God's Politics

Since Tuesday’s news of the sudden passing of Rev. Jerry Falwell, there has been no shortage of commentaries on his life and legacy. Here are a few examples from across the political spectrum that I’ve found interesting and helpful as I’ve reflected on such a controversial and influential religious figure:

From Rev. Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life:

With his passing, one of the landmarks of the American religious landscape has passed as well; our discourse on religion and public life is sure to be impacted in ways we cannot yet fully imagine.

From Rod Dreher, Crunchy Con:

[N]obody can deny the significance of Falwell to U.S. politics. Christian conservatives like me may not have liked Falwell’s style much of the time, or some of the causes he championed. … His passing today is not only the passing of a man, but the passing of an era. The next generation of engaged Evangelical pastors aren’t like him and his generation. I’m generalizing, of course, but they are conservative, but not so partisan, and not as eager to cast their lot with the GOP. And they care about bringing their Christian faith to bear on a wider range of issues than that which galvanized the Falwell generation.

Ralph Reed, on National Review Online:

Falwell’s liberal critics saw him only through the prism of secularism, and so they never grasped what a groundbreaking progressive he was within fundamentalism. He insisted that the Moral Majority work with Catholics, Jews, charismatic Protestants, and Mormons, who were anathema to some of his fundamentalist colleagues. But this break with the separatist, isolationist past of fundamentalism was critical to building cooperation across denominational and doctrinal lines in the pro-family movement. It is one of his most significant and lasting achievements. … When he founded the Moral Majority in 1979, he awakened the slumbering giant of the evangelical vote. The marriage of that vote to an ascendant, confident Republican party is among the most important political demographic changes of the last century.

Fred Barnes, on Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume:

[H]e spurred one of the most important transformations of modern times and basically taking a group, millions of conservative Christians who’d been apathetic about politics, really since the 1920s and turned them into an active, lively, concerned voting block, that basically joined the Republican Party and gave the Republican party rough parity with Democrats.

From Jesse Lava of Faithful Democrats:

[W]e would be remiss to let this moment pass without reflecting on one of the most regrettable features of the Falwell legacy — or at least, of the political movement that Falwell and his co-thinkers have left us: the notion that there’s a heavenly link between Christianity and the Republican Party. … [L]et’s not make the same mistakes that Falwell did. We would be wise to emulate his passion and effectiveness; we would be downright sacrilegious to conflate our church with our party — a habit which, ultimately, renders Christ our pawn instead of our king.

From David Kuo‘s J-Walking blog:

It is ironic and a bit sad that the man who stood on the sidelines during the civil rights movement – saying pastors needed to preach Jesus, not politics – became the leading person marketing Jesus for political ends in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and that he will be remembered not as a great spiritual leader but a powerful political one.

Joseph Loconte on the National Review Online:

Falwell’s contradictions continue to define too much of conservative Christianity in America. The assumption that America lays claim to a “covenant” relationship with God, the confusion of the gospel of Christ with a party platform, the narrow definition of a “moral agenda” in American politics — all were among the unseemly aspects of Falwell’s activism that survive his death.

Yet there are other elements of Falwell’s legacy that are worth recalling on both sides of the Atlantic. For one thing, he helped religious believers of all stripes take their civic and political responsibilities more seriously. Today Christian conservatives are perhaps the most politically active and important voting bloc in America. Though many find aspects of their agenda objectionable — their pro-life position or support for Israel, for example — their impressive advocacy on behalf of international human rights is widely respected. No constituency has fought harder for peace in Sudan, for laws against the sexual trafficking of women, or for America’s global AIDS policy. No group has done more to bring attention to the human rights atrocities of the North Korean regime. Sadly, these issues were never taken up by the Moral Majority, but it helped to lay the groundwork for this kind of engagement.

From Mike Lee at Faithfully Liberal:

I didn’t like Jerry Falwell, yet I mourn the passing of one of my fellow human beings. All those with a heart for love must do the same. Here we have a perfect example of the Christ ethic – we must love our enemies, we must pray for those that persecuted us.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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