A sympathetic biography of the man who, for good or ill, became "the face of Christianity to millions of Americans" in the 1980s.
A successful pastor and pioneering televangelist who built his Thomas Road Baptist Church from 36 members to a megachurch of thousands, Jerry Falwell (1933–2007) was distressed that as America descended into what he considered moral anarchy, Christianity was represented in the political arena primarily by complicit liberal clergy. He saw government oppression in Supreme Court rulings and IRS policies, and he rallied conservatives to a defense of their values with "a fighting faith, a muscular Christianity ready to do battle, not reach an accommodation, with the forces of secularization at work in the mainstream culture." Winters (Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, 2008, etc.) effectively describes the worldview of a fundamentalist Baptist pastor that informed all of Falwell’s actions. He did not fully comprehend the pluralistic values of the society he wanted to reform, or the difficulties of promoting a morality grounded in religion within the politics of a secular culture. He was capable of forming lasting personal friendships with such opposing figures as Ted Kennedy and Larry Flynt, and yet his goals and intolerant rhetoric were often deeply hurtful and offensive to millions; as Flynt put it to him, "You don’t need to poison the whole lake with your venom." Winters focuses primarily on Falwell’s political activities as a leader of the Moral Majority; an account of his parallel career as a pastor must await a more comprehensive biography. The author presents a thorough if indulgent account of Falwell’s rise to national prominence, including the temptations, conundrums and missteps that befell him as his deepening involvement in politics drew him far afield from the biblical roots of his thinking. Falwell achieved few of the Moral Majority’s goals, but he reshaped the Republican Party and national politics.
An illuminating biography, though Winters is often too forgiving of Falwell’s trespasses.