Patrick McIlheran has an excellent post on the death of Jerry Falwell. Falwell said a lot of things that I can't buy into. Culturally and theologically, there is an enormous difference between Baptists and "catholic" denominations like Episcopalians, Lutherans and even Roman Catholics.
When Falwell annoyed me, I have to admit that I thought he was being stupid. But I never really thought he was venal or hateful. He did call things sin that I would not call sin. He did claim to know the mind of God in a way that I would think we ought not to claim. But in that his error was candor in the pursuit of mistake. He seemed to brook no more hate than have many of the lions - and lionesses - of liberal protestantism.
Patrick says that Walker Percy - no fundamentalist - preferred the Gospel of Falwell to that of Guccione. As much as it may not be precisely mine, I am not so sure that I don't prefer it to the Gospel of John Shelby Spong.
But, and this is a change in topic, I have got to acknowledge this line in Patrick's post:
Even Jimmy Carter, who was Falwell's predecessor in being openly, publicly religious, managed to confess to lust only in the course of trying to convince secular Democrats that his born-again Christianity wouldn't impinge on the world.
This is, I think, why Carter made that confession in Playboy. This is, I think, why Carter has been rather promiscuous when it comes to self-righteousness and sanctimony in the years that have followed. If we think "pharisee," is there really any reason to think more readily of Falwell than of Carter? Is the latter any more certain of his rectitude than the former? Has Carter ever apologized with cost in the way that Falwell has?
Was Falwell "better" than Carter? While I think Carter's "ex-presidency" has been almost wholly unadmirable, I don't want to say that. But I do think that Falwell had the rare courage to follow his beliefs without regard to how it played in Cambridge and New Haven and, in doing so, he accomplished quite a bit. On the whole, I think he did more good than harm.