On Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and founder of Liberty University, passed away this morning. He was seventy-three.

I met Falwell a few times over the years. Living in Lynchburg, his home town, will do that. Falwell and I would never have seen eye-to-eye on politics–I’m progressive, he was a conservative–nor religion–he was a Christian, and I am anything but–but I can’t argue with the humanity in the man. He prayed for my father when he had his heart attack in 1996.

I’ve often thought that the Falwell persona seen on television–the belligerent, inflexible bigot and xenophobe–was very much an act, that privately Falwell was a more temperate person than his public self allowed. Falwell never scared me the way Pat Robertson or Franklin Graham scare me.

I have an autographed copy of his autobiography. I’ve never read it. To this day I’m not even sure why I bought it. Maybe it just seemed like a cool thing to acquire at the time.

I visited Lynchburg about a month ago. Driving east on 460 you can see a giant mosaic carved into the side of a mountain–the logo of Liberty University. “It’s supposed to be big enough to read from space,” my brother said. Now I won’t be able to have a conversation that begins, “So, what’s Jerry done now…?”

Rest in peace, Jerry Falwell. Lynchburg will be a different place without you, that’s for sure.

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