responsibility for the effects of his words, but "hate" is a big word to throw around and in Falwell's case the accusation just doesn't fit, in my view.

      It takes no great act of courage to call Falwell a hate-monger and label his rhetoric "hate speech," and it accomplishes little. At best, it uses the social pressure of political correctness in an effort to shame those with anti-gay beliefs into the party line.

      It may work with some over time, but I would much rather the more direct and (I believe) shorter route.

    1. Sreekishen Nair on Jun 19, 2007 12:45:34 PM:

      I don't know if Chris Crain, or anyone else out there, has ever seen Jerry Falwell's infomercial entitled "On Wings of Eagles". It showcases Falwell's dangerously twisted view of the devastation in the Middle East, and his "Final Solution" to it (throughout the program, he repeats that expression more than enough times as to remind one of another famous maniac who used similar rhetoric).

      To say the least, the program celebrates ethnic conflict, and openly endorses ethnic-cleansing. I ask any concerned reader (let alone Mr. Crain himself) to actually watch this commercial, for it can explain more about Falwell than I, Crain or anyone else could, since its pure Falwell in his own militant, homicidal words.

      It's hard to tell which ethnic group Falwell is being more bigoted towards in this commercial, Israelis or Palestinians. Jewish people are portrayed in an insulting, paternalistic and pathetic manner. Palestinians are flat-out demonized, and are explicitly referred to as Satan's children: "a dark menace" needing to be "exterminated".

      The commercial calls on Western viewers to sponsor relocating Jewish people from former Soviet Bloc countries onto the West Bank (effectively making these impoverished people sitting ducks in a war that has no foreseeable end in sight), the aim being to "outbreed the children of Darkness". It may sound innocent enough, but if you actually see the program, you would be hard pressed to try and absolve Jerry Falwell from any castigation of severe psychopathology, let alone hate-mongering.

      Falwell makes it clear that he considers the ethno-political conflict to be an essential feature of the Second Coming. He also makes it clear that he has had every intention of exacerbating that crisis in order to find scriptural validation.

      To call Falwell a Hatemonger is an understatement. The man has openly supported a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The man wasn't simply hateful, he was genocidal.

      If you associate an ethnic group with some unholy supernatural force, and on the basis of that notion call for said group to be wiped out, I think that the term "hatemonger" might prove far too delicate. Falwell trivializes the tragedy in the Middle East, and plays with its most vulnerable victims as if they were sock-puppets.

      But I would rather let Falwell speak for himself on this one. All you have to do is sit through the hour+ long commercial. If Crain has really observed Falwell's career as carefully as he claims to have, then he must have seen this infomercial.
      However, if one see's this infomercial and does not come to the conclusion that the man was not simply hateful, but dangerous, then I would shudder to see what really ought to merit such a category.

      To call Jerry Falwell hateful, despite his popularity throughout heartland America, is not an impassioned judgement, its simply an observation.

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