Speak ill of the dead and you come across as a lout.
So be it. Jerry Falwell has passed on to his reward and the world has become a better place. Maybe only for a moment. The king of toxic religion in America is gone, and others will doubtless pop up to replace him, but that hardly means we need to pass up a chance for champagne.
Jerry Falwell worked hard to make life miserable for lots of people, gays in particular, and there will be no shortage of folk looking to dance on his grave. As soon as I’ve said my piece here, I’m out shopping for dancing shoes.
He could not have done the harm he pulled off alone. He needed, and got, lots of enablers. John McCain, I’m thinking of you. Where once you identified Falwell accurately as an “agent of intolerance,” more recently you sold your last ounce of integrity to give a commencement speech at his Bigotry U.
Newt Gingrich, you leading candidate for national adulterer and hypocrite-in-chief, you’re due to follow suit a few days from now. Piss on both of you.
In the end, the case can be made that Falwell was making such an ass of himself that he was actually more providing entertainment than doing harm. He did often come across a character more to be pitied than scorned. He pulled advertisers away from Ellen when she came out as a lesbian, but she went on to ride the blowback to tremendous popularity. His Teletubby incident, where he identified the purple character as gay, became a national joke. He and Pat Robertson together make you think if there is a god he has a fantastic sense of humor.
Those of you forming a club to explain his antics away as cultural conditioning can count me out, however. Lots of people who grow up poor do not become criminals and lots of people who grow up white do not become racists and lots of people who grow up religious don’t hit people with their bibles.
I know he recanted many of his worst “misstatements.” He went on record as being against desegregation, referred to the Civil Rights movement as the “Civil Wrongs Movement,” spoke in favor of the apartheid regime and referred to Desmond Tutu as a phoney, but then changed his mind as the cultural values shifted and as he entered the mainstream where those ideas were unpopular. And we are reminded that forgiveness is divine.
But before you run too far with sympathy for this guy, consider just a couple of other bits of Falwell’s legacy:
• In 1994 he promoted the Clinton Chronicles, a film alleging drug running, murder and other serious crimes by Bill Clinton, later totally discredited. Part of the film included an interview with a silhouetted journalist. Word got out that the journalist was in fact Patrick Matrisciana, the producer of the video. Matrisciana admitted, “That was Jerry (Falwell)'s idea to do that ... He thought that would be dramatic."
• Just after 9/11 he and Pat Robertson blamed the tragedy on “pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians (among others such as the ACLU).” He later apologized, but then nullified the apology by reminding us that Proverbs 14:23 says 'living by God's principles promotes a nation to greatness, violating those principles brings a nation to shame.’
• He spoke out in favor of eliminating public schools in America and turning them over to fundamentalist Christians to run.
• He repeatedly blamed and scapegoated the victims of AIDS for their own disease, long after it became evident that it was a disease of poverty, not homosexuality.
• He stood behind the harsh policy of Israeli clampdowns on Palestinian resistance to occupation, all on the grounds of biblical prophecy.
Good conservatives, when their head is in the right place, are folk who hold tight to the good aspects of culture and society, religion and politics. Falwell was one of the other kind, the kind that starts with the anti-humanist stance and holds on for dear life until forced to change. He died before the tide turned entirely against homophobia, and for that reason I cannot drum up the sympathy others might for this man’s passing.
He’s gone. And I hear the Munchkins singing.
Matrisciana “That was Jerry’s idea…” : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton_Chronicles ; http://www.salon.com/news/1998/03/cov_11news.html
Falwell’s 9/11 blame on gays and others: