Thursday, May 17, 2007

Even in His Death...

...he still polarizes. Dr. Jerry Falwell is one of the most polarizing firgures to have ever called himself an evangelical.In reading many blogs about Dr. Falwell as a man, a visionary, a leader, a pastor, and a preacher of the Gospel, the opinions have ranged from "glad he is dead" to "bold man of God."

I have had a decided opinion of Dr. Falwell, and as a conservative living in Virginia, one cannot listen to Virginia Baptist news without the names Dr. Falwell, Liberty University, or Thomas Road Baptist Church eventually coming up. As a preacher of the Gospel, few could rival Dr. Falwell for his bold proclamation, his tender invitation, his compassionate identification even with the poorest of sinners. As a pastor, the Thomas Road Baptist Church family loved him; he was willing to get his hands dirty with ministry, reaching out to the lowliest of drug addicts and alcoholics, condemning abortion yet doing all in his evangelical sway to open another shelter for unwed mothers.

One thing I can say about Dr. Falwell, as some have already noted on their blogs, Dr. Falwell made some onerous statements. I will not rehearse those. Regardless of the sharpness of his tongue, no one would have ever caught Dr. Falwell in an adult book store. His integrity in witness and committment to his family, immediate, church, and to the larger Body of Christ, rose above every other character flaw he may have had, and if anything, I respect his boldness and courage. Greatness as a man of God is not precluded by any personal bias one may have for any man, whether conservative or moderate in their theology.

I disagreed with Dr. Falwell on politics. He was too close to too many politicians, nor were his political affiliations consistent, and his galvanization of a "values voters" block was too single-issue and too polarized for my tastes. His legalistic and fundamentalist bents made political favor part of a personal relationship with Christ and with that I take issue. Christ is part of no political party. But all that is personal bias.

Dr. Falwell was radical. He was extreme. He made people mad. However, having met Dr. Falwell, shook his hand, attended services at Thomas Road, heard him preach in person and on radio, he was a sweet man. But when he became political, he morphed into something entirely different. Here is where I diverge with the man, for better or worse.

I appreciate, admire, and respect the contributions of Dr. Jerry Falwell to evangelical Christianity, culture at large, and even to us as Baptists. May God bless his family, watch over them during this time of crisis, and may a man of God be raised to fill his enormous shoes.

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