Falwell Was "Old Guard" Of Religious Right

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, President of the Moral Majority, takes a turn on the back of a longhorn steer during a party sponsored by the National Conservative Political Action Committee in a Tuesday, August 23, 1984 file photo in Dallas. A Liberty University executive says the Rev. Jerry Falwell has died. (AP Photo/David Breslauer, File)
AP Photo/David Breslauer
Even in his final years, the Rev. Jerry Falwell personified the religious right for many Americans. But the pastor, who died Tuesday at age 73, was from a generation of leaders that many evangelicals came to view as members of an "old guard" whose approach was outdated.

Falwell was stricken at his campus office and died after a career in which the evangelist used the power of television to transform the religious right into a mighty force in American politics.

Many conservative Christians active in politics today believe that the way Falwell confronted political foes made evangelicals seem hateful. The younger leaders also have been pressing for a broader policy agenda beyond abortion and traditional marriage by trying to include AIDS care, environmental protection and education.

"It's a very important debate about the future of the movement," said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The divisions have been most apparent over the environment.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and 24 other Christian leaders this year tried to pressure the National Association of Evangelicals to silence its Washington director, the Rev. Rich Cizik, because Cizik is trying to convince evangelicals that global warming is real.

In a February sermon, Falwell warned worshippers at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., that environmental activism by evangelicals "is Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus" away from spreading the Gospel.

It was a style that appealed to many conservative Christians when Falwell entered the public arena in the 1970s. The U.S. Supreme Court had legalized abortion in 1973, drawing Christians who had separated themselves from the broader culture out of church and into politics. Falwell and his allies formed the Moral Majority in 1979, helping bring millions of new evangelical voters to the Republican Party and putting Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980.

Read more about the life of Jerry Falwell.

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Timeline: Preacher's Path

Who's Who: Falwell Remembered

The Moral Majority was effectively dead within a decade, but the Christian right continued to grow more diverse and sophisticated as they moved from the margins of political life.

However, Michael Reagan, son of the former president and now a radio talk show host, believes Falwell's controversial moments only made him lose credibility among the non-religious population.

"Many of the Christian organizations, in fact, supported him and his belief.At least he would stand up and say it," Reagan told CBS News' The Early Show.