JACKSON, Tenn. – May 15, 2007 – Jerry Falwell will leave a lasting legacy as a Christian fundamentalist leader and political activist, Union University President David S. Dockery said May 15 upon Falwell’s death.
“Jerry Falwell was a visionary leader and faithful pastor, who had become the visible representative of Christian fundamentalism in this country over the last three decades,” Dockery said. “Falwell was the William Bell Riley of this age. His founding of the Moral Majority, his influence on American politics and his continual media presence over the years all helped to expand his impact on Christians, on the churches and society at large.
“In recent years, Rev. Falwell had attempted to shed his fundamentalist image,” Dockery said. “Historians will likely debate for years to come his place in the history of the church and his influence on this country, particularly in the last decades of the 20th century. His lasting legacy will no doubt be the ongoing work of Liberty University.”
Greg Thornbury, dean of Union’s School of Christian Studies, called Falwell “an important and sometimes polarizing figure in American Christianity.”
“His loss will reshape the cultural conversation about Christianity among evangelicals for some time to come,” Thornbury said.
James Patterson, associate dean of Union’s School of Christian Studies and church historian, said Falwell leaves “a remarkable legacy as a megachurch pastor, television evangelist and entrepreneur for Christian higher education.”
But Patterson said Falwell may be best remembered for his political activism, beginning in the late 1970s, when he organized the Moral Majority.
“Dr. Falwell mobilized previously unengaged fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals to give enthusiastic support to a series of Republican presidential candidates, beginning with Ronald Reagan,” Patterson said. “Falwell thus served as one of the primary architects for the New Christian Right, which some observers say might have limited his effectiveness as a preacher of the gospel.”