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Fallwell’s legacy Activist Christians

Post-Bulletin staff and news services

Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died Tuesday, left his mark by galvanazing conservative Christians into political action during the 1980s.

"Until he came along, evangelicals tended to withdraw from society," said John Steer, senior pastor at Autumn Ridge Church in Rochester. "I think Falwell showed up and encouraged evangelicals to be good citizens of earth and heaven, which means to participate in the voting and political process."

Citing a report that 8 million evangelicals were not registered to vote at the time, Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, an organization he characterized as "pro-life, pro-family, pro-moral and pro-American." He also championed the candidacy of President Reagan.

"Now we take it for granted that evangelicals are active in political life," Steer said. "Prior to the 1970s that wasn’t something evangelicals did. Pastors actually encouraged people not to be involved."

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Falwell declared that this lack of involvement was "one of the major sins of the church today" and urged pastors to help eradicate it.

"Perhaps his mistake was to identify with one political party rather than be involved in all political parties," Steer said. "Yet I am grateful for his urging of Christians and Baptists to let their voice be heard."

Falwell often was outspoken but rarely caused as much controversy as he did in remarks he made after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Speaking on the "700 Club" television program of televangelist Pat Robertson, Falwell said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen."’

Falwell, 73, had suffered from a heart condition and was found unconscious and without a pulse in his office Tuesday at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which he founded.

Falwell was both "loved and hated," said Pastor Don Noonan of Rochester Baptist Church.

"I appreciated what he did for churches and protecting the freedom of churches," Noonan said.

Among the things Falwell did was battle for the rights of churches when they faced the threat of property taxation in the early 1980s.

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"That would kill churches, big or small," Noonan said.

Larry Orth, assistant pastor at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Rochester and a graduate of Liberty University, called Falwell a visionary.

Falwell leaves behind a strong legacy at Liberty, which was a pioneer in distance education, said Orth, who did much of his classwork at Liberty via long-distance learning from 1988 to 1992.

"Something that may come as a surprise for people is, his love for Christ and the gospel is primary over political matters. Political matters were secondary," Orth said.

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