Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell is dead!

I'm not even joking.

This from the Associated Press

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority and built the religious right into a political force, died today shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.

Ron Godwin, the university's executive vice president, said Falwell, 73, was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. "CPR efforts were unsuccessful," he said.

I guess now he'll find out if God really is a Republican, as he suggested.

I hate to bash a dead man, but Falwell was the epitome of evangelical Christianity. For a religion based largely on tolerance Falwell was an agent of intolerance. In 1965 Reverend Falwell gave a sermon at his Thomas Road Baptist Church criticizing Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, which he sometimes referred to as the Civil Wrongs Movement. He often spoke out in favor of the racist position in those days. His views eventually shifted and was against segregation in his later years.

In the 1980s Jerry Falwell was an outspoken supporter of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. When president PW Botha was elected President by the White South African minority, Reverend Falwell went to South Africa and made statements supporting the government there and urging American Christians to buy Krugerrands, a coin issued by the South African Government.

In 1984, he was ordered to pay gay activist Jerry Sloan $5,000 after losing a court battle. During a TV debate in Sacramento, California, Falwell denied calling the gay-oriented Metropolitan Community Churches "brute beasts" and "a vile and Satanic system" that will "one day be utterly annihilated and there will be a celebration in heaven."

When Sloan insisted he had a tape, Falwell promised $5,000 if he could produce it. Sloan did, Falwell refused to pay, and Sloan successfully sued. Falwell appealed, with his attorney charging that the judge in the case was prejudiced. He lost again and was made to pay an additional $2,875 in sanctions and court fees.

He also used his position of power to further his political agenda. In 1994, Falwell released the straight-to-video documentary "The Clinton Chronicles: An Investigation into the Alleged Criminal Activities of Bill Clinton." The video connected Bill Clinton to a conspiracy theory involving Vincent Foster, James McDougall, Ron Brown, and an alleged cocaine-smuggling operation. Despite the theories being discredited by all major investigations, the video's sophisticated production techniques served as effective exposure, and sold over 150,000 copies.

Funding for the film was paid for by the Citizens for Honest Government, to which Jerry Falwell paid $200,000 in 1994 and 1995. In 1995 Citizens for Honest Government paid two Arkansas state troopers to make allegations supporting the conspiracy about Vincent Foster. These two troopers were Roger Perry and Larry Patterson who also were paid for their allegations in the Paula Jones case.

Falwell's infomercial for the 80-minute tape included footage of Falwell interviewing a silhouetted journalist who was afraid for his life. The journalist accused Clinton of orchestrating the deaths of several reporters and personal confidants who had gotten too close to his illegalities. However, it was subsequently revealed that the silhouetted journalist was, in fact, Patrick Matrisciana, the producer of the video and president of Citizens for Honest Government ."Obviously, I'm not an investigative reporter," Matrisciana admitted (to investigative journalist Murray Waas), "and I doubt our lives were actually ever in any real danger. That was Jerry's idea to do that ... He thought that would be dramatic."

In an interview for the 2005 documentary The Hunting of the President Falwell admitted, "To this day I do not know the accuracy of the claims made in The Clinton Chronicles," but failed to condemn the poor research.

I'm never happy when somebody dies, Falwell wasn't a monster and there are far worse people in the world, but I hope the intolerance he preached will fade as he slips further into the history pages.

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