Let it not be said I entered the blogosphere with cliches or timidity. Instead of all the usual remarks in this, my first ever blog, I think I'll dive right into comments on the biggest news in North American Christendom today: Jerry Falwell's battle here on earth is done.

I am interested in the disrespectful way those outside the church have responded to the news, and what is says about his approach to ministry. Consider, for example, Christopher Hitchens (Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair, author of current bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and professional atheist) in an interview with Anderson Cooper, saying among other things:

“I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to…. The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification?”

How very, very sad. Apparently it doesn’t matter to Mr. Hitchens that Dr. Falwell made a very public apology for his words. And of course, if Dr. Falwell hadn’t said that about 9/11, people would still have found something to condemn him for, because he took such strong public positions on political and legal issues.

This is just the latest example of why it’s so vital for evangelical leaders to refocus our attention on the Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel.

I disagreed with some of Dr. Falwell’s public statements (about AIDS and 9/11 as God’s judgment on America, for example) but I know people well who knew Dr. Falwell well, and I trust them when they tell me he was a deeply dedicated Christian, both in his very public life and when he was off-camera. I also think the record shows he did untold good throughout his life in the name of Jesus Christ. I believe he was correct far more often than he was wrong. Yet the Hitchens quote above is how most unbelievers will remember him, and it is how they’ll think about Christianity as a result.

Consider Billy Graham as one example of the alternative. He learned this lesson during the Truman administration, when he spoke before the cameras about a private conversation with the president, and was banned from Truman's White House. He has largely avoided taking high profile political or social positions ever since. Graham certainly cares about politics (having spiritually counseled every president from Truman to George W. Bush) but his ministry has never been about politics. His position, I believe, is that a saved person will eventually vote the right way on the issues, whereas someone who votes properly can still go to hell. So Graham has remained tightly focused on the main thing, preaching the Good News. As one result, I believe there will be few, if any, high profile unbelievers who condemn Billy Graham when he passes, because even those who disagree most strongly with his theology must admit he is a man of love, a legacy that can only add to Jesus’ reputation.

It must be said that not all unbelievers have responded as Mr. Hitchens did. Larry Flynt, the founder and head of one of the world’s largest pornography empires, spoke in surprisingly respectful tones. But while Mr. Flynt’s words prove that Dr. Falwell was a loving man even toward his self-professed enemies, I’m afraid Larry Flynt is in the very small minority of unbelievers. (If you doubt this, see this tragic blog entry, and be sure to read some of the comments.)

Christians who believe our Lord wants evangelical leaders to be pastor-politicians should ponder Dr. Falwell’s legacy outside the church very carefully, especially in light of the old adage that one can win the battle and lose the war.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 10:35 AM  


Stan Potocki said... May 16, 2007 at 2:12 PM  

Looking more to good stuff like this.

Dayle James Arceneaux said... May 16, 2007 at 4:52 PM  

I just added your blog to my favorites. Glad you're here.

My local radio station had a morning bashing session. I couldn't believe it. It was disgraceful. I'm fully aware of the anti-christian bias in the media, but for goodness sake, at least wait until after the funeral. They were almost giddy about the man's death.

I agree with you. Billy Graham's funeral will probably rival Ronald Reagan's.

Reagan was a obviously a political figure. The far left hated him in life but were very respectful in death. So why all the hatred for Falwell? One word: Christianity.


hholmyard3 said... May 16, 2007 at 8:12 PM  

I thanked God for Jerry Falwell's life today, and its influence for good in mine. I knew him as a godly man with a loving heart. He was a leader who sought to promote what is right and to discourage what is wrong.

Dawn Burns said... May 17, 2007 at 12:27 PM  

Great blog. This past Tuesday, Larry King had a full hour on Jerry Falwell. Al Sharpton actually said some very honest and kind things about Falwell, as did Larry King. Of course, they were quick to remind everyone that they agreed with him on nothing social or political.
He, as we all do, made mistakes but I think his positive impact on the world through his ministry and Libery University is unmeasurable.

J. Mark Bertrand said... May 17, 2007 at 2:08 PM  

Athol, I'm thrilled that you've launched your own blog! The contrast between Falwell's 'legacy' and Graham's is interesting to contemplate. I ran into Falwell once by chance, but never knew him, but I've known people he influenced profoundly for the good. Likewise I've cringed at some of his statements, just as I have at those of pretty much all of the public evangelicals. Still, I was always impressed by the respect he seemed to get from his longtime critics.

I wonder how someone like John Paul II fits into the equation. He articulated much more detailed, and much more unpopular views than Graham has, and yet he's credited with having contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain and was much loved at his death. It seems to me there is a way to do more than articulate the Gospel -- or perhaps I should say, to articulate it in all its fullness -- without dragging the church into disrepute. And yet, it doesn't seem easy.

Athol Dickson said... May 17, 2007 at 3:00 PM  

Great question about John Paul II, Mark. It got me thinking about HOW we can speak the truth (as Dr. Falwell tried to do so boldly) while still retaining the respect of those who disagree. As usual, Jesus strikes me as a good model. While he certainly ended up making a great many people angry, and the truth will often do that ("the Gospel is an offense...") consider this: Jesus never came right out and said, “I am God.” He knew his audience was not ready for the pure, unvarnished truth, so he put it to them in ways they could take inside their minds without throwing up barriers at the outset. He didn’t say, “I am God,” he said, “I am the way.” He was saying the same thing, but using words that did not push their anger buttons right off the bat. Sometimes they saw through it and tried to stone him anyway, but usually he got his ideas past them, and got them thinking instead of stoning. Isn’t that what we want, too?

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