Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Falwell's Legacy Was Reagan's Too

Falwell's Legacy Was Reagan's Too

Phil Brennan
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

As thousands mourned the passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell Tuesday in services held at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., the controversial preacher will be best remembered for forging an alliance that catapulted Ronald Reagan into the White House and helped defeat the Soviet Union's 'evil empire.'

In his recently released diaries, Reagan made a blunt but telling comment about the evangelical leader. A March 15, 1983, entry simply says: "He is a good friend and highly supportive."

It was Falwell and his "Moral Majority" that embraced Republican Reagan — in a move that helped shift millions of long-time Southern Democrats and born-again voters into the GOP column. In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a self-professed born-again Christian, had first captured this emerging voting block.

For the entire eight years Ronald Reagan spent in the White House, Falwell's support meant that the millions of Christians in his Moral Majority and other groups stood foursquare behind their president.

Reagan was able to forge an alliance between Republicans in Congress and Southern Democrats, called the boll weevils, to pass critical legislation that included tax cuts, budget restraints and a massive military buildup to counter the Soviets. The "Reagan Revolution" was born and thrived — in no small part by Falwell's alliance.

In 2004, Falwell recognized Reagan's role in restoring America. He wrote, "Mr. Reagan arrived on the national political scene at a critical time. Faith in the Oval Office had deteriorated under President Carter. The immorality of our present age was taking a strong social foothold. Our economy was in turmoil. America needed a hero. And Ronald Reagan was such a man."

Falwell always viewed himself not as a great political figure, but as a small town preacher who kept to his values and faith. For such, he was looked down upon by the powers that be in New York and Hollywood.

Yet this local preacher from the wrong side of the tracks single handedly took on America's ruling political elite in the name of God, and created a movement that transformed the nation's politics and brought God back into the public square.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that legalized abortion, Falwell was satisfied being pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church he founded in 1956. At the time it had a congregation of 35 (today it's 24,000). Infuriated by the Supreme Court decision, Falwell jumped head first into the nation's political arena.

Zev Chafets, columnist for the Jewish World Review, in a May 20 story "Falwell, God's tough guy," wrote that Falwell got into politics, not out of love, but out of hatred for "abortion, the drug traffic, pornography, child abuse, and immorality in all its ugly, life-destroying forms."

Falwell never looked back. Inspired by what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called his determination to confront "the growing culture of radical secularism with Christian ideals," he began by founding the Moral Majority in 1979. It had four guiding principles: "Pro-life, Pro-traditional Family, Pro-morals, and Pro-American."

Gingrich said, "His life is a testament not only to the power of faith to move hearts, but to the strength of the American ethos that stresses the importance of citizenship . . . He was a great leader, a person totally sustained by his faith but able to work with many people from many different backgrounds without imposing rigidity on anyone else."

As Chafets observed, his movement transformed the Republican Party for an entire generation. In 1980 millions of people of faith voted for the first time and although Ronald Reagan would probably have won the presidency in 1980 anyway, Falwell's help certainly helped guarantee it.

Moreover, Falwell's constant support of Reagan's programs and Reagan's political conservatism during his White House years proved the mainstay of the Reagan Revolution. It was Falwell's plowing that cultivated the field where that Revolution grew and thrived.

"I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved," Falwell said when he stepped down as Moral Majority president in 1987.

As NewsMax reported on May 15, the Moral Majority grew to 6.5 million members and raised $69 million as it supported conservative politicians and campaigned against abortion, gay rights, pornography, and bans on school prayer.

"Falwell became the face of the religious right, appearing on national magazine covers and on television talk shows," NewsMax recalled. In 1983, U.S. News & World Report named him one of 25 most influential people in America.

The Falwell effect continued after Reagan left office, first with the election of George H.W. Bush and later with that of his son, George W. Bush.

On Dec. 2, 2004, Falwell announced another campaign, this time to re-elect an embattled George Bush, saying he expected to attract 1 million members to his newly formed group, The Moral Majority Coalition (TMCC).

He said he was "launching a campaign to enlist the first 1 million charter members of The Moral Majority Coalition."

As Michael Reagan noted in his NewsMax column Thursday, much of the credit for Bush's 2004 re-election was due to the outpouring of Christian votes that won Ohio, and thus kept the presidency for Bush in 2004.

In the wake of that victory, Falwell formed the Faith and Values Coalition as the "21st century resurrection of the Moral Majority," to seek anti-abortion judges, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and more conservative elected officials."

What Jerry Falwell set in motion will continue. His Liberty University, which he founded in 1971, has about 21,500 students from 50 states and 80 nations around the world. He once told Chafets his legacy would outlive him: "This [Liberty] university has 10,000 graduates in pulpits and church boards all over the country," he said. "There will be more every year. They'll carry on."

The day before he died, Falwell had been up on the Liberty campus hillside chatting with students, University Vice President Ron Godwin said. "He was talking about plans for the future that day and over breakfast Tuesday morning."

"Dr. Falwell was a giant of faith and a visionary leader," Godwin said. He "has always been a man of great optimism and great faith."

© NewsMax 2007. All rights reserved.



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