Jerry Falwell, R.I.P.

Jerry Falwell went to be with the Lord yesterday, and I wanted to take a moment to pay my respects. Anyone who has read very much of what I have written knows that he belonged to a very different theological stream than do I. Nevertheless, he believed the Bible, and held to the central tenets of the Christian faith, and he did so with courage. I would be very surprised if Falwell ever recited the Apostles’ Creed in one of his worship services, and I would be equally surprised if he ever denied anything in it — unlike a number of mainliners who recite it, but do not believe it.

Jerry Falwell was a significant figure in American Christianity. After the Scopes trial in the early part of the twentieth century, the fundamentalists (in sizable numbers) retreated to the tall grass, and stayed there for many decades in their Bible-believing enclaves. Falwell was the one of the key men used by God to reverse that movement, and that was a very significant thing. The Religious Right had (and has) a lot of faults, and I have critiqued them often, but at least it is there. And as D.L Moody once said, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

Because of this presence of believing Christians in the public square now, we have the possibility of screwing up there. But at least we are alive, at least we are there, and there is the possibility of correction and the gaining of wisdom. I believe we are in that position, and I believe we have a long way to go.

I have said before that here in America’s culture wars, believing Christians are getting our hineys kicked. But here, unlike Europe, we at least have hineys to kick. To change the analogy, one of the central reasons we have an army on the field now is because a man like Jerry Falwell led a large number of Christians out of backwater fundamentalism and into the public square. In a lot of ways, we don’t know what we are doing there, but where we are is better than where we were. Differences and all, we owe Falwell a large debt of thanks. R.I.P.