Thursday, May 17, 2007

Diana Eck on Jerry Falwell

A Good Person with Bad Theology

The Reverend Jerry Falwell was apparently a warm and loving person to those who met him. He looked that way –as if one would like a big bear hug from him. But, alas, I believe he preached a divisive and even dangerous form of Christianity. From where I sit, his is a legacy of finger pointing and judgment that is not the Good News as I hear it.

I will never forget his widely publicized conversation with Pat Robertson right after the 9/11 attacks, when he said, "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."

He went on to say that somehow these people –gays and members of the ACLU—had caused God to lift the curtain of protection to allow the enemies of America to give us "what we deserve." He later said he was just sharing his own burden and "intending to speak to a Christian audience from a theological perspective about the need for national repentance."

I'm sorry, but this is a "theological" perspective I have disagreed with for years and will go on resisting. I am a Christian woman, a feminist, a gay woman, a supporter of the ACLU and People for the American Way, and a supporter of freedom of religious conscience and practice for all people, even for pagans. Like Falwell, I'm a patriotic American and a lifelong Christian, but I do not believe for a moment that God is a God who lifted a curtain of protection, allowing the 9/11 attacks. Nor do I believe for a moment that America is or ever was somehow under the special protection and blessing of God. "God bless America" is a hope and a prayer, not a prescription for favor.

Jesus did not tell us to point the finger and judge our neighbors, but to love them. To love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Like so many, I'm sure I would have found Jerry Falwell warm and loveable as a person. I would like to have met him. That said, I have argued with his theology throughout my life, and I won't cease that argument now that he is gone.


At 5:02 PM, Blogger Brad Ogilvie said...

Here's something I sent to the Chicago Tribune, hopefully to be published...

The passing of Rev. Falwell has brought the opportunity to reflect on his impact on our country and in the world. Without a doubt, throughout the 1980's and 90's, and on into this century, he has been a huge influence on the political power that has translated into national and international policies.

Perhaps most telling and lasting: in the mid-1980's, Falwell declared that HIV/AIDS was God's punishment for sins - not just the sins of homosexuality, but of promiscuity and drug use. This statement has now provided two decades of coverage for programs that have allowed people to get involved in or speak to the issue of HIV/AIDS while maintaining judgments such as this. Only when the face of AIDS came to be seen as African orphans, was there a shift in the landscape and were people such as Jesse Helms and Henry Hyde able to speak about the HIV/AIDS pandemic - only as long as it was outreach to "non-sinners", but we still face the challenge of righteous judgment in addressing HIV/AIDS as a truly global pandemic, and in implementing effective and comprehensive prevention programs.

Falwell's (and the Moral Majority's) strong influence in the US governmental response to HIV/AIDS in the 1980's is a legacy we still live with, and one of the reasons our institutions continue to struggle so mightily to end the spread of this preventable pandemic.

Brad Ogilvie
The Mosaic Initiative
Wheaton, IL


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