Christianity's top 11 most controversial figures | Jerry Falwell

The American televangelist wedded God and politics in way that lives on in the American right today.

In 1956, at age 22, Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church of Lynchburg. The Church went on to become a megachurch, the case study for a Christianity of profit and rapture that dominates much of the US Mid West and seeks to 'save' souls by expanding its franchise across the globe.

Rising in stature in the South, Falwell resisted the Civil Rights movement, backing paranoid racist George Wallace and slamming the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v Board of Education. Long after the game was up, Falwell half-heatedly resiled on his advocacy of segregation.

Not content with congregations in the thousands and coffers in the tens of millions, Falwell entered the political fray in 1979 with his Moral Majority movement, a "pro-family", "pro-life", "pro-defence" and pro-Israel lobbying group with the numbers and the money to win the White House for Reagan in 1980.

Falwell had considerable influence on Reagan, whose fond discussion of the "end of days" knowledge of the nuclear codes came to alarm many in the White House. Falwell railed against the constitutional of separation of church and state, and was instrumental in keeping God in American schools.

Falwell's declaration 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" were responsible for 9/11 marked the decline of his political influence. He died in 2007.

Christopher Hitchens said of Falwell "the empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend" and by way of a eulogy "give him an enema and you could bury him in a matchbox".

Sadly they didn't, and Sinclair Lewis's nightmare of fascism coming to American "wrapped in a flag, carrying a cross" echoes in Glenn Beck rallies and Sarah Palin sound-bites today.

 

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