I honestly wouldn't have thought I would care much about the passing of Dr. Jerry Falwell today. I read the breaking news headline and thought "Huh. Oh well..." and got on with my day.
But there was something about it that kept nagging me in the back of my brain. So I went back and read a couple of his obituaries. Here's one from the Globe and Mail. And I think the challenge for me was to find something good to say about Falwell. If this had happened 15 years ago I think my reaction would have been different. Probably a flippant "good riddance".
But I'm trying to find the good in his life when so much of what he, and his organization stood for, are things that I find abhorrent. He rabidly disliked homosexuals and opposed gay marriage. He was pro-life to the point of making life exceptional difficult for women who would prefer to have a choice. There is certainly enough proof over the years that he also didn't think much of the women's rights movement, with speeches stating that women should obey their husbands.
And he firmly linked a politicians political fortunes in parts of the United States with their religious upbringing. "The Moral Majority" that he helped create can be held accountable for a portion of the problems in the United States right now. Others, doubtlessly, will have another take on that. Falwell himself said he shuddered to think where the US would be without the Moral Majority. I like to think it perhaps would be a more tolerant and less divided place than what it is now.
Did he do good in his life? Doubtlessly he did lots of it. I imagine he impacted the lives of tens of thousands and made their lives better. That he brought comfort and direction to those without either. And those are good things. I just wonder if it balances out what I perceive as the harm his organization and beliefs also did to tens of thousands.
In some ways there is an odd synchronicity to his passing right now. I've read articles in recent months about how the Christian Right in the US is becoming frustrated and fragmented. Like any political trend there are ebbs and flows and certainly the influence of the Christian Right has been at a high for much of the past decade.
But now it seems to be weakening. There's the realization that even though they had a president very much sympathetic to their beliefs and a Congress that leaned the same way, much of what they wanted never happened. The country is still predominantly pro-choice. Many states are questioning capital punishment. Things they saw in Hollywood they disagreed with continue. And with the race for the '08 election already beginning, they haven't managed to find a new candidate to rally around.
Falwell died at the same time the movement he had a hand in creating is giving all the appearance of dying. Whether his death resurrects the movement or just speeds the progress I guess we'll see in the coming months and years.
Although you'll have to forgive me for wishing his movement a speedy progression in joining him in the grave...