An open-minded minister tells of years spent battling the fundamentalist ringleader.
It wasn’t Killinger’s intention to provoke Jerry Falwell, but as he learned more about the televangelist’s specious theology and practices, he couldn’t help it. In 1980, faced with a brand-new congregation in an unfamiliar small town, the fledgling Presbyterian pastor with several prestigious degrees found himself curious about the dynasty down the road. Over the years, as Falwell became an increasingly powerful political influence over the Republican Party via the Moral Majority, he enabled Killinger to see his own theological purpose more clearly by contrast. Falwell’s faithful, whether at Thomas Road Baptist Church, Liberty University or glued to their TV sets, eagerly lapped up his mixture of judgment, paranoia and the promise of earthly reward for good deeds—all antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, Killinger argued. Encountering such dangerous doctrines on a daily basis helped the author formulate his own theology more soundly and preach it more enthusiastically. Though he never called Falwell by name in these sermons, word of his criticism traveled quickly. Killinger and his family received threats of physical harm, hate mail, suspicious surveillance and audits by the IRS for several consecutive years. None of those tribulations were directly traceable to Falwell himself, though the author clearly suspects he was involved. Through it all, Killinger tried to be friendly, even inviting Falwell and wife Macel into his home. Their alliance was tenuous at best, however. Years after the author had left Lynchburg and was teaching at a Christian university in Alabama, Falwell held enough of a grudge to influence the divinity school dean against him. Killinger relates these difficult years with honesty and a light, witty touch; his fluid narrative doesn’t linger on heavy religious issues, nor does it become preachy. Though he spares none of Falwell’s many flaws, he also marvels at the way this evangelical leader forever changed Christianity in America and acknowledges that he was “a strong, fascinating individual.”
Swift-moving and engaging.