politcal cartoon by D. McClintock
Jerry Falwell, the famous Bible-thumpin' televangelist of the Religious Right, passed away on May 15, 2007. I watched with bemusement Ridor's brief video blog on Falwell. His reaction to the breaking news was predictable. When I saw the breaking news I was flooded with memories of my involvement in fundamentalist Christianity during the heydays of the Religious Right in the '80s. (Yep...I was a born-again, evangelical Christian!) Anyone remember Riverdale Baptist Church in Landover, MD.? That church had many deaf members in its congregation and it provided interpreted services as well as separate Sunday school classes for children and adults. When I was at MSSD I'd attend this church almost every Sunday for two years. The church would later have a fall-out with the deaf community during the late '80s (I think) over the issue of interpreters. I believe Rev. Jerry Falwell was a guest speaker at the church a few times, although I've never personally met or listened to him. The stories I heard of him from deaf patrons and interpreters who met him present quite a different picture of the personality apart from the image he was portrayed as in the media.
Whatever you think of him, whether you agree with his politics or not, it is indeed true that he was very deaf-friendly and he provided interpreters at his church for many years. It is true that his university provide support services for deaf and hard of hearing students. I happen to know of a few deaf Christians who went to Liberty University, and they reported to me how great and kind as a person Rev. Falwell was. That is one big positive thing that can be said about him. The interpreter whom I met at Riverdale Baptist Church described him as very "warm and affable" and that he was easy to approach if you wanted to discuss a problem and he'd listen to you with wide-open attentive eyes or ears. Well, it's a shame this aspect of his personality wasn't shown much on television. Plus it did not help that he made several outrageous statements over the years, especially those over 9/11 and Telebubbies (which I thought were stupid). Even more puzzling was his friendliness with Rev. Sun Myung Moon, world-famous cult leader who claimed to be the Messiah and who had himself coroned as a king in a Senate office in Washington, D.C. (click on the link and you'll see a picture of them chummy with each other, buddy-buddy!). Falwell became something of an embarrassment to the Religious Right movement, anyway, shortly before I dropped out of Christianity in '83. This may surprise you, but as someone that was close to being a Young Republican back then, I used to admire him. Oh, well...
I think I read somewhere from a personal account that Jerry Falwell mellowed a bit as he aged and he concentrated his efforts on theological issues and running an university after the Moral Majority disbanded. I wonder what his reaction was like when he arrived to find heaven filled with Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists...(I don't believe in hell). :-D
My sincere condolences to Falwell's family and friends and the deaf Christian community in Va. who know him.