I watched much of the cable television coverage of Jerry Falwell's death and legacy. And I did a lot of grimacing, in response to the uncritical adulation of his allies (who passed over the divisive character of much of Falwell's rhetoric) and also to the ugly vitriol from some of Falwell's enemies (who attacked both his character and his faith). There were even some who attacked all people of faith. I ended up being glad that I had passed up all the invitations to be on those shows. On the day of Rev. Falwell's death, I was content to offer a brief statement, which read:
"I was saddened to learn that Rev. Jerry Falwell passed away this morning at age 73. Rev. Falwell and I met many times over the years, as the media often paired us as debate partners on issues of faith and politics. I respected his passionate commitment to his beliefs, and our shared commitment to bringing moral debate to the public square, although we didn't agree on many things. At this time, however, what matters most is our prayers for comfort and peace for his family and friends."
Jerry Falwell, in his own way, did help to teach Christians that their faith should express itself in the public square and I am grateful for that, even if the positions he took were often at great variance with my own. I spent much of my early Christian life fighting the privatizing of faith, characterized by the withdrawal of any concern for the world (so as to not be "worldly") and an exclusive focus on private matters. If God so loved the world, God must care a great deal about what happens to it and in it. Falwell agreed with that, and he blew the trumpet that awakened fundamentalist Christians to engage the world with their faith and moral values. That commitment is a good thing. Falwell and I debated often about how faith should impact public life and about what all the great moral issues of our time really are.