Falwell ‘Apology’ Too Little, Too Late
Craig A. Lebowitz
Jerry Falwell is back in the headlines.
Last week the Reverend Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, responded to critics who say his outspoken position on homosexuality promotes anti-gay violence. Falwell, a vocal conservative Christian, vowed to tone down his language, yet in the same breath maintained that he knows of “no documented cases where Biblical teaching had resulted in anyone committing violent acts against gays.”
This in not the first time Falwell has closed his eyes to reality. In late January, the Baptist leader told 1500 people in Kingsport, Tennessee that the Antichrist was alive today. “Of course, he’ll be Jewish,” added Falwell. This provoked an immediate outcry from the Jewish community, and rightfully so: the Bible says that the Antichrist will spread universal evil before the end of the world but will finally be conquered at the second coming of Christ. The conference at which Falwell spoke was intended to address concerns people might have over the new millennium.
Here is a real concern for the new millennium: the teachings of Falwell and some other influential Christian leaders are far more dangerous than the supposed ills they condemn.
As chief of Jerry Falwell Ministries, Falwell has targeted homosexuality through personally-funded pamphlets, evangelical television hours, and radio spots. On his web site <http://www.falwell.com/>, Falwell denounces homosexuality as “horrible and enslaving sin.” Falwell’s justification: the Bible says so. “In Genesis 19:1-28, there is the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the sin of homosexuality. Verses four and five describe how the men of the city desired that Lot send his two guests out to them that they might ‘know’ them. God destroyed the two cities because of the wickedness of homosexuality.” This comes far before the part where the Bible says that women were created for men and should not speak in church (I Corinthians). Falwell also entirely rules out the idea that God made homosexuals who they are. “To suggest that homosexuality is a physical condition caused by biological facts rather than an emotional and mental condition is highly blasphemous.” Jerry’s justification, you guessed it, is the Bible. Thankfully, all of Falwell’s claims start and end with the Bible. How convenient.
Contrary to what the Reverend Falwell might preach, scientific accounts of homosexuality are gaining in number and credibility. Studies conducted by Richard Pillard, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, suggest homosexuality has at least a partial genetic foundation. In one study, Pillard found 52 percent of identical brothers were both gay, while 22 percent of non-identical brothers were both gay, and 11 percent of adopted brothers were both gay. Neurobiologist Simon LeVay of the Salk Institute found differences in the hypothalamus (which develops far before children even know about sex) between homosexual and heterosexual men. But, then again, who needs science if you have your Bible handy?
Who am I to tell the Rev. Jerry Falwell what to think or say to his listeners? Why should my opinions trump his? Falwell and I have the same right to preach whatever each of us sees fit. But here’s the difficulty: when Falwell’s teachings interfere with the rights of others and disrupt society, he is no longer acting within his rights. In this sense, it really doesn’t matter if what Falwell says is fact or fiction, he can say whatever he wants.
So how do I prove Falwell’s teachings are driving any kind of violence? Remember, Falwell has no knowledge of “documented cases where Biblical teaching had resulted in anyone committing violent acts against gays.” I can’t. There is no way for me to prove that the band of conservative Christian protesters who wielded “God Hates Fags” signs outside the funeral of Matthew Shepard were influenced by Falwell’s teachings (Falwell calls the group’s leader a nut). Extremists aside, the religious right is driving the general feeling about homosexuality in this country, and it doesn’t feel good to me. No individual can prove anything that would connect Falwell’s free speech and hate violence. But when society as a whole disagrees with his philosophy, finds it dangerous, the Reverend can be held accountable.
I find Falwell’s teachings unacceptable. I extend an invitation to others who feel the same way to make their feelings known. We must move quickly, before Falwell can further propagate his false doctrine about sexuality, alienate another religious group, or roast another fictional PBS character. Falwell’s most recent apology is not accepted. The damage is already done, and Falwell is going to have to make amends amounting to more than a press release to earn back my respect. Let’s tell Jerry Falwell we think what he teaches about homosexuality is “highly blasphemous.”
Craig A. Lebowitz is a member of the Class of 2003.