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October 12, 1980 - Image 6

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-10-12

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SUNDAY
Sunday, October 12, 1980

Page 6

The Michigan Daily

I -

erry
By Christopher Potter

Falwell:

TV's

new theocrat

enthusiasm.
Moslems.

Leave the mania to the

Christian ethic,
where who's a

and everyone, every-
student of American

'This is a nation under
God. We believe that unless
this country returns to moral
sanity during the 1980s, we
will not deserve to survive.'
---Rev. Jerry Falwell

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When Jerry Falwell talks,,
people listen. Every Sunday
the living embodiment of
the new right television evangelists
takes the pulpit at his Lynchburg, Va.
church, looks the viewer square in the
eye-and preaches grim warning of an
America caught in the throes of
spiritual and military peril. Pretty soon
you're aesthetically hooked, like it or.
not.
Falwell is old-time religion gussied
up in mod, three-piece suit ac-
coutrements, immeasurably removed
from the sweating, fist-pounding ran-
ters and ravers you used to snicker at
on early-morning or late-night TV. He
radiates solid, middle class
Americana-stern, responsible,
authoritative. He's reserved yet sin-
cere, the kind of man you might want to
head your local Chamber of Commerce
or Kiwanis chapter.,
But Jerry has bigger plans: He wants
to reshape America, to mold it to the
specifications of his own notions of
bedrock morality. And he has disciples.
Millions of them. Born-again politics is
no longer a condescending joke; its
militants are on the march as never
before, smilingly dedicated to the en-
tombment of liberal humanism and all
its attendant programs. And they're
putting political punch behind their
preachings-if George McGovern, John
Culver, and a half-dozen other liberal
senators targeted for electoral exter-
mination are indeed dumped this
November, the organized evahgelicals
wiltake no small credit for the coup.
What's ironic about the drum-
thumping Christian Right is that
there's really nothing remotely new
about it. Back in the early 60s,
ultraconservative preachers like Dan
Smoot and Billy James Hargis held
sway in both the printed word and on
the boob tube pumping for Goldwater
and railing against, civil rights, por-
nography, and the creeping Red
Menace. Week after week, their
message rang redundantly forth:
America was in the gravest peril from
the forces of atheistic humanism; and
only a return to strict Christian (and
right-wing political) virtues could save
our sinking ship of state.
Though individual issues have
altered in import over the last decade-
and-a-half (abortion, ERA),.the basic
born-again catechism remains un-
changed: Get the godless heathens out
of government and protect us from the
heathens lurking in other lands. What
has changed is, that America now
seems far more inclined to listen to The
Word.
In 1964 the bulk of American opinion
saw Barry Goldwater as a man of ex-
treme philosophy, impulsive action,
and a probable lack of intellectual
smarts. In 1980 Ronald Reagan speaks
almost the identical slogans, yet
millions see him as moderate, prudent,
and refreshingly sensible.

"_
.: .
" "(

Falwell sets the show's tone im-
mediately with a short recitation of
ominous events in a peril-fraught world
which can only be set to rights by the
Lord and the government. Having thus
sobered his congregation, he introduces
his VIP guests, occasionally inviting
one of them to speak (ultra-right Sen.
Jesse Helms is a frequent participant).
He then briefly turns proceedings over
to his choir-a legion of young, bright-
eyed, clear-complexioned, ever-smiling
balladeers who seem the musical
spiritual heirs to Up With People and
perhaps the Nixonettes as well.
hen Falwell takes center
stage, you swiftly realize just
how much of a one-man star-
turn he Old-Time Gospel Hour is, its
cast of thousands notwithstanding.
The man rivets you to the screen, not
as a Rasputinesque mesmerizer but as
the essence of wizened, paternalistic
domesticity. Even for a fervent disciple
of the American liberal-left, the image
carries an unnerving quality of
reassurance-perhaps reaching into
catacombs of Freudian cravings for
fatherly trust.
Falwell is nothing if not a father
figure incarnate-tall, stockily-built
with ruddy cheeks and large, ex-
pressive .hands, he seems the em-
bodiment of solidity, stability. Stern on
the outside yet warm and loving under
the surface. A strict but fair judge of
men. A leader in these leaderless times.
He sermonizes in reasoned, sten-
torian tones, orating judiciously on the
world's ills in the courtly tones of a
Southern gentleman. His initial ap-
proach takes an almost civil-libertarian
demeanor: "I was born an American.
Born free. And for tlese past 46 years
I've never had to get up in the morning
wondering if my telephone was tapped,
wondering if someone would be
knocking on the door to come to take

.,' .Q

ccordingly, evangelicals have
dramatically succeeded in
abrogating the patronizing
taint of country kook and rural weirdo.
Nothing breeds respectability as swif-
tly as the acquiring of electoral clout;
as converts have flowed in, so, accor-
dingly, have the big bucks-to the tune
of turning some born-again groups into
billion dollar operations. Though many
office holders may philosophically
abhor the Christian Right, they can no
longer afford to view its practitioners
with witty, condescending disdain.
The evangelicals' fervent activism
has increased dramatically. Action
committees, many of them overtly
political, have sprung up from coast to
coast, most of them heavily, financed
and all dedicated to the principle of
moral Christian government. Though
one could argue that liberal activist
churches have done much the same
kind of crusading over the years, the
right wing's specific emphasis on
equating practical politics with the
sanctioned word of God suggests' a
theocratic power play unique in
America's church-state heritage. The
Christian Left has traditionally con-

fined itself to limited, sing
causes; the evangelical Righ
goal seems nothing less tha
our entire form of governmen
Can they succeed? In politic
tertainment, much depend
presence of a few charis
dividuals. The evangelicals
all the lobbies they want-
with vast sums of loot-ye
some dominant electricitya
they will likely have trouble
the souls or politics of any but
android faithful.
Can any of the new crop of1
singularly sway the mas
Robertson of TV's "The7
radiates a folksy, Will R
coziness that smacks a bit to
the evangelical rube traditi
ture the American mainstrea
preacher James Robison has
by the bucketload, yet]
oratorical approach and h
handsome neo-Satanic featu
the slightly queasy suggesti
Jones resurrected; you gett
his overt righteousness migh
serve the forces of darkness;
ces of light. The other TV
seem a bit bedazzled by their

le-interest legitimacy and, like kids under a
t's current Christmas tree, not 'sure exactly what
n to alter toy to use next to sway the public.
it. But then there's Jerry Falwell. In an
cs as in en- age of media amateurs, he is a different
Is on the kind of cat. Probably no one in the
matic in- history of video evangelism has
can form mastered the medium quite so swiftly
-complete and surpassingly; with 'the suavity of a
et without Madison Avenue veep, Falwell sells his
at the top old-fashioned remedies in a jet-aged
capturing package.
at the most alwell eschews Bible-thumping
fire-and-brimstone histrionics
preachers in favor of a composed, button-
ses? Pat own civility. In lMcLuhanesque terms,
700 Club" he is a cool prophet bearing a hot
Eogers-ish message. His image is less that of a
ao much of driven ideologue than of a successful
on to cap- businessman-which, indeed, is just
am. Texas what he is, having spawned a religious
charisma empire that includes radio and TV
his fiery broadcasts, three different Bible
is darkly schools, a seminary, plus the recently-
res exude founded Liberty Baptist College-all
ion of Jim based in Lynchburg: Last year he laun-
the feeling ched the ambitious Moral Majority ac-
it as easily tion group, organized specifically to
as the for- defeat liberal politicians around the.
ministers nation.
new-found Falwell's weekly television sermon,
innocuously titled The Oldtime Gospel
Hour, exudes an air of such officious
secularity that its religious base often
seems almost lost under the weighty
trappings of comprehensive statecraft.
Though Falwell uses his Lynchburg
church as operations base, he is just as
likely to stage his program on the steps
of the Virginia state capitol, or oc-
casionally even the U.S. Capitol in con-
d e - venient next-door Washington. Falwell
revels like a political groupie over the
t' - implied blessings of officialdom,
of bragging at sjhow's opening that
"senators, congressmen and gover-
w n nors" sit in attendance, lending their
authoritative weight to the veracity of
eSS his cause.
Falwell's services carry the visual
U e air of Mahler's Eighth Symphony-
jam-packed pews of parishioners semi-
S S s- encircling him as if in the Hollywood
Bowl, a gargantuan choir towering
Dus behind him, musical soloists and
honored guests flanking both sides of
g I - his pulpit. The effect is that of a
calculated epic, permeated with the

history must know that."
The reverend chastises those who
would bring down America: "You, let
Jane Fonda or Gloria Steinem try to
say the things they say here over in the
Soviet Union. You let those who hate
this nation-and there are many who
do--you let those persons who disagree
with government try that in Peking,
Havana, o Moscow. The earth will
swallow themup.
"These of you who gave comfort to
the Viet Cong during the Viet Nam con-
flict, those of you who marched against
the government and brought shame
upon the military, I would say to you:
This is the greatest nation on earth.
With all our imperfections, you ought to
thank God you live in America!"
alwell reminds his audience of
his Lutheresque "Ninety-five
Theses" (sent to all 535 mem-
ers of Congres), which serve as the
spiritual-political cornerstone of his
"Wake Up, America" campaign
nationwide. He reads the congregation
excerpts from the theses, and as the
tenets are recited, the bitter, often
xenophobic venom of the evangelical
Right slowly reveals itself.
Thesis Two: That America, unlike
any other country in the world, owes its
origin to men of God who desired to
build a nation for the glory of God.
Thesis Three: That the American
system of government, though imper-
fect, is nevertheless the best political
concept in the history of the world.
Thesis Five: That all Americans
should love and honor their flag.
Thesis Thirteen: That all able-bodied
male citizens are obligated to fight, to
the death if necessary, to defend the
flag.
Thesis Fifteen: That all female
citizens are to be exempt from any
draft law.-
Thesis Sixteen: That the free enter-
prise system be unhampered by any
socialistic laws and red tape.
Thesis Eighteen: That all welfare aid
be immediately and permanently with-
drawn from any able-bodied man
refusing to perform an honest day's
work. (loud amens 'from the
congregation).
Thesis Twenty-Four; That we stop
financially aiding unfriendly nationis
such as Russia and China.
Twenty-Five: That we help friendly
nations such as Taiwan, Korea, and
South Africa.
Twenty-Six: That all efforts to bring
about a central world government be
unceasingly opposed."
Thirty-Three: That no institution in
human history has proven so successful
and so satisfactory as marriage.
Thirty-Five: The husband is the
divinely-appointed head of that in-
stitution.
Thirty-Seven: That children belong to
the parents, and are not wards of the
state.
Thirty-Nine: That abortion is wrong
because it's anti-family.
Forty: That homosexuality is wrong
because it's anti-family.

Forty-Four: That pre-marital sex is
wrong because ... et cetera, et cetera,
et cetera.
By the time Falwell has quoted num-
ber ninety-five, there is very little left
to be against. The parishioners sit in
hushed rapture. Falwell has just time
enough to lead them in short prayer, in
which he exhorts, God to make our
leaders sometimes "do things they
don't agree with;" and other world
leaders, "overrule their will-and make.
them do Your will." He blesses his
flock, makes a short pitch for con-
tributions, and the hour has ended.
Jerry Falwell already walks with.
leaders-Ronald Reagan is his

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rg *

;.s' .

-

Faiwell

eschews-

Bib

thurm ping fire-and-bri
stone histrionics in favor
a composed, button-do
civility . .. his image is I
that of a driven ideolog
than a successful busine

my parents away or my family away,
or me."
He lectures at length on the freedoms
of speech, of free assembly and
especially of religion in America as
contrasted to the lack of such liberties
in the Soviet Union. He draws com-
parisons the most left-leaning political
analyst could hardly dispute-surely we
do have more freedom here than they
do over there. Yet as his sermon inten-
sifies, its message becomes clear: We
may not enjoy those liberties much
longer. America is in deadly peril, the
gravest since the founding of the re-
public.
"Can godless, aggressive com-
munism co-exist with peaceful
Christianity? Not unless we're willing
to be properly defensed (sic). Not
unless we're willing to be strong. Not
unless we're willing to pay the price for
freedom."
"I've watched that red tide spread
across the globe," he warns his hushed
audience. "I see the free world ever

man ...he

is a dextr

practitioner of psycholo
rn9l rnnlin npnhitiSrnt mn~i

II

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