05/17/2007: Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who once was Vice President of the Moral Majority, weighs in on the legacy of Jerry Falwell. Thomas gets it.
The movement also had its downside, because it tended to detract from a Christian’s primary responsibility of telling people the “good news” that redemption comes only through Jesus Christ. At times, this central message seemed to be replaced by one suggesting that a shortcut to moral renewal might come through Washington and the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, while that dynamic may not be something that Falwell intended, it certainly became the reality.
In his assessment of the Moral Majority’s accomplishments, Thomas said some of the same things I said the other day:
The flaw in the movement was the perception that the church had become an appendage to the Republican Party and one more special interest group to be pampered. If one examines the results of the Moral Majority’s agenda, little was accomplished in the political arena and much was lost in the spiritual realm, as many came to believe that to be a Christian meant you also must be “converted” to the Republican Party and adopt the GOP agenda and its tactics.
Sadly, by becoming an appendage of the GOP, the Church became sullied with all the ensuing GOP scandals. Suddenly, anything the GOP leadership pursued became associated with religious conservatives, even if the initiative was something even a backslidden Christian couldn’t support.
As for results, the Moral Majority failed badly. Sure, they helped elect Reagan. Then again, Carter did more to elect Reagan–by bungling matters with the economy, Iran, and the Russians–than the Moral Majority did.
They sought to overturn Roe v. Wade; that didn’t happen. Even with a pro-life Republican President in the Oval Office for 19 of the last 27 years–all but three Supreme Court justices picked by them–Roe v. Wade is as firmly entrenched today as it was on January 22, 1973. (Even if Roe fell today, nothing would change: that would merely return the issue to the states, at which point state legislatures, governors, and state court systems would spend the next two decades deliberating on the matter.)
They sought to reverse the homosexual agenda; that didn’t happen. Today, homosexual culture is chic whereas it was on the societal fringes 30 years ago. You want proof? Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
They sought to reverse the trend of “no-fault” divorce and dissolution of families; that didn’t happen. Divorce rates have gone down, only if you ignore the effect of cohabitation, which has skyrocketed and is every bit as un-Biblical as divorce. And divorce rates among evangelicals have remained unchanged if not higher.
They sought to reverse the proliferation of pornography in our society; today, porn is a bigger global enterprise than it was 30 years ago. 30 years ago, the VCR would bring porn into many homes and deliver revenue to many video outlets. Today, the Internet has all but nullified any efforts to regulate pornography. Libertarians–myself included–raise substantial issue over the wisdom of governmental attempts to regulate it.
Had Falwell kept his message more focused toward the Church rather than to society, then I’d suggest that the results may have been better. After all, in the Epistles, you never see Paul railing against Graeco-Roman culture; you do, however, see him exhorting the Church not to partake of that culture. Admonitions to the Church to eschew the ways of the world are plenteous; condemnations against the world for advancing the pop culture of the day are nonexistent.
We expect the secular world to pursue abortion, easy divorce, acceptance of gay lifestyles, and the pursuit of all things banal. Just as Paul was hardly surprised that the culture of his time pursued drunken orgies, homosexuality, pederasty, murder, and greed. Christians should also expect a real Biblical preacher to challenge them to eschew such elements, as Paul and Peter each exhorted and admonished the Church of their day.
Falwell, sadly, spent the bulk of his energy–at least during the Moral Majority days–combating the world in our culture rather than helping to cleanse the world from the Church.
Thomas also makes an observation that I have made on these pages:
One had only to look at the history of the religious left to see the danger in a shotgun marriage between church and state. Most liberal theologians long ago gave up preaching about another king and another kingdom in favor of baptizing the earthly agenda of the Democratic Party. That too many conservative Christians followed their liberal opposites into the same error was to their shame and demonstrated they had missed an important lesson.
As I’ve said: the left and right-leaning Churches typically have one thing in common: everything but the Gospel gets preached. They disagree on cultural issues, but they agree on not preaching the Gospel. Two opposite worldviews; one common result.
As for Liberty University, Falwell enjoyed far more success.
Jerry liked to say that when he passed away, they’d put “and the beggar died” on his tombstone because he was constantly asking for money. That won’t happen. His legacy will be his university. He once said he wanted it to be like Harvard. All of the rest is “wood, hay and stubble.”
Falwell was a leader in education. Liberals will scoff at that statement, but it is the truth. For decades, Falwell had made it possible for people to obtain a quality education without leaving home. Today, every reputable university is seeking an expanded distance learning presence; Falwell was doing it before they even started thinking about doing it.
Liberty University has succeeded where the Moral Majority failed: Liberty focuses on educating the Church; it is an institution of higher learning for Christians. And from the alums I’ve met from Liberty, I’d say Falwell succeeded.
Could it be that Liberty is succeeding because it fulfills the commission of Matthew 28, whereas the Moral Majority failed because it pursued a quasi-Christian secular agenda?