Jerry Falwell was laid to rest today. Thousands attended his funeral, which is something important to consider, since that will not happen for most of us.
Much has been written and blogged about Falwell since his death last week. Some of it has been quite sympathetic; other reflections have been rather critical. Some have spoken glowing words, while others have been quite insulting and nasty.
I have waited to post anything on Reverend Falwell's life until after the funeral, because it has always seemed to me that there is something inappropriate about making negative comments, in particular, while the family of someone who is loved and cherished by them, is planning a funeral. Why some people feel the need to speak so quickly is somewhat beyond me. Sometimes, actually most times, it is preferable to reflect and measure one's words. When wise people make foolish comments, it is usually because they speak before thinking. Further reflections will moderate their perspective. Foolish people, however, make foolish comments no matter how long they think; this post is not for them.
I could mention the places where I disagreed with Falwell, theologically, politically, and socially, but that has been done by others. So I cannot see how I can contribute anything further to that discussion. I could also write on the things with which I agreed with him theologically, politically, and socially, but that has been done as well. Where I agreed and disagreed with him is not important. What I want to focus on, as his life and ministry is and will continue to be evaluated and discussed, is the deep social consciousness he had that is little mentioned. It appears from some of the ministries he started, he was deeply concerned about social problems.
Falwell founded the Liberty Godparent Foundation, which includes the Liberty Maternity Home, a place that assists pregnant mothers (more than a few of them young and unmarried), taking care of their needs until their babies are born. Connected to this foundation is the Liberty Family Life Services Adoption Agency, that will place the children with adoptive parents should the mothers decide to do so. Most mothers choose to keep their babies, but the service is there to provide an alternative.
Apparently Falwell was not only opposed to abortion, he was in favor of life. Although he wanted to see Roe v. Wade overturned by the Supreme Court, he knew that a change in law was not enough. He put his time, money, and resources with his convictions.
In 1959 Rev. Falwell established the Elim Home for Alcoholics. It is place where men, who are addicted, can go in order to learn to reorient their lives toward spirituality and sobriety. Those who go through the program are never charged for their stay nor their rehabilitation.
Does all of this change the fact that Falwell opposed the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and seemed to support Apartheid in South Africa (likely more out of his fear of the socialist leanings of the opposition)? Does it change the fact that he often said things what were over the top and downright false (such as referring to Desmond Tutu as "a phony")? Does this mean that we should forget the shortcomings of the Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church? Of course not; there is plenty to criticize as one reflects upon the legacy of Jerry Falwell. By the way, let us not forget the apologies Falwell offered for many of the things he said. Jesus has some important things to say about the need we have to ask forgiveness, and the mandate we have to forgive those who ask.
We must never forget that all of us are persons who walk around as quite flawed images of God, Jerry Falwell included. My friend Scot McKnight likes to remind us that we are cracked icons: we are made in the image of God, but that image has been cracked and splintered because of sin. We are capable of doing much good, and at the same time, we always manage to find ways to fall short of the divine likeness God wants us to reflect in this world. At best, this side of eternity, my life will reflect the perfection of God in quite an imperfect way.
Jerry Falwell was a socially concerned individual. It may be the case that some would have wished he had taken up other social causes (no one can take up all of them), or that he would have taken a different position on other social issues; but with his burial today, let us lay to rest any false accusations of his lack of social conscience. As a follower of Jesus Christ, Jerry Falwell journeyed through this life as the rest of us-- as a cracked icon trying to be faithful to the Jesus he followed.
When assessing his legacy, we must not ignore Falwell's "cracks;" neither should we neglect the "icon" of God he was for so many in this world.