Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Lies of Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell was an unpleasant man politically. Personally he could be charming. No surprise there. Often the worst people in history could charm crowds and individuals. That does not exonerate them. If anything it makes them even more dangerous. Falwell was rather typical in that sense. Certainly on the occasions that I dealt with him he could be charming.

Of course Falwell’s less than charming side is well known. His theocratic positions have been documented. Some of Falwell’s mind-numbed students at his misnamed “Liberty University” said Falwell will be remembered well because he was never caught in a moral scandal. I guess if, like many a fundamentalist, you only consider morality as what one does with their genitals, that might be true. If morality includes honesty matters are entirely different.

But Jerry Falwell is a liar. Now I don’t mean his political and religious opinions when I say that. Those, I think, are just wrong. They are based on false premises. When I say Falwell is a liar I mean he has made public statements about facts which where the said something he knew wasn’t true. He intentionally lied about things. In all the cases I know of he did it for public relations purposes. He would deny things that were true in order to make himself look better to the public. Perhaps it was vanity. Perhaps he had other motivations. Either way he lied.

Deborah Caldwell of Beliefnet writes how Falwell charmed her. She even called him sincere and mentioned how Falwell bragged that he could turn anyone into a friend. She told how he told her he doesn’t even care if his students “watched R-rated movies.” Caldwell apparently believed him. It made Falwell appear so human and even “kind” to this reporter who had been sent to write a story about Falwell.

But it wasn’t true.

Jayson Whitehead wrote about himself, his father and Falwell. He describes his father as “a leading Christian attorney” who “was enlisted” to defend Falwell on several occasions. One of the perks daddy received was that Jayson was sent to Falwell’s university free of charge. Jayson says this “made it easier on my dad’s bank account” but “it was torture for me.” He described the university as “a highly regulated center where the stress was on what you could not do, sinful things like see R-rated movies, drink alcohol, have a TV in your room, listen to secular music or cuss. All these things were against the rule and a violation meant demerits and often suspension.”

So Falwell tells Caldwell he doesn’t mind if students watch R-rated films and a former student of his, a son of a major figure on the Religious Right (John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institutes) says that students could be suspended for seeing R-rated films. Who is right?

Whitehead’s account is accurate. Caldwell’s account is accurate but then she only reported what Falwell told her and Falwell lied. Could it be that Falwell didn’t mind such movies but his university overrode his wishes and imposed standards he didn’t want? No. I speak as one who knew these people well. Falwell set the rules for his university. This is typical of these fundamentalist megachurches where the pastor is a dictator. His schools are run his way.

At one point Falwell even condemned G-rated films. He said: “We do not even condone the so-called ‘good’ movies since they also contribute to the support of an industry which is basically corrupt. it is never right to accentuate the good in order to tolerate the evil.”

Whitehead’s account is easily verified by reading the code of conduct for students at Liberty University, where liberty is in short supply. Students could be expelled for reprimands and the school’s office of the Inquisition listed the various sins for which students would be reprimanded. Students would receive 12 reprimands and a $50 fine for “attendance at, possession or viewing of,, an R, NC-17 or X rated movie.”

Other crimes included “Deception” something which would get Falwell expelled from his own university; “participation in an unathoriized petition or demonstration;” “entering the residence hallway of the opposite sex or allowing the same;”

One could get 30 reprimands, a $500 fine and 30 hours of “disciplinary community service for “immorality”, “witchcraft,” “possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages” or spending the night with someone of the opposite sex. Reprimands could also be earned for missing curfew, having hair that is too long (for boys), “music code violation”, “possession and/or use of tobacco” and “attendance at a dance.” It seems Mr. Whitehead’s account is quite accurate.

Falwell didn’t mind bending the truth. I first caught on to this during the heydays of Falwell’s Moral Majority. One of their national officers was an odious fundamentalist minister from Indianapolis named Greg Dixon. Dixon ran a megachurch similar to Falwell’s and they were close friends.

I went to Indianapolis to write about Dixon and his crusade. One of Dixon’s subordinates from the church, Rev. Don Boys, was elected as a Republican to the state legislature. One of the first tasks Boys undertook was a “Right to Decency” bill which would have made being gay a felony. As he put it: “We want homosexuality to once again be a crime.” He said: “I don’t hate perverts; I just want to see them in jail away from decent, innocent people. That’s what my bill to reinstate sodomy as a crime would have done.”

Moral Majority official Dixon was all in favor of the bill. In fact he actually wanted to go much further. On numerous occasions he preached that he wanted gay people executed. I had tape recordings of him saying just that and I confronted Dixon with those tapes on a national radio show. He tried to weasel around it a bit but he finally admitted: “Moral Majority, I feel, would take the position that homosexuality is a perversion and should be a felony... From a practical standpoint you’re never going to get capital punishment for homosexuality but the Bible would certainly stand by a society that would be willing to do that.”

So Dixon and Boys, both active officials in Falwell’s group wanted gay people arrested and imprisoned if not executed. And Boys introduced a bill to mandate a prison sentence for homosexuals. To try and push this legislation through Dixon organized a “Rally for Decency” in Indianapolis. The entire purpose of this rally was to make homosexuality a felony. Dixon brought in anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell was the key speaker at this rally. Falwell urged people to get behind the legislation. Meanwhile at the same time another Moral Majority spokesman, Dean Wycoff, was out in California saying: “I believe in capital punishment, and I believe homosexuality is one of those crimes that could be coupled with murder and other sins.”

The Falwellians were quite clear. Homosexuals should be stripped of their rights and imprisoned because they are gay. That was when in a good mood. In a bad mood they wanted gays executed. As Rev. Dixon preached: “I say either fry ‘em or put them in the pen. Don’t unleash them [gays] on the human race.” This man, the National Secretary of Falwell’s group said: “When they say homosexuals should have their civil rights I ask one question: Do you give criminals rights like honest citizens? Absolutely not! Criminals do not have their civil rights.”

Just days after this rally, where Falwell endorsed legislation to incarcerate gay people, the good reverend was in Chicago. He gave a speech at the City Club. He was again asked about his views of gay rights. His answer would be surprising in view of what he had proposed just a couple days earlier. Now he claimed that he had no desire to take away rights from people for being gay he was just “against special rights” for homosexuals. The legislation he endorsed would have turned homosexuality into a felony. He was the keynote speaker at a rally for that legislation. But when the media questioned him he tells the complete opposite of the truth. In other words, he lied.

I have heard Falwell say he was opposed to theocracy and that his Moral Majority did not propose theocracy. Yet I had tapes of the national convention of the Moral Majority. Remember Falwell was the founder and leader of the group. Falwell was at the convention. He heard what his own speakers were proposing. One such speaker was an old minister named W.E. Dowell. Dowell was selected because he used to be Falwell’s minister. And Dowell was totally honest about what Moral Majority was proposing?

Newspapers asking Brother Jerry Falwell today, several time they've asked him this. "Well, wont it be something like it is over in Iran - you religious people taking over -become a religious system." I said, I don't know what he said, but if it had been me I'd said, well the other crowd's had it long enough and they failed, and made such a terrible blot of it, it's time somebody take over.

Dowell said this with Falwell there. And how did the Moral Majority ministers respond to this open call for theocracy? They cheered and applauded. Falwell himself had said he had “a divine mandate from God to go right into the halls of Congress and fight for laws that will save America.” Falwell’s press conference was a front. He said in public what he thought needed to be said. He claimed that he had no desire to strip gay people of any rights at all just days after calling for legislation to have them imprisoned.

In 1984 Falwell participated in a television show. In the audience was an old friend from his Bible school days, Jerry Sloan. Falwell used to spend “many Sunday dinners with his feet under our table” wrote Sloan.

Sometime prior to this show Sloan was watching Falwell’s church broadcast. In that show Falwell spoke about the Metropolitan Community Church. He said:
“Look at the Metropolitan Community Church today, the gay church, almost accepted into the World Council fo Churches recently, the National Council of Churches almost, the vote was against them, but they will try again and again until they get in and the tragedy is that they would get one vote because they are spoken of here in Jude as being brute beasts, that is, going to the baser lust of the flesh to live immorality. And so, Jude describes this as apostasy. Thank God this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there will be a celebration in heaven.”
Sloan was so surprised by the remark he went out and bought a VCR so he could record the sermon later that day during a rebroadcast.

At this television show Sloan asked Falwell why he made this remark. “As I tried to get the quote out,” said Sloan, “Falwell kept interrupting me and said what I was saying was ‘an absolute lie.’” Falwell “was extremely agitated” and kept denying that he had every said any such thing. And he told Sloan he would give him $5,000 if he could prove that Falwell ever said these remarks.

A couple of days later Sloan returned to the TV show with the video tape in question. In addition he had an audio tape of the sermon in question produced by Falwell’s own ministry. As Sloan said: “At least three times Falwell said I was lying so it was a matter of personal honor for me to produce the tape and show that he was the only one lying, the $5,000 would just be icing on the cake.”

Sloan had an attorney write Falwell saying that the check for $5,000 should be mailed to them as Falwell promised if the tape is produced. He was directed to his own tape recording of the sermon as additional evidence. Even though Falwell said he would pay the money if the tape were produced his attorney “wrote us a letter basically saying it would be a cold day in you-know-where before he gave me $5,000.” So apparently Falwell was lying about that as well.

Falwell was scheduled to return to California for fundraising and Sloan and his attorney filed a law suit for “breach of an oral contract”. Falwell promised to pay $5,000 if it be could be proven he had lied about those statements. It was proven he lied and he now refused to pay up. In other words the promise was a lie as well. A suit was filed in court just a few hours before Falwell landed in Sacramento. Falwell was served with legal papers and the media was told about the event.

From there things got worse for Falwell. When the case went to court the local municipal judge ruled in favor of Sloan. Falwell attacked saying that because the judge was Jewish he had a “natural prejudice” against Falwell as a Christian. This was mild considering that Falwell said the “Antichrist” was Jewish.

Even though Falwell lost the suit he still refused to pay the $5,000 he promised. Instead he appealed but he lost the appeal and was order to pay an additional $2875 plus interest. A few months later Falwell paid up. To be precise, he didn’t pay up. Even though he personally made the promise to pay he had the money taken out of Moral Majority funds.

Jerry Falwell was a manipulator. He would say one thing in one situation and a very different thing someplace else. He did not hesitate to deny statements he had made. Or he would claim he was being misquoted. Yet Falwell knew what he had said. But he also knew that the American public wouldn’t take kindly to some of his more extreme statements. So for the sake of PR he would lie or hedge the facts in order to make himself look better.

Now none of these lies strike me as “major sins” but they are sufficiently deceptive to have one of his students reprimanded and perhaps expelled from Liberty University. I do think Falwell committed some very great sins. But what I see as sins he sees as virtues. He was mean-spirited and bigoted. He spent much of his early ministry fighting civil rights for blacks and the rest of his ministry opposing equality for gay people. I think that is a moral shortcoming. He believed things I think are false. It is is right to do so but he lobbied hard to use state coercion to impose his morality on others. I think that is a major moral shortcoming. But in Falwell’s own extensive list of sins these don’t get much play. But even fundamentalist Christians say that lying is a sin. And Falwell. He distorted facts in order to make his ministry look good. By my own standards Falwell is condemn several times over. Here I just wanted to show that by his own standards he also stands condemned.