Jerry Falwell remembered in the blogosphere

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Rev. Jerry Falwell passed away at 73 years old and his death is one of the blogosphere’s hot topics today. I never met him but I heard him speak once at a South Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.

He had been hospitalized before for heart congestion problems and it seems he died of heart failure. He is remembered for TV ministry, money issues (did he really receive 3.5 million from the Moonies), fundamentalism, politics, Moral Majority, Religious Right, Liberty University, welcoming Catholics, lawsuits with Penthouse and Hustler, overplaying his cards at 911, strong views against homosexuality and abortion . . and tele-tubbies.

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What sticks in my mind about Jerry Falwell?

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What I remember most about Jerry, apart from blaming abortionists and gays for 911, are his thoughts . . . [or lack of thoughts] . . . about overeating and the tendency of Southern Baptists to replace alcohol with food (“Weighty Matters: Is Religion Making Us Fat?). Southern Baptists,, according to a 1998 Perdue University Study, have the highest average body mass of any other denomination and far higher than non-Christians. Jerry admitted that gluttony was a sin but denied that there was a strong connection between Baptist life and obesity. Some have hinted that SBC stands for ‘Stomach Bigger than Chest’.

I’m not trying to bash Jerry, or Southern Baptists. Others are doing that quite well today. But I am wondering if Baptist theology was a few degrees more holistic and a few degrees less docetist in practice, and if it embraced a stronger theology of the body leading to changes in diet and exercise . . . . then maybe Baptist preachers like Jerry Falwell could log in a few more years in ministry. I remember Howard Hendricks used to recommend physical exercise for ministers and is quoted in “The Discipled Physical Life“. I also remember Bill Bright teaching on fasting and prayer at Amsterdam 2000. We should take this more seriously. I dont talk about it much because I am naturally skinny and its a bit mean to bring it up. But brought it up I have.

Related:

Sharpton speaks out

Fox News on YouTube

Centurion has a cool story about Larry Flynt who said:

“I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.”

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

25 Comments

  • docetism was a form of gnosticim that denied Jesus had a body.
    Sometimes we baptists deny we have bodies. our religion is in our head and our Seminary training is a mind trip – we sit on chairs, listen to long talks, read books and write papers.

  • just imagine . . . if you had grown up in the states and been a baptist you might be known as the short fat kiwi. but then i guess you wouldn’t be a kiwi at all.

  • I could describe myself any way I choose and 99.99% of your readers would not know the difference. But I will confess at the outset that I fit in the overweight category.
    I have struggled with this for years and it is a most difficult struggle.
    We are easy targets. And it appears to me that the blogosphere is just like the church – some sins are socially acceptable, others are not.
    I too was at Amsterdam 2000. I knew Bill Bright and he even spoke in one church I pastored, thanks to a very wealthy man that helped fund the Jesus films (by the way, the leading funder of those films was an enormously obese man, but no one refused his money). Dr. Bright was a pretty hefty guy for a number of years. His forty day fasts were fasts in which he blended protein drinks and that supplemented food you chew.
    My point is this. Your genre’s convictions against obesity are sufficient only to give you a ‘punching bag’. No one refuses the monies donated or help given by fat people. Fat people often rear godly families; make significant and positive contributions to better our world in every area (Rick Warren’s contributions to help people with AIDS is an example). D.L. Moody was significantly used of God as was Charles H. Spurgeon in Great Britain.
    But fat people just do not look good and in a culture of appearance, that is a huge “sin”.
    In every people group there is cultural baggage to overcome. In the Southern United States, the family farms have been replaced by automation and a more sedentary lifestyle. We have been told that we should use “substitutes” for butter, sugar, milk, etc. My observation is that when we used real butter, etc. we were thinner (we also worked those farms, coal mines, etc). Now we use all the “healthy” substitutes and we are fat as toads!
    I am amazed at the coverage of Jerry Falwell. It seems many delight in talking of his weaknesses. It is if all the man did was eat and make stupid statements. And I certainly did not always agree with him. But there are significant contributions he made that will long outlive him.
    Jerry Falwell kept a schedule most could not. I am sure he often ate on the run. And, food – like alcohol or perhaps even tobacco – is often used as a de-stressor. Of the ones I mentioned, it is an acceptable de-stressor among the consituency of Falwell. In the south, eating is a highly social activity.
    I don’t have all the answers. I once was athletic, and injured a knee. I won’t go into all the details of the surgeries.
    No doubt we do need to care more for our bodies. However, the Psalmist does teach that God has numbered our days. While not an excuse to play in the freeway, perhaps the genes have more to do with the day or our dying and the cause than the burgers. Certainly quality of life is an issue.
    I think you should bring up issues. But I also think there needs to be a bit more honesty. Being overweight in the North American context involves more than a bunch of porkers cleaning out the fridge on a daily basis.
    Gluttony in the Bible and the Roman context is not at all what we have here and it is either ignorance or dishonesty to call it that.
    There are many factors and they all should be dealt with. For some of us, we need to cut our intake and increase our exercise. But for many in deep poverty, hamburger helper and ‘comfort foods’ are all they have.
    Let’s deal with all the issues that are the root of the problem and not just the appearance. The ‘appearance’ angle is what Donald Miller calls “Life Boat” mentality and that just sucks!

  • thanks ted. i liked your response. i actually have a lot of thoughts on this but my wife wont let me share them because i dont struggle with weight issues and therefore probably lack sensitivity.
    as for being fat or skinny – some people just are and need to accept their build and learn to accept others.
    i think a healthy love of our bodies, our food, kitchens and fridges is much better than a guilt ridden on-and-off diet with unsatisfying food that causes one to crave good food constantly.
    but what is being talked about here in the article i pointed to is the fact that the physical body is NOT addressed by Baptists in their spirituality – that it is a non-issue and herein lies the problem.

  • Surely we must come to a more complete theological position. One where we recognise the importance of keeping in shape and having good diets.
    Having lived now 22 years in the U.S, I’m surprised how over weight most believers are.

  • Hey there…I knew Jerry Falwell…I went to Liberty University. Jerry worked out with the football team. Not to say that he couldn’t have lost some pounds, but the man did work out. That being said, it’s a great topic that should be discussed more.

  • Andrew,
    I agree with you – Baptists do not address the issue of the physical body as we should. Go to most any Baptist “feed” and it is lots of cheap, high carb food. Pizza parties for kids, casseroles for adults, etc. It is a way of life and we must address it.
    Mike is right – we ned a more complete theological position.
    But so many (and you did not do this) speak sarcastically and place far too much value on appearance. I doubt if John the Baptist could get a hearing in most North American churches. It is the generalities which I find most offensive – in others, and often in myself. I think these have led us to excesses of food and intolerances of alcohol when a more complete theological understanding would have served us better.
    Thanks for the post and the opportunity to comment.

  • I always remember Falwell in the 1980’s in the Oxford University debate against David Lange, arguing for Nuclear weapons, and Lange saying that he could smell uranium on Falwell’s breath.

  • Perhaps I’m missing something here…
    The man was 73 years old? Given the average life expectancy of a white male in America, I’d say he lived his life. His body checked out before Alzheimer’s and dementia had a chance to incapacitate him. He died while he was active and engaged in life. He died at work, doing what he enjoyed.
    Not everyone who is overweight or raising children who are overweight is lazy or lacking proper motivation to live a healthy life. Single parents need foods that their children can prepare themselves while the parent is at work (hence the fish sticks, chicken nuggets, lunchables, etc.) There are people who are overworked and underpaid who try to provide cheap, quick, uncomplicated meals for their families in the evenings and unfortunately, at least in America, these food items are high in fats and carbs. There is also hereditary obesity.
    Whatever the difference in appearances, I don’t think we should be taking cheap shots at other people. 1) it isn’t nice 2) God would not be pleased.
    Yes, churches tend to arrange their social engagements around food–cheap food. It’s what most people on a limited budget can afford. Unless the church is willing/able to foot the bill for everyone, or unless the church is blessed with an amazing, heart-smart chef who is willing to take on the burden himself/herself (btw, if you’re out there and God is speaking to you about using your gifts this way, stand up!) this is what most churches do. I can understand the logic behind it as it’s less likely that someone will absent himself/herself because he/she can’t afford it. Though I’m not a pizza fan, I go to these events anyway and simply limit the portion I consume. I find I have the same degree of self-control at pot-lucks and church picnics as well. It’s not the fats or carbs so much as the portion. Moderation.
    In Christ,
    bryerthorn

  • I’m skipping the skinny on all the jiggle to point out one thing…today Jerry is ranked #3 and #5 in the blogojigglesphere!

  • bryerthorn, i think you are missing something. we are not discussing jerry’s eating habits but his statement that there is no connection between baptist eating habits and obesity and their spirituality.
    please read the article quoted and come back with your thoughts.

  • Sorry Andrew, I was splitting hairs – though I do think gnosticism is a better way of describing it.
    And Ted – you are right that the causes of obesity go wider than greed/gluttony, but the answer is to have a wider critique that includes the societal patterns that lead to the situation you describe and the gluttony which sometimes (but not always) accompanies it. [Incidentally, the plight of the plebians of Rome was not that different].
    Put it another way, Baptists have historically had a very strict position on alcohol. Even in the UK most Baptist Churches have it written into the deeds of their buildings that alcohol cannot be used in the services – as a lot of these churches grew against a background of the gin palaces of Victorian England. Now compare the SBC’s recent resolution on alcohol with the very loud silence on the subject of food. Both have a huge social cost – look at the incidence of Type-2 diabetes, and heart disease etc.
    Yes God is understanding of the plight of the poor, more truly understanding than ever we could be, however that doesn’t mean we can take a view that excuses the costs because of the sophoric effects food creates and never address the wider issues.

  • thanks for bringing up this issue. when poor food choices are causing as much harm to families as alcohol has at times it should be a spiritual issue. Of course people can come up with dozens of reasons why they eat crap (not the least being because it is cheap), but that doesn’t get rid of the dangers or justify it. If we did see healthy non-toxic eating as a spiritual issue then perhaps we could spark interest in providing cheaper healthy alternatives for poorer people and see that food is very much a justice issue. But its a long hard uphill battle that most Christians scoff at.

  • i have thought of starting a blog on that. really. or maybe be a contributor to something like that. let me know if you find one or start one.

  • Andrew, I find it sad to note that Larry Flynt had kinder and more generous words for Jerry Falwell in his passing that you do. You couldn’t mention any of his ministries that benefited the poor and needy for many years? The world will write its biography on Falwell, but we as Christians should have our own. A debate on the SBC-gluttony connection is hardly a fitting tribute for the man’s life. And if you had so little knowledge of his life and work, why comment instead of linking to someone who CAN provide some perspective?

  • scott – this post is teh perfect opportunity for you to give us some of those links.
    i said what i remembered about him – which is far kinder than most of what i have read online – but PLEASE fill in the gaps with how you remember him
    and lets do this together.

  • I think that some of the issues being talked about here go a lot deeper than food and exercise. People getting fatter (and all of the associated chronic diseases) just happen to be very visible symptoms.
    If we could learn to be contented to live with less, taking what we need vs. what we want we could work towards solving a whole host of problems.
    Perhaps we need to embrace quality a little more. Quality of life, quality of food, quality of goods we purchase. When I say quality, I am not talking about expensive brand names. I am talking about supporting businesses that value health, the people that work for them, the environment, etc. Quality costs more and therefore means we buy less. It causes us to evaluate what we purchase and make hard choices regarding the things we actually need. If done right, the dividends can be quite high: less slave labor, less crap in the landfills, less crap in our stomachs and hopefully happier people with a higher quality of life.

  • Andrew, Rick Warren’s statement on Falwell’s passing is a good start:
    “…The story was never told about his compassionate heart, his gentle spirit, his enormous sense of humor, and the millions he invested in helping the underprivileged. Jerry founded the Elim Home for alcoholics, the Center for tutoring inner city children, the Hope Aglow ministry to prisoners, Liberty Godparent Home for unwed mothers, and literally dozens of other compassion projects to help the poor, the sick, and others in desperate need.”
    http://www.alarryross.com/PressRelease.aspx?ID=239

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