The Rev. Jerry Falwell – founder of the Moral Majority (1979) and Liberty University (1971) – has died. He was 73. A pillar of the religious right movement – as well as an ardent conservative Republican – Falwell's career was replete with verbal controversy; he often attacked gays, lesbians and feminists, as well as labor unions and the pro-choice movement. Indeed, Falwell infamously described AIDS as a form of divine retribution:
"AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexualsm," he [Falwell] said.
It was in 2001, however – following the September 11 attacks – that Falwell (arguably) ignited the quintessential controversy of his career. He [Falwell] pointedly blamed the 9-11 attacks on gays, feminists, non-christians and such:
"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," Falwell said. "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen."
A fervent segregationist in the mid-'60s to early-'70s, Falwell regularly featured lightning-rod Segregationist figures like Lester Maddox and George Wallace on his Evangelist program, The Old-Time Gospel Hour (which still airs locally in its place of origin, Lynchburg, Virginia). Falwell often tried to reconcile his 'then'-positions on race relations with 'divine will':
"If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made…. The facilities should be separate," said Falwell. "When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."
Jerry Falwell is often credited alongside other right-leaning religious figures with helping to morph the once solidly Democratic South into the bastion of Republican victories it is today. Indeed, the religious right is now the heart of the modern Republican Party and its bread and butter.