The death of Jerry Falwell brings an end to one of the most fascinating lives of the 20th century. In so many ways, Falwell became one of the most recognizable faces for conservative Christianity in America.
"His ministry must be seen from the perspective of being a pastor," said Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page. "Dr. Falwell never aspired to be anything other than a pastor who spoke prophetically the Word of God. Not everyone agreed with his stances, but all should admire his passion and commitment to the cause of Christ to the end. He desperately wanted our culture to understand God and to understand where obedience and disobedience lead."
Though his ministry grew to have major impact both nationally and internationally, in essence he never left his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. It was there he found Christ in 1952, as a sophomore at Lynchburg College. It was there he started the Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1956-which has since grown to 24,000. And it was there he died May 15, at the age of 73.
A half-hour daily radio broadcast, The Old-Time Gospel Hour, launched when Falwell's church was only a week old, grew into a television show that went national in 1971 and soon reached an audience estimated in the millions. During the past 50 years, more than 3 million people have contacted Falwell's ministry saying they came to know Christ by listening to or viewing his preaching, according to ministry statistics.
Most Americans, however, knew of Falwell because of his involvement in conservative politics. In June, 1979, he helped organize the Moral Majority, an organization of pro-family Christians that helped propel Ronald Reagan into the White House. Falwell's involvement in politics-which, just eight years earlier, he said pastors should avoid-was spurred by the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
But what the national media often missed was his great passion for Liberty University. Founded in 1971, the school was first known as Lynchburg Baptist College. But Jerry Falwell did not have Lynchburg on his mind so much as a generation of young people. The school-which he often called "the miracle on Liberty Mountain," was driven by Falwell's expansive vision.
Even as the Moral Majority became less prominent in national affairs (and eventually was disbanded as a formal organization), this was, to a considerable extent, an affirmation of its very success. Dr. Falwell leaves a legacy of motivating Christians for activism and concern-especially on issues such as abortion and the family.
His legacy will be debated for decades to come. Political scientists, theologians, church leaders, and historians will all have their say. But far more than his achievements in the public arena, Albert Mohler would look to his family.
"Jerry Falwell leaves a wife he dearly loved, Macel, and three children who were the pride of his life. The best testimony to Jerry Falwell the man is that his children love him and his two sons stand ready to continue what their father began. For a man who spent so much time in the public eye, this is truly a powerful legacy.
"I am confident that if Jerry Falwell could speak now of what he most loved about his ministry, I believe he would speak of all the achievements listed above. But, more than these, he would be thankful for those who had come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through his preaching and witness-and through the multiplied witness of those trained and educated at Liberty University."
Compiled from Baptist Press articles by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and Michael Foust,
plus the Religion News Service article of the week for May 17, 2007.