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?