Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell: An Evangelical?

Yesterday we learned that Jerry Falwell had been found dead. Something I've noticed since then is that in television broadcasts (the one by Charles Gipson, for example) and in written notices, Falwell is referred to as an evangelical. So far, I have seen the word "fundamentalist" only once, and that in a quote from James Dobson, not in a description.

Now, I know, news people have not earned a reputation for knowing what they're talking about when it comes to religion. So I can only wonder. . . . In the minds of news writers, does the term "evangelical" mean something like "any Christian who is right of center"? Do they think that "evangelical" is a synonym for "fundamentalist"? Did they decide that, since being any sort of religious fundamentalist means you're pathetic, they'd take it easy on the deceased by calling him by another name? Or is there something more sinister going on here?

No doubt, in the days ahead, some of Falwell's worst moments will be recalled. For example, I quote from an already-published story:

"In 1999, he told an evangelical conference (emphasis mine, FB) that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief. A month later, his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, the children's TV character, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children. "

If Falwell is identified as an "evangelical," then the news media will have done much to erase the real differences between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The latter group, today's true "evangelicals," emerged when they rejected the radical separatism, anti-intellectual tendencies, and weak social concern of fundamentalism.

To refer to Jerry Falwell as an evangelical is a category mistake, at best. At worst, it is an attempt to link Falwell and his follies in the spotlight, with every political candidate known as any sort of conservative Christian.


John Alan said...

I think most people in the media -- and most people in "blue states" for that matter -- simply do not know that there's a difference between evangelical and fundamentalist.

I have even seen news articles in the L.A. Times using the terms interchangeably.

Royce Ogle said...

In defense of the dead, I must set the record straight on one issue about the deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell.

"Beginning in early 1998, the news was bristling with stories about a children's cartoon PBS was importing from Britain that featured a gay cartoon character, Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubbie with a male voice and a red handbag.

People magazine gleefully reported that Teletubbies was "aimed at Telebabies as young as 1 year. But teenage club kids love the products' kitsch value, and gay men have made the purse-toting Tinky Winky a camp icon."

In the Nexis archives for 1998 alone, there are dozens and dozens of mentions of Tinky Winky being gay — in periodicals such as Newsweek, The Toronto Star, The Washington Post (twice!), The New York Times and Time magazine (also twice).

In its Jan. 8, 1999, issue, USA Today accused The Washington Post of "outing" Tinky Winky, with a "recent Washington Post In/Out list putting T.W. opposite Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, essentially 'outing' the kids' show character."

Michael Musto of The Village Voice boasted that Tinky Winky was "out and proud," noting that it was "a great message to kids — not only that it's OK to be gay, but the importance of being well accessorized."

All this appeared before Falwell made his first mention of Tinky Winky."

The press has been about as fair to Falwell as it has been to any other right wing conservative.

The main stream press throws labels around like "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" knowing no more about their meaning than church of Christ people do when they call each other "liberal" and "conservative".

If I understand the terms Falwell began as an unashamed Fundamentalist, only associating with Independent Baptists in ministry and thought. In his later years he indeed became an evangelical and for that was black balled and slandered by his former friends (Independent Baptists) like church of Christ preachers Lucado and Shelly have been by many in our brotherhood.

Falwell led his mega church to join the Southern Baptist Convention (# 1 enemy of both independent Baptists and most coC preachers) a few years ago. The fact that Franklin Graham will speak at Falwell's funeral at Falwell's request, that Max Lucado has been a speaker at Liberty University and good men of other denominations as well, shouts evangelical.

Falwell, in the last two decades or so was no more a radical fundie than is Dr. James Dobson.

Jerry Falwell made mistakes and misstaments, but for over 50 years there is few other men who has been as consistant in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.

I ask of his critics, which other 5 religeous leaders has made a more positive impact on America in the last half century?

Thanks for allowing me to state my views of Jerry Falwell, "A champion for Christ".


Added you to my blog roll, brother. Hope that's okay.

Danny said...

Yes, the media has muddled the lines. I think they are on a mission to do so and to paint any conservative religious person in the worst possible light.

I admired Falwell. In an age when few stand up, he did. Sure he made some blunders, but who doesn't. To me it was apparent- unlike some Christian leaders- that he was sincere and authentic.

Frank Bellizzi said...

The one memory of Falwell that sticks out in my mind is when he was interviewed on TV at the same time as John Shelby Spong. I don't remember what the hot topic was that day. I just remember that when those two went back and forth, Falwell handled it about as well as anyone could. He was quick. He had a great voice. And he made Spong look like an amateur.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks, Trey. Glad to be on your list.