I debated all day yesterday about whether or not I should devote a blog post to Jerry Falwell's unexpected passing. Anyone who knows about my political or theological beliefs already knows that I had little respect in life for Falwell, and actually considered him a threat to our country, as his political activism enabled people sharing his extremist attitudes to gain and hold political power in increasing numbers over the past couple of decades. And perhaps worse, I believe that Falwell was a threat to the spread of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, as a huge number of potential believers have been turned away from faith by his extreme right-wing attitudes. There's a sense in which it simply wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that I won't miss him.
But a man has died, and unlike the group of people on the Allspark who have practically thrown parties over this death, I cannot bring myself to celebrate. It's not just that I find such behavior tasteless in the extreme (although I do), but that I find myself thinking of the fact that, for all of his faults, Falwell was a man who truly tried to follow Christ with everything that he was. The fact that I disagreed with his beliefs doesn't really matter here. Falwell had the courage to stand up for what he believed God wanted him to do, despite often fierce opposition. Although I wish that he would have been more open to persuasion from fellow Christians who held a different view, rather than often accusing them of being in league with the enemy, such devotion deserves respect.
I appreciated Jim Wallis' comments on Falwell's passing yesterday: Wallis acknowledged that he and Falwell "didn’t agree on many things", but still managed to compliment "his passionate commitment to his beliefs, and [their] shared commitment to bringing moral debate to the public square". This is a stark contrast from the Allspark members who said "burn in hell," and other similar statements.
I've always maintained that Christians are not saved by the rightness of our belief, but by the fact of our faith in Jesus Christ. Far from burning in hell, I'm confident that Jerry Falwell is now at peace in heaven. Do I think he deserves it? No, not really. But neither do I, nor does any Christian. I won't miss Falwell's right-wing rhetoric, but I acknowledge his authentic belief in Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote: "...now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." (1 Cor. 13:12) Falwell now knows exactly where he was right and where he was wrong. And when I get to heaven someday, I'll have my own misconceptions corrected. And we'll be happy to be corrected in this way, and finally be able to focus on what we have in common as followers of Jesus Christ.
I'm just sorry that it will take getting to heaven to be able to affirm that commonality.