Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On speaking truthfully and Jerry Falwell

The death of Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) has got me thinking. How should the church mourn/celebrate in death the life of those with whom they have fundamental theological differences? Interestingly, within this question I am proposing some aspect of ecclesial unity (which might not be the case). This is an interesting question when one considers the characteristics that mark a saint in the church. What are these marks? How do I speak faithfully and truthfully about one such as Rev. Falwell with who I disagree on many theological levels?

On a deeper theological level, does sainthood imply both unity and diversity? What are the common characteristics that mark a saint? In what way are characteristics of a saint allowed to be unique to the person? To add balance to the question, consider the person of Robert Weber (1933-2007) who, ironically, shared the same life span and Falwell. How do I, who perhaps share more in common with Weber than Falwell, speak about Falwell in a way that is faithful and true but not to the detriment of Christian unity?

I guess in a way I am asking if Falwell ought to be one of whom we teach our children to consider as an example of faithful Christian living. If not, then how do we speak in love about those that have gone before with whom we disagree? Consider Origen, who got shafted by the church just for thinking outside the box during a time when it was perhaps most permitted to be as creative in his thinking as he was. Only recently has his thought been reconsidered as faithful. Might we think the same about Falwell? Should we consider his views heretical if we disagree with them? If so, on what grounds? Is the church too divided to make such statements? Does the reality of such unique ecclesial diversity in our time permit us to be more critical (always in faith, hope, and above all love) of Falwell’s understand of what it means to be a Christian?


Emily said...

It wasn't so much that his theological viewpoints were so different, it was the kind of spiritual fruit that came from the guy. I think you could hold his theological position and still be loving and compassionate. But Falwell chose a different way to express his theological viewpoints, in my opinion.

I don't think that means we should rejoice that the man is dead but we don't have to celebrate his contribution to American Pop-christianity either.

Emily B

J.R. said...

One thing I just learned a day after his death is that he had opened a bunch of homes for single mothers and alcoholics. He may have done lot of damage for the church, but he also did some good things.

Luckily God's grace is big enough for all of us.

Scott Savage said...

Thanks for posting. Ironically enough, this conversation came up at our church retreat last weekend. We were asked to consider Paul’s attitude as he talks about the advancement of the gospel (Philippians 1:12:18). His attitude was joy, even though some preached Christ out of selfish ambition. Consider this in light of Falwell. I am, perhaps, a bit more skeptical than Paul is in Philippians. I guess another way to ask the question is what is the gospel? In Paul’s case perhaps some were preaching Christ, even though for selfish gain. In Falwell’s case, despite whatever selfish gain there might be (and I am not saying, necessarily, that there was) his understanding of the gospel is different than mine, and many others. I am not as convinced as you are that one can hold Falwell’s theological position and still be loving and compassionate. What does “love” and “compassion” mean for Falwell? I think this is the crux of my concern. We are all having to do with the image of God in Christ as the norm for our lives. I am not sure that Falwell was so interested in that conversation as he was for his own agenda. That is why I am not mad or upset when someone holds a theology different than mine so long as they promote conversation for the advancement of the gospel. This would mean that one would be willing to correct theological understandings (myself included). I don’t get that vibe from Falwell, which is why I have a hard time.

You raise an interesting part of this whole question. I am continually interested in how ecumenism is actualized through social justice type endeavors. Great point!


Andre said...

Though I'm going to hell for it, I was tremendously relieved to hear that he went to go see Jesus and was being chewed out for being such an idiot.
My favority stupid things he is notorious for saying,
"Billy Graham is the chief servant of Satan in America."
"AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh's charioteers ... AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
And my favorite Christian fruit of the spirit remark: "You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord."