Tuesday May 15th, 2007, marked the transition of one of the most valiant spiritual warriors of our age from the mortal world to the spirit world as Reverend Jerry Falwell (pictured at left), the longtime pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor of Liberty University, both located in Lynchburg, Virginia, was recalled to the spirit world, not only to rest from his mortal labors, but undoubtedly to resume serving God in that environment. That's right - some people do continue serving God in heaven. Do you really believe that such a powerful witness for Christ as Jerry Falwell would be relegated to fritter away eternity playing a frigging harp? LOL!
My purpose is to address this event from what I consider to be a fairly typical personal perspective of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is in no respect to be considered the official opinion of the Church - its leadership will issue an official statement if it deems one is warranted.
Reverend Falwell not only preached the Word, but unlike some mainstream Christian pastors, lived the Word. Never was there a hint of any provable personal scandal in his life that plagued other pastors, like Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker, just to name a few. Exposed to personal temptation like other prominent men, he was not known to yield to it. In short, character came first and foremost in his life.
Reverend Falwell was a tireless and valiant defender of traditional family values. While he moderated his original opinions about race in recent years, even as the LDS Church likewise did in 1978, he never wavered for a second in his unstinted oppostition to two of the major curses of this land - adultery and homosexuality. Even though Reverend Falwell acknowledged the New Testament covenant that adulterers could be forgiven rather than automatically executed, and applied that same analogy to homosexuality, he continued to characterize both as serious sins. He also confronted feminism and opposed ordaining women to pastorships, explaining that while women may have a teaching ministry or a healing ministry, women were barred by the Bible from having a pastoral ministry (based upon guidance in 1 Timothy 3:2). He recognized that the New Testament covenant was not intended to destroy Old Testament law, but to fulfill it. The purpose of the New Testament covenant was to allow mercy to soften justice, not to supersede or substitute for justice.
Reverend Falwell strived to walk the line between destructive denominationalism on the one extreme, and sappy syncretism on the other end. He proclaimed the unity of all Christians in Christ without compromising core elements of the Gospel. His attitude towards the LDS Church was quite reasonable; I recall no occasion where he demonized Mormonism as either a "cult" or "un-Christian", even though he obviously held theological disagreements with Mormonism. Recently, he even met with Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an effort to discourage evangelical Christians from rejecting Romney at the ballot box simply because of his religion. This was an important step since as recently as July 2006, 37% of respondents to a poll indicated they would not vote for a Mormon for president solely because of religion. Falwell's moderating influence has since helped to reduce that number. Indeed, Mitt Romney issued the following statement about the passing of Jerry Falwell:
"An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us. He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action.
"Ann and I have had the honor to talk and meet with Reverend Falwell and get to know him as a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him. He will be forever remembered."
Of course, I had a few theological disagreements with Reverend Falwell. Possibly the most outstanding disagreement was his espousal of "pre-tribulation rapture". This doctrine holds that at some unspecified point in the future, worthy Christians are to be suddenly transported up to heaven without warning. Planes, trains, and motor vehicles will suddenly become unpiloted. Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers will suddenly disappear in mid-task or mid-transaction. One can just imagine the chaos to ensue from such an event. It seems inconsistent with any plan authored by the Lord, since Jesus states in the Bible that his Father's house is a house of order, not a house of confusion. It also can serve to encourage "escapist" behavior - perhaps some Christians will be encouraged to take on excessive debt or make other unsound financial decisions in the hope that they will be "raptured" out of the financial consequences. Pre-tribulation rapture is an incorrect interpretation of Biblical doctrine. The actual "rapture " will occur concomitant with the Second Coming itself - as Jesus and His hosts are descending, those are have lived a Christ-like life, living and dead alike, will be caught up in the atomosphere to meet them, then all will descend together (based upon guidance in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Another disagreement is with Reverend Falwell's increasing espousal of Christian Zionism, marked by his frequent use of the term "Judeo-Christian". Christianity evolved separately from Judaism not only because the Jewish elite in Palestine (the Pharisees and Sadducees) turned against Jesus (see Mark 15), but after Jesus' death, the Jewish elite ran the Christians out of Palestine (until the Roman Emperor Titus paid them back in A.D. 70). In addition, many Jews maintain a hostile attitude towards Jesus and Christianity even to this day; consider the reaction by the ADL and by Holocaust® propagandist Rabbi Marvin Hier towards Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ", which was designed to be faithful to the New Testament account as much as possible. The near-180-degree divergence between Jews and Christians on the issue of Jesus Christ would tend to preclude any "marriage" between Judaism and Christianity.
Christian Zionism requires separate treatment. This philosophy links the destinies of Jews and Christians through its unstinting support of Israel. It is essentially an "Israel-First" policy, borne of the belief that Armageddon must precede the Second Coming. Because the rapture, Armageddon, and the Second Coming are linked, and many Christians want to accelerate the timeline, they are willing to embrace foreign policy which may hasten rather than prevent Armageddon. The danger of this philosophy is that it promotes preparing for Armageddon at the expense of preventing it, thus encouraging intransigence and provocative behavior on the part of Israel. Even some Jewish rabbis are concerned about the dangers of Christian Zionism. Christian Zionists tend to forget that prophecy is conditional; when Jonah prophesied destruction to Nineveh, surprise, suprise...Nineveh repented, and the predicted destruction was suspended until such time as they lapsed into wickedness once again (see Jonah 3:4). Armageddon can be averted with a more balanced and less militaristic foreign policy in the Middle East. Read this article in the April 2007 issue of the Washington Report of Middle East Affairs for a more comprehensive look at the political consequences of Christian Zionism.
Nevertheless, I believe that Reverend Falwell's defense of traditional cultural values should take precedence over his rapture-peddling and his embrace of Christian Zionism. The Moral Majority he formed in the 1980s particularly slowed down the cultural degradation that unfortunately re-ignited with a vengeance once Falwell shut down the group. The emergence of Liberty University as a major academic institution where Christians can receive a quality higher education and have freedom of speech at the same time may be his most important lasting legacy. However, Reverend Falwell's outreach to unwed mothers and alcoholics also showed a holistic concern on his part - his ministries weren't all perfumed "suit-and-tie" Sunday-only Potemkin endeavours.
So, did Jerry Falwell really have "pastoral" authority? Certainly he never had either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthoods conferred upon him, nor was he ordained to any of the offices contained therein, so he didn't have formal "Priesthood" authority. However, pastorship is a function of priesthood, and the Lord will work with those who proclaim His word and do His will, even if they don't accept the fulness of the Gospel. Furthermore, the LDS hierarchical structure does not accomodate evangelists who run independent ministries. Had Jerry Falwell been a Mormon, he would have most likely become just another relatively anonymous bishop or stake president, or perhaps may have become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, but it would not have permitted him to properly exploit his legendary powers of persuasion and organization. The Lord, as well as the greater society as a whole, got more use out of Jerry Falwell as a Baptist evangelist than they would have in any other venue. Reverend Falwell was EXACTLY where ther Lord wanted him to be. It is my conclusion that Jerry Falwell got more mileage out of his more limited Gospel in one day's activity than many Mormons get out of their greater Gospel in a full lifetime. And because of Falwell's service to the Lord and to mankind, as well as the love of the Lord that was in his heart, he will NOT go to hell just because he wasn't a Mormon, but will instead be rewarded for his accomplishments and offered the fulness of the Gospel in heaven, to include the opportunity to accept any exaltation ordinances performed on his behalf down here, such as Temple marriage and other related endowment ordinances.
As far as I'm concerned, Jerry Falwell was a real pastor whose pastorship was fully recognized by the Lord. I am content to leave the precise nature of Jerry Falwell's eternal reward in the Lord's hands.