Dear Rev. Falwell
by Michael Spencer
“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 – I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.”
• Dr. Jerry Falwell on the 700 Club. (Dr. Falwell later apologized for these comments.)
May I call you Jerry? Ok, I’ll stick with Dr. Falwell, cause I hate that Reverend thing. I have to admit, though, that it seems I know you so well that I should be able to call you Jerry. You’ve been part of my life, my church, my Christian family for more than two decades now. You’re a hero in the circles I grew up in. Most of my friends love you, and I have a lot of good things to say about you myself. While your brand of fundamentalism and political action isn’t my cup of tea, I appreciate and respect your convictions and your accomplishments. If you want to give my kids scholarships to Liberty, I’ll send them right on over.
I love to see you on the Larry King Show. There aren’t many Christians that can be as straightforward and pleasant as you in the presence of those who disagree with the Christian worldview. Even Larry King himself, that old agnostic, has really taken to you. You always have a smile, and you’re very smart and well spoken. I’ve seen you deflate a lot of attacks with kindness and humor, and then score a dead on hit with the truth we both believe. And I’m still cheering for you, even though you really dropped the ball big time with your recent comments on who is to blame for the terrorist disaster in America.
Your comments on the 700 Club have gotten a lot of attention. They are provocative, and I can appreciate a good provocative comment. I stir up my audiences from time to time as well. So I can also appreciate that feeling of having gotten a bit too emotionally involved with a topic and saying something I regret. I appreciate your apology, and I think it has been well received. (Someone noted that it was oddly ironic that your comments had much of the same tone as those Muslims threatened by the depravity of Western culture. It is true that when we become angry, we often sound more like our adversaries than we realize.)
First, let’s talk about where we agree. I agree that God is a moral God, a holy God whose eyes are too pure to behold evil, a God who punishes the sin that offends him. I agree with you that our country is full of grievous public and private sins that daily test God’s patience with us. I agree that sexual sin, exploitation, violence, idolatry and murder raise a stench in the nostrils of a jut and righteous creator. So far, we’re on the same page.
I further agree with you that events such as the terrorist attacks indicate that God’s constant mercy and patience are daily seasoned with judgment. God does, at times, remove his hand and allow judgment to run its course in the consequences of our own evil on this planet. I’m not sure exactly how you feel about this, but I believe God allows a measure of judgment in order to awaken us to our true condition. I believe God does this with human evil and with natural evil, with things large and small, with events that make the news and with events that do not. I believe such disciplining and awakening acts of judgment are common, and not rare as many Americans seem to think. The fact is, our country has been shown a great deal of mercy.
It was the American preacher Jonathan Edwards who said that the human condition under the judgment of God is truly precarious, whether we realize it or not. Edwards used the vivid illustration of a person suspended over the abyss by a single strand of a spider’s web, and that strand is the mercy of God. While this does not sit well with the Oprah-style spirituality of our culture, it is good Bible. We all know the words of Jesus in Luke 13, when a contemporary tragedy was interpreted as special punishment on truly “bad” people: “If you do not repent, you will all likewise perish.” I agree, and I hope you do as well.
Where I disagree with you is in your assignment of blame for these events to particular groups within our society; groups that particularly offend you and have opposed your ministry. In your comments, you said that abortionists, homosexuals, the ACLU and feminists bore special responsibility for God withdrawing his hand of protection over our country. I’ve been surprised at the number of Christians who have agreed with you. My disagreement with you is a disagreement over scripture, particularly with the argument of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 regarding the wrath of God. Shall we look at it together?
It appears to me that Paul’s conclusion that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” is what we have been discussing so far in this letter. The reason for this is plainly stated as the actions of all persons and not any one group. It is all people who have “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…” It is all people who have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–.” It is all people who have “have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” It is to all people that Jesus is speaking when he says in Mark 7, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, “greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” It appears to me that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is seeking to deliver us from any notion that it is only the “other guy” whose sin brings judgment, and is plainly saying that all of us- every one of us- brings a potential judgment as fitting as Sodom and Gomorrah.
In fact, isn’t it interesting that to Jesus, the highest evidence of human sinfulness is the universal rejection of himself, not homosexuality or abortion. “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” To those who had witnessed his miracles and not believed, Jesus said “…it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you.” Paul is quite explicit about what brings the judgment of God: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
I have to say, Dr. Falwell, that I do not find the scriptures putting the homosexual or the abortionist or the ACLU or the feminist on the hook more than less notorious sinners like me. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God was was in a completely right position to exterminate the entire experiment right there. What God did to the world in Genesis 6- a worldwide judgment- was the appropriate response to the very first sin and to every sin thereafter, be it gossip or terrorism. As David said, we sin against God, and that is deserving of hell 100% of the time.
Of course, Romans 1 explicitly says that homosexuality provides evidence of human depravity. Paul says the distortions of idolatry and homosexuality are convincing examples of what happens when sin darkens the human heart and God gives us over to a depraved and corrupted mind and practice. Though this behavior is clearly a distortion of our basic created humanity, it does not mean that the non-homosexual sinner has provoked God’s judgment less. It merely means that homosexuality provides a clear evidence of the overall problem of human falleneness.
There is no more basic Christian truth that Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and and fall short of the glory of God.” And of course, Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death…” These truths apply to every person and they do not apply more to those sinners who offend our sensibilities or disturb our political opinions. I am fearful of what has happened when we designate some persons as the provokers of God’s wrath, and imply that the rest of us have not provoked that wrath. How do I say my sin is less than what supposedly brought this terrible attack, when it was my sin that nailed Jesus to the cross? Surely there is no more awful result of sin than that.
So perhaps we disagree, but I salute your candor and your fighting spirit. I know you are the first to preach the Gospel to anyone and that even your foes have found you a gracious and loving adversary. Whatever you believe on these matters, I know you will be found in the front ranks of those rebuilding America’s vision with the Gospel message and the love of God.