May 25, 2007

Falwell Feature 2

The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors

 By ADELLE M. BANKS                  [MAIN STORY]                       ©2007 Religion News Service
capAbout 10,000 mourners bid farewell to the Rev. Jerry Falwell on May 22, remembering him for his influence as a pastor, political activist, and Christian educator.
Falwell's black and gold casket, adorned with a spray of red roses, stood under the pulpit of the 6,000-seat sanctuary of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church he started with 35 people in an abandoned soft drink bottling plant 51 years ago.
"People have asked me, `Franklin, do you agree with Jerry Falwell?'" said evangelist Franklin Graham, in a message piped to two overflow locations on the nearby Liberty University campus. "Every time he opened the Bible, I agreed with Jerry Falwell.
"And you know what? He opened the Bible a lot."
2007 1515 page35Falwell died at 73 on May 15, ending five decades of ministry merged with politics. The founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority continued his efforts to influence conservative Christians to engage in politics even as he built Liberty University and his megachurch in central Virginia.
Many speakers looked beyond his political roles to his pastoral presence that they said reaped more than 3 million Christian converts.
"Thank you for giving us the dreamer," Duke Westover, Falwell's former executive assistant, prayed near the beginning of the 90-minute funeral. "The one who dared to believe that he could change a city and a country and a culture and maybe even the world."
Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jerry Vines, a retired Jacksonville, Fla., pastor, said Falwell was given "a special touch for a special task" by God.
"He said, `I believe God has called me to confront the culture,' and did he ever confront it," said Vines, who invited people to accept Jesus as their savior at the conclusion of his sermon.
"And he was criticized and he was vilified and he was unfairly misquoted but he just kept on smiling and he kept on speaking the message of morality and the glorious message of Jesus Christ to our culture. And the political landscape of America has been different since that day."
Tim Goeglein, a White House liaison to evangelicals, attended the funeral to offer condolences on behalf of the Bush administration. "A man of vision has seen a vision fulfilled, and he is dancing with God in the stars this very afternoon," he said.
Falwell's casket was ushered out of the church following the "Hallelujah Chorus." He was to be buried in a private ceremony on the grounds near his office on the Liberty University campus.
Before and after the funeral, Falwell drew the kind of attention in death he had in life. Police helicopters flew overhead and people waited for hours in line to attend his wake and funeral.
More than 33,000 paid their respects to Falwell when his body lay in state, first at Liberty University and later at his church. The line of people wanting to attend his funeral began forming at 4 a.m. Tuesday, with some prepared for the wait with lawn chairs, water bottles, and Bibles.
"Even though he could be a controversial person at times, the world loved him," said Brent Lester, a local community college assistant professor who attends Thomas Road and stood in line for four hours to attend the funeral. "I know I certainly did."
2007 1515 page36Falwell's two sons have already begun to continue their father's causes. Jonathan Falwell is executive pastor at Thomas Road and preached on Sunday. On Friday (May 18), he began writing the "Falwell Confidential," the weekly newsletter of the Moral Majority Coalition, which his father started in 2004. His brother, Jerry Falwell Jr., is now both chancellor and president of Liberty University, the school his father founded in 1971.
His daughter, Jeannie Falwell Savas, a Richmond, Virginia, surgeon, asked for prayers for her brothers and expressed confidence in their new roles. "I know Dad had faith in them and in their abilities and I know God has given them everything that they need to carry this work forward but I would hope that none of you would expect either of them to fill my dad's shoes," she said. "Dad's work here is finished.... I hope that your prayers for them will be the same as mine that they will clearly be able to see God's vision through their lives."
As church and community members stood in line, Christian and political celebrities--from religious broadcaster Pat Robertson to former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer--entered a courtyard that turned into a virtual red carpet.
"To me, it's the end of an era and the fall of a giant," said former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson.
As the hearse pulled away from the white-columned brick church, Falwell's faithful stood by in silence, wearing suits, school uniforms and a T-shirt that read "Firm Believer in Christ." Some wore red and black ribbons with a small gold pin that read "Jesus First."
"Dr. Falwell, See you in Heaven," read the church sign outside Central Baptist Church, a small brick double A-frame church a few miles from Thomas Road Baptist Church. "Thanks for your service to God."

Photos by Mark Kellner, Adventist Review News Editor