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Profile: Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell was a participant or observer in the following events:

Menachem Begin and Jerry Falwell.Menachem Begin and Jerry Falwell. [Source: Bibliotecapleyades (.net)]Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin seeks to expand his base of influence in the US. Israel has long enjoyed the support of liberal Democrats, so Begin begins reaching out to conservative American evangelicals who, in many cases, espouse anti-Semitic views (see February 1, 1972). But more important to Begin is the fact that these conservative Christians are becoming politically active and powerful. Begin seeks out conservative televangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell, who publicly views the birth of Israel as “the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.” Falwell has often said that the friendship between the US and Israel is a cornerstone both of political stability in the Middle East and a matter of faith. Begin presents Falwell with the prestigious Jabotinsky Award, making Falwell the first non-Jew to ever receive the award. More tangibly, he also gives Falwell’s ministry a private jet. (Unger 2007, pp. 109)

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin calls televangelist and nascent political ally Jerry Falwell (see 1980) and says: “Tomorrow you’re going to read some strange things about what we’re going to do. But our safety is at stake. I wanted you, my good friend, to know what we are going to do.” Israel is preparing to use US-provided F-16s to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor (see June 7, 1981). Begin is concerned that the US will object to Israel’s use of the aircraft for non-defensive purposes. Falwell tells Begin, “I want to congratulate you for a mission that [makes] us very proud that we manufactured those F-16s.” Many Reagan officials are not happy that Israel violated the agreement with the US over use of the warplanes, but even though Vice President Bush and Chief of Staff James Baker both believe that Israel should be punished, Begin has provided himself cover on the Christian right. (Unger 2007, pp. 109-110)

The Dartmouth Review, a conservative weekly student newspaper funded by off-campus right-wing sources (see 1980), runs an article opposing affirmative action that many feel is blatantly racist. The article is titled “Dis Sho’ Ain’t No Jive, Bro,” written by former Review chairman Keeney Jones. The article is the third in a series of attacks on affirmative action by Jones; the earlier articles featured Jones wishing he could medically darken his skin so he could get into medical school, and his claim that he was taking speech lessons to learn how to speak “black.” This article is written entirely in Jones’s version of “black dialect,” and features the following selection: “Dese boys be sayin’ dat we be comin’ to Dartmut’and not takin’ the classics. You know, Homa, Shakesphere; but I hes’ dey all be co’d in da gound, six feet unda, and whatcha be askin’ us to learn from dem? We culturally ‘lightened, too. We be takin’ hard courses in many subjects, like Afro-Am studies, women’s studies, and policy studies. And who be mouthin’ ‘bout us not bein’ good road? I be practicly knowin’ ‘Roots’ cova to cova, ‘til my mine be boogying to da words! And I be watchin’ the Jeffersons on TV ‘til I be blue in da face.” Upon receiving the article, Review board member Jack Kemp (R-NY), a Republican congressman, resigns from the board, saying Kenney’s article “relied on racial stereotypes” and undoubtedly offended many readers. “I am even more concerned that others found in it some support for racist viewpoints,” Kemp continues, and concludes: “I do not want my name to appear in your paper. I am concerned that the association of my name with the Dartmouth Review is interpreted as an endorsement and I emphatically do not endorse the kind of antics displayed in your article.” The Review appears unmoved by Kemp’s resignation, with editors saying they hope to replace him with televangelist Jerry Falwell. Editor Dinesh D’Souza says the paper bears no responsibility for any allegations of racism, and tells a New Hampshire reporter, “It is not the Dartmouth Review but the Afro-American Society which is the primary cause of racial tension on campus.” The undergraduate council and the faculty later votes to condemn the Review for creating a racially divisive atmosphere; Dartmouth’s president will write a letter saying the Review performs “offensive practices,” but that the issue cannot be solved by “violence or intolerance.” (Waligore 9/20/2006)

Poster for ‘The Day After.’Poster for ‘The Day After.’ [Source: MGM]The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” (Lometti 1992; Scoblic 2008, pp. 133; Emmanuel 1/26/2008) Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. (Lometti 1992)
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 133)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington three days before his scheduled meeting with President Clinton and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat to discuss the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians (see Early 1998). Before meeting with Clinton and Arafat, Netanyahu meets with conservative televangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell—and a thousand of Falwell’s most devoted followers. “I put together one thousand people or so to meet with Bibi [Netanyahu] and he spoke to us that night,” Falwell later recalls. “It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Clinton.” Falwell promises to mobilize 200,000 pastors across the United States to “tell President Clinton to refrain from putting pressure on Israel.” Falwell’s guest at the proceedings, fellow televangelist John Hagee (who will soon give $1 million to the United Jewish Appeal in hopes of hastening the Biblical “End Times”), tells the crowd that the Jews’ return to the Holy Land is prophecy of the “rapidly approaching… final moments of history.” Hagee then leads the crowd in a frenzied chant of “Not one inch! Not one inch!”—how much land they intend to see Israel give the Palestinians. When Netanyahu discusses the rally with the press four days later, he merely says: “I talk to liberals, I talk to conservatives, I talk to Jews, I talk to non-Jews. These meetings reflect the fact that Israel enjoys support from diverse circles in the United States.” But Richard Haass, a former Bush National Security Council official, says Netanyahu is playing political hardball. “This was a way for [Netanyahu] to push back,” Haass says. “If the White House was trying to make Mr. Netanyahu pay a price domestically for his lack of cooperation, essentially Mr. Netanyahu was sending a return signal: ‘Two can play at this game. I can spend more time with your political opponents and this is something that can come back and bite you.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 156-157)

Monica Lewinsky.Monica Lewinsky. [Source: Fox News]President Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process (see Early 1998). Clinton immediately chastizes Netanyahu for meeting with American religious conservatives before meeting with him (see January 19-23, 1998), in an attempt to bring Netanyahu back to his side of the political fence. But Clinton is about to turn his attention to something radically different, and all but forget about Netanyahu. As Netanyahu’s political ally, televangelist Jerry Falwell, will recall, “While Netanyahu was sitting there, he was in a very difficult spot. The pressure was really on him to give away the farm in Israel. But while he was sitting there, someone came in and whispered in Mr. Clinton’s ear and Mr. Clinton turned several colors. Someone was telling him that the cat was out of the bag on [Clinton’s paramour] Monica Lewinsky. The meeting was terminated. Mr. Clinton had to save himself. The demands [to relinquish Israeli territory] that would have been forthcoming of Israel which would have been terrible, were not made. Netanyahu flew back to Israel. He was very funny when he told me about it. He said Israel had been saved by Monica Lewinsky.” (Unger 2007, pp. 157)

Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church.Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church. [Source: New York Times]People from the left and right of the social and political spectrum join in condemning the actions of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) during its protest at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death a month earlier (see October 9, 1998 and After and October 14, 1998). The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a far-right Christian evangelist, says of the WBC’s protest, “I found it almost impossible to believe that human beings could be so brutal and vicious to a hurting family.” Of the WBC’s leader, Fred Phelps, he says, “He’s a first-class nut.” Phelps says he is proud to be labeled as such by Falwell because “[i]t means I’m preaching the truth.” Phelps then labels Falwell a “Judas” and says WBC members will picket Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Robert H. Knight of the conservative Family Research Council says he asked Phelps to call off the church’s protests against gays (see June 1991 and After) a year ago, and says he told Phelps that his actions “misconstrue… the message of Christ, which was one of love.” Arne Owens of the Christian Coalition says that anti-gay Christian organizations oppose the homosexual lifestyle while loving gays and lesbians: “You must be loving toward all human beings while recognizing the role of sin in the world.” But Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) says that Phelps only expresses the hatred other anti-gay groups feel but do not so bluntly demonstrate. The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, joins the Christian Coalition and other anti-gay organization in accusing GLAAD and other gay rights groups of capitalizing on Shepard’s murder for their own purposes, a charge Renna calls ludicrous. She says that Shepard’s friends “told me that Matthew would have wanted something good to come out of this. If [a murder] energizes and makes us fight to educate people about the kind of violence lesbians and gays face every day, that’s not using Matthew.” Instead, she says, groups like the Christian Coalition are using Phelps to promote their agenda: “They can point to him and say: ‘He’s a bad guy. We’re compassionate.’” For his part, Phelps says his organization brought “a little sanity” to Shepard’s funeral, and claims it was “the homosexuals” who “turned it into a Cecil B. DeMille propaganda mill.” (Lieblich 11/24/1998)

Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the 700 Club.Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the 700 Club. [Source: Tampa Bay Coalition]During a guest appearance on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, televangelist Jerry Falwell tells listeners who he believes is responsible for the 9/11 attacks: homosexuals, abortionists, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
bullet Falwell: “I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters; the Husseins, the bin Ladens, the Arafats, what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, if in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
bullet Robertson: “Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven’t even begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
bullet Falwell: “The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.”
bullet Robertson: “Well, yes.”
bullet Falwell: “And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
bullet Robertson: “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.”
bullet Falwell: “Amen. Pat, did you notice yesterday? The ACLU, and all the Christ-haters, the People For the American Way, NOW [the National Organization for Women], etc. were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer and sang ‘God Bless America’ and said ‘let the ACLU be hanged.’” (Harris 9/14/2001; People for the American Way 9/17/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 217-218)
In a prayer during the broadcast, Robertson intones: “We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we’ve stuck our finger in your eye. The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They’ve taken your Bible away from the schools. They’ve forbidden little children to pray. They’ve taken the knowledge of God as best they can, and organizations have come into court to take the knowledge of God out of the public square of America.” (CNN 9/14/2001; People for the American Way 9/17/2001) The next day, after a firestorm of critical response (see September 13-14, 2001), Falwell will retreat somewhat from his remarks (see September 14, 2001), and again three days later (see September 17, 2001). But three years later, he will misrepresent his remarks and once again attack homosexuals (see November 28, 2004).

The response to televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s blaming 9/11 on homosexuals, pro-choice believers, and civil liberties groups (see September 13, 2001) is quick and fierce. Even the White House refuses to join Falwell and Robertson in their comments, with a White House spokesman calling the statements “inappropriate” and saying, “The president does not share those views.” Ralph G. Neas, the head of People for the American Way, calls the remarks “absolutely inappropriate and irresponsible.” An American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman says the organization “will not dignify the Falwell-Robertson remarks with a comment.” (Harris 9/14/2001) Lorri L. Jean, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, demands an apology from Falwell. “The terrible tragedy that has befallen our nation, and indeed the entire global community, is the sad byproduct of fanaticism,” she says. “It has its roots in the same fanaticism that enables people like Jerry Falwell to preach hate against those who do not think, live, or love in the exact same way he does. The tragedies that have occurred this week did not occur because someone made God mad, as Mr. Falwell asserts. They occurred because of hate, pure and simple. It is time to move beyond a place of hate and to a place of healing. We hope that Mr. Falwell will apologize to the US and world communities.” (CNN 9/14/2001)

Televangelist Jerry Falwell backs away from his remarks blaming homosexuals, abortionists, and civil liberties groups for the 9/11 attacks (see September 13, 2001). He says his comments were taken “out of context,” explains that he was “making a theological statement, not a legal statement,” and adds: “I put all the blame legally and morally on the actions of the terrorist.… I would never blame any human being except the terrorists, and if I left that impression with gays or lesbians or anyone else, I apologize.” But America’s “secular and anti-Christian environment left us open to our Lord’s [decision] not to protect. When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture… the result is not good.” (Harris 9/14/2001) Falwell uses the Bible to justify his remarks: “I do believe, as a theologian, based upon many Scriptures and particularly Proverbs 14:23, which says ‘living by God’s principles promotes a nation to greatness, violating those principles brings a nation to shame.’” The ACLU and other civil liberties organizations “have attempted to secularize America, have removed our nation from its relationship with Christ on which it was founded,” he asserts. “I therefore believe that that created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812.” (CNN 9/14/2001)

Televangelist Jerry Falwell writes an explanation of his recent comments blaming gays, civil libertarians, and pro-choice advocates for the 9/11 attacks (see September 13, 2001). Falwell writes that though people may have gotten the wrong “impression” from “news reports over the past several days,” he blames “no one other than the terrorists, and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them, responsible for the September 11 attacks on this nation.” He says his comments “were taken out of their context and reported, and that my thoughts—reduced to sound bites—have detracted from the spirit of this time of mourning.” He says that since the afternoon of the attacks, he has led numerous groups in prayer, from his “Liberty University family of thousands” to his church congregation and, on September 14, at a special Day of Prayer held at the National Cathedral with President Bush in attendance. Falwell says that his statements were “called divisive by some whom I mentioned by name. I had no intention of being divisive. I was sharing my burden for revival in America on a Christian TV program, intending to speak to a Christian audience from a theological perspective about the need for national repentance. In retrospect, I should have mentioned the national sins without mentioning the organizations and persons by name.”
Apology, Then Attack - Falwell then launches into a condemnation of the practice of abortion, and accuses the US of “expell[ing] God from the public square and the public schools.” He accuses the nation of “normaliz[ing] an immoral lifestyle [homosexuality] God has condemned,” adding: “American families are falling apart. Because of our national moral and spiritual decline during the past 35 years, I expressed my personal belief that we have displeased the Lord and incurred his displeasure.” He writes that he was asking his “Christian audience” to follow Biblical teachings and “repent,” and for the “church to heed Proverbs 14:34, which says in paraphrase, ‘Living by God’s principles promotes a nation to greatness; violating those principles brings a nation to shame.’ I was blaming no one but the terrorists for the terror, but I was chastising us, the Church, for a generation of departure from God. I was doing what I have done for nearly 50 years in the pulpit—confronting the culture and calling for national revival.”
'Ill-Timed Comments' - Falwell then turns back towards explaining his remarks, saying his mistake was “doing this at the time I did it, on television, where a secular media and audience were also listening.” He adds: “And as I enumerated the sins of an unbelieving culture, because of very limited time on the 700 Club, I failed to point the finger at a sleeping, prayerless and carnal church. We believers must also acknowledge our sins, repent, and fast and pray for national revival.… [If] my statements seemed harsh and ill-timed, I truly regret this and apologize. But, I repeat, I blame no one but the hijackers and terrorists for the horrific happenings of September 11. But I do believe God’s protection of us as individuals and as a nation is dependent upon our obedience to His laws.” (Falwell 9/17/2001) Falwell will make essentially the same arguments three years later; then, he will claim to have included his criticisms of the church in his original remarks, criticisms he today admits he failed to make (see November 28, 2004).

The Reverend Jerry Vines.The Reverend Jerry Vines. [Source: Thomas White]Reverend Jerry Vines, pastor of a large Baptist church in Florida, denounces Islam as being responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and criticizes America’s propensity for “religious pluralism” as making the nation vulnerable to further attacks as well as causing other social ills. In his statement, made to an audience at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Vines insults Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammed: “They would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity,” Vines says. “Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a 9-year-old girl.” Muslims do not worship the same god as Christians do, he adds: “And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says after Vines’s remarks that President Bush “believes Islam is a religion that teaches peace. The president believes in religious tolerance and respects people of all faiths.” The day after Vines’s incendiary remarks, Bush addresses the SBC meeting via satellite to extol Baptists’ tolerance, praising their “extraordinary influence” on American history and saying, “Baptists were among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom.” Vines’s remarks echo earlier attacks on Islam by other prominent evangelicals, including Franklin Graham (see October 2001). Other evangelical Christians, including the Reverend Jerry Falwell, rush to support Vines’s remarks, but Jewish leaders and mainstream Protestant groups join American Muslims in denouncing the remarks. Abraham Foxman, the director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, calls Vines’s remarks “deplorable,” and says such inflammatory language is “not surprising coming from the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has a track record of denigrating and delegitimizing other religions.” (Cooperman 6/20/2002)

Influential evangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell calls the Prophet Muhammed, the founder of Islam, a “terrorist,” telling a CBS News interviewer: “I think Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life written by both Muslims and non-Muslims [to know] that he was a—a violent man, a man of war.” In contrast, Falwell says: “Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses. I think Muhammad set an opposite example.” After a global eruption of outrage at Falwell’s statements, he issues a backhanded apology: “I sincerely apologize that certain statements of mine made during an interview for CBS’s 60 Minutes were hurtful to the feelings of many Muslims. I intended no disrespect to any sincere, law-abiding Muslim.” His denunciation of Muhammed came as an answer to what he calls a “controversial and loaded question” at the end of an hour-long interview. The backlash from Falwell’s remarks is severe. At least five people are killed and around 50 injured when Hindu-Muslim rioting over the remarks breaks out in India. Shi’ite Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Iran express their outrage over Falwell’s remarks, with one Iranian cleric saying that Falwell is a “mercenary and must be killed.” Since Falwell’s remarks, hundreds of Muslim protesters will twice gather outside the CBS building in New York City to demand an apology from the network. (CBS News 10/14/2002) Falwell’s remarks echo earlier denunciations of Islam by other American Christian evangelicals (see October 2001 and June 10-11, 2002).

Three years after he blamed homosexuals, abortionists, and civil liberties groups for causing 9/11 (see September 13, 2001) and apologized for some of his remarks (see September 14, 2001), televangelist Jerry Falwell misstates his remarks on NBC’s Meet the Press. He now claims that when he made his statement, he “likewise” held responsible “a sleeping church, a lethargic church.” However, the transcript and reports of his remarks show he did not make such a claim. Falwell also attacks progressive religious figure Jim Wallis as “anti-America[n]” because Wallis did not support former president Ronald Reagan’s Cold War policies of “peace through strength.” Had Wallis “been the president in World War II,” Falwell says, “we’d all be speaking German now.” Falwell widens his attack to include gay Republicans; when moderator Tim Russert notes that television writer Marc Cherry is a “conservative gay Republican,” Falwell replies, “Well, the fact that he’s a gay Republican means he should join the Democratic Party.” (MSNBC 11/28/2004)


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