Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rev. Jerry Falwell

I never met him.

And unlike many of the leaders of the Religious Right, he never took me on by name, not when I was at SIECUS and not when I decided to become a minister. We probably disagreed about everything and certainly about areas related to sexual justice. He was anti-feminist, anti-choice, and anti-LGBT equality. For awhile in the early 1980's, I had a bumper sticker that proclaimed, "The Moral Marjority is Neither."

It is hard to be forgiving. I can still hear him blaming pagans, feminists, and gays and lesbians for 9/11. I remember when he refused to have a meal with the people from Soul Force. His latest condemnation of Richard Cizek was featured on my blog...and who can forget the campaign against Tinky Winky?

But, he was an effective religious voice for his beliefs in the public square and a tireless advocate. When I ask audiences to name a religious leader speaking out about sexuality issues, his name has always been first. His commitment to young people through Liberty University was admirable. In addition to his national activities, he continued his pastoral activities at a local church. I'd like to think twenty years from now, I'd leave even ten percent of his legacy in the public arena.

The Religious Institute extends its sympathy to Rev. Falwell's family, his friends, his church, his university -- and yes, his followers. His life was a life well lived.


Randi Brenowitz said...

Debra, I love reading yor blog and I generally agree with what you've said and support the wonderful work you are doing. On Jerry Falwell, however, you and I disagree.

A "life well-lived"?

What a ghastly thought.

Falwell's life was filled with hate. He hated virtually everything the Religious Institute stands for. He hated the people you minister to...not just their alleged "sins," he hated them. He blamed them--and your work--for the real catastrophe of 9/11, and the fake catastrophe of liberated, egalitarian relationships.

Falwell was extraordinarily effective in mobilizing people to demand that government restrict everyone's rights--to healthcare, education, compassion, entertainment, and self-expression.

Liberty University is a disaster for American politics. Liberty is cranking out attorneys and bureaucrats who are committed to eroding the separation of church and state. Over a hundred Liberty graduates are at this minute working for the Bush Administration in Washington. And the rigidly limited services offered by their student health center challenge your claim that Falwell cared about young people

If Falwell were not a "man of faith," but had done exactly what he had done, would you praise his work? Call his life "well-lived"? Is there a double standard here?

Debra W. Haffner said...

To Randi and others who may have been wondering about this statement...I think the blog is very clear that I opposed what Rev. Falwell stood for.

I was seeking the right tone. You may be interested to read some of the statements and the blogs from other religious leaders on his passing. It felt appropriate to me to be more pastoral than adversarial; other colleague organizations took a different approach. (You might, for example, be interested in contrasting the statements from the Interfaith Alliance -- and Americans United -- )

My concluding comment about a "life well lived" was reflecting on his living out his commitments in the world at his church, university, and on the larger stage. Perhaps it was over-generous -- I admit I felt the way I do when I need to write a eulogy about a not very likeable person.

I do think though that Falwell's life and work challenged us all -- to speak out more forcefully, strategically, and theologically on our support for sexual justice.