NPR profiled Jerry Falwell this morning on the opening of his new 6,000-seat church, and notes the continuing influence he holds in Washington, D.C. Of politicians who he feels are ignoring his issues, he says, “Whenever it’s a major problem, and I think we are being misled, I pick up the phone and I call whoever I need to call and take care of it.” And, according to Falwell, the White House call him, too.
Falwell explained the growth of his church into a television, megachurch, and political empire was partially due to his extremist rhetoric and the media attention surrounding it. But among his “brash statements,” they are “none of them by chance,” he said, citing the time he called South Africa Bishop Desmond Tutu a “phony” in order to get publicity for himself. “There’s a connection between outrageous remarks, and this huge sanctuary we see here today,” said the NPR reporter, and Falwell concurred, “Oh there’s no question about it.”
One such “brash statement” occurred two days after the terrorists attacks on September 11, 2001, when Falwell appeared on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” TV show and blamed his political enemies in the U.S., saying, “[T]he Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we’ve been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. … I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
In the NPR interview, Falwell flatly denied that 9/11 was God’s punishment for abortion or other things Falwell objects to, adding, “I don’t think God hurts innocent people because we hurt innocent people.” The NPR reporter, replied, puzzled, “Correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t you make a statement one time about September 11 …?”
“What I said was, our secularization of America, our attempt to separate from God, could certainly cause the Lord to lift the veil. And I usually added, the local church, our sleeping church, and then gays and lesbians and so forth and so on, all who have taken us away from the faith of our fathers, may have exposed us to international hurt,” responded Falwell. In other words, “You helped this happen.”