The Rev. Jerry Falwell, a long-time television evangelist and president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., died of a heart attack Tuesday after being found unconscious in his office.
Ron Godwin, executive vice president of the university, told reporters at a news conference that he had eaten breakfast with Falwell, who missed an appointment later that morning.
Falwell, who was hospitalized twice for problems with his heart and lungs in early 2005, was discovered in an unresponsive state at about 10:45 a.m.
Dr. Carl Moore, Falwell's physician and a cardiologist at Lynchburg General Hospital, said that all efforts to revive the conservative Christian leader were unsuccessful.
Falwell was born in Lynchburg in 1933 and attended Lynchburg Community College, which he left during his sophomore year. He then transferred to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo., graduating in 1956.
The founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in an abandoned bottling plant during 1956 in Lynchburg, Falwell also founded Liberty University in 1971 and the Moral Majority conservative organization in 1979. He began publishing the National Liberty Journal, a politically conservative monthly newspaper, in 1995.
"The death of Dr. Jerry Falwell is a great loss to those of us in conservative Christianity," said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition. "We are deeply saddened but look forward to that great and glorious day when we will join him to sit at the feet of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.
"He was an inspiration to all of us who are involved in defending traditional values, and his courageous stand in the face of strong opposition is deeply appreciated," Sheldon added.
"Rev. Jerry Falwell gave his heart and soul to his family, his faith and his country," said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of Cybercast News Service. "This is obvious when one looks at the decades of work he completed to grow his ministry, nurture his university and advance the conservative movement throughout the culture and in politics."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement that Falwell "motivated millions of Christian conservatives to engage the cultural and political issues of the day through politics. With his leadership and vision, he changed the landscape of American politics.
"As a pastor and a patriot, Dr. Falwell loved Jesus Christ and he loved America," Sekulow added. "He leaves a lasting legacy that will continue to influence the national scene for generations to come. He will be truly missed."
However, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, took a different view of the long-time conservative.
"Jerry Falwell politicized religion and failed to understand the genius of our Constitution, but there is no denying his impact on American political life," Lynn said. "He will long be remembered as the face and voice of the Religious Right."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement in which the 2008 Republican presidential aspirant said he joins "the students, faculty, and staff of Liberty University and Americans of all faiths in mourning the loss of Rev. Jerry Falwell."
"Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country," McCain added. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Falwell's family at this difficult time."
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, McCain and Falwell did not see eye to eye when the senator was running for the GOP nomination for president in the 2000 election.
"I am a pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative and advocate of a strong defense," McCain said in Virginia Beach, Va., on Feb. 28, 2000. "And yet, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate.
"They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them. Because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message," the senator added.
While leaders of several evangelical groups blasted McCain for "divisive" remarks, a spokesperson for Falwell said the evangelist would have no comment on the senator's statements.
Several days later, McCain released a statement in which he apologized for his comments.
"While I disagree with the political message and tactics of Reverends Falwell and Robertson, Mr. [Bob] Jones and other self-proclaimed leaders of the Christian right, I do not consider them evil, and I regret that my flip remark may have mistakenly created that impression," he said.
At the GOP convention in Philadelphia later that year, Falwell endorsed McCain's opponent. "I'm very pleased with George W. Bush and with his policy," the evangelist stated. "I think the desire has been there for many years, the desire of [inclusion], bringing everyone in. But Gov. Bush is doing something about it."
Falwell was no stranger to controversy over the past decade. In 1999, he was criticized in some quarters for suggesting that one of the characters on the Public Broadcasting System children's program "Teletubbies" was gay -- a comparison that had already been drawn in a number of homosexual media outlets.
Then, in the aftermath of 9/11, the evangelist was again in the hot seat after suggesting that groups and individuals "who have tried to secularize America" had "helped [the attacks] happen."
Under fire from liberals, Falwell said in a statement his remarks had been "taken out of context."
"I hold no one other than the terrorists and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them responsible for Tuesday's attacks on this nation," he said. "I sincerely regret that comments I made during a long theological discussion on a Christian television program yesterday were taken out of their context and reported.
"My thoughts -- reduced to sound bites -- have detracted from the spirit of this day of mourning," Falwell stated.
In 2002, Falwell came under fire for saying during a CBS television program that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was "a terrorist" and a "man of war."
Falwell said that in his opinion, "Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses, and I think Mohammad set an opposite example."
In a subsequent apology, he said he meant no disrespect to "sincere, law-abiding Muslims," but a senior cleric in Iran issued death threats and in western India angry Muslims called a general strike in protest, accusing him of "blasphemy."
During the 2004 presidential election campaign, Falwell was criticized for statements made in an email urging support for Bush.
"For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush," Falwell was quoted as saying in the July 1 edition of the "Falwell Confidential" email.
But the following year, the Federal Elections Commission unanimously dismissed a complaint filed against Jerry Falwell Ministries and Liberty Alliance, a lobbying group.
2008 White House Targeted
In 2004, Falwell announced the launch of a new organization called the Faith and Values Coalition, describing it as a "21st century resurrection of the Moral Majority."
The new group aimed to lobby for a federal amendment barring same-sex "marriage," for the election of a socially, fiscally and politically conservative president in 2008 and for pro-life judicial appointments.
"As national chairman of TFVC, I am committed to lending my influence to help send out at least 40 million evangelical voters in 2008," he said at the time. "The thought of a Hillary Clinton or John Edwards presidency is simply unacceptable -- and quite frightening."
"I urge my friends around the country to immediately get involved and join me in this four-year commitment, which is really an investment in America, in our children and in our children's children."
Americans United responded to the announcement by saying Falwell was "wrong in assuming that Americans agree with his goals" of barring same-sex "marriage," promoting pro-life judicial appointments and electing a conservative to the White House in 2008.
"The people do not share Jerry Falwell's repressive vision of an America where church and state are merged and the views of intolerant TV preachers form the basis of our laws," said Lynn, the group's executive director.
Others Remember Falwell
Coral Ridge Ministries, the broadcast outreach of Dr. D. James Kennedy, remembered Falwell as "infectiously good humored, witty, and energetic." In a statement, Coral Ridge Executive Vice President Brian E. Fisher said:
"Dr. Kennedy held Dr. Falwell in the highest regard for his Christian witness and moral leadership for the nation. Dr. Falwell was both a friend and co-laborer with Dr. Kennedy, who served on the initial board of directors of Moral Majority and spoke at Liberty University."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Seminary, wrote, "The death of Dr. Jerry Falwell... brings an end to one of the largest lives of our times... The legacy of Dr. Jerry Falwell will be debated for decades to come... He expected that some would love him for his beliefs and others would not. He was a man in constant motion, and he seemed rarely to look back. He redefined independent fundamentalism and then led his church to associate with the Southern Baptist Convention, which had experienced its own conservative redirection. He mobilized a movement of conservative Christians in America and built a massive empire."
Billy Graham's statement read, in part: "We did not always agree on everything, but I knew [Falwell] to be a man of God. His accomplishments went beyond most clergy of his generation. Some of my grandchildren have attended, and are attending, Liberty University. He leaves a gigantic vacuum in the evangelical world. I am praying for his family, and especially the university that he headed."
Graham's son, and president of the Billy Graham Evangeslist Association, Franklin Graham commented on the loss of Falwell, saying, "Jerry Falwell was my friend. I, like millions of people across the country, will miss him. Above all else, Jerry Falwell was a pastor who cared for other people."
Mark DeMoss, former chief of staff for Jerry Falwell and current chairman of the Executive Committee of Liberty University's Board of Trustees, remembered Dr. Falwell as a close friend and complex man, who impacted DeMoss’ life and the lives of thousands of others with his love for God and people.
"Yes, he's controversial; but from tens of thousands of hours of observing him in the rear of a plane, in a quiet hotel room, in his home... I came to see what he knows: namely that people matter most," said DeMoss in his recently released The Little Red Book of Wisdom.
Dr. Jerry Falwell
Liberty University Founder/Chancellor
At the age of 22, having just graduated from college in June of 1956, Jerry Falwell returned to his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia and started Thomas Road Baptist Church with 35 members. The offering that first Sunday totaled $135. Falwell often says about the first collection, “we thought we had conquered the world”. Today Thomas Road Church has 24,000 members and the total annual revenues of all the Jerry Falwell ministries total over $200 million.
Within weeks of founding his new church in 1956, Falwell began the Old-Time Gospel Hour, a daily local radio ministry and a weekly local television ministry. Nearly five decades later, this Old-Time Gospel Hour is now seen and heard in every American home and on every continent except Antarctica. Through the years, over three million persons have communicated to the Falwell ministries that they received Christ as Lord and Savior as a result of this radio and television ministry.
In 1967, Falwell implemented his vision to build a Christian educational system for evangelical youth. He began with the creation of Lynchburg Christian Academy, a Christ-centered, academically excellent, fully accredited Christian day school providing kindergarten, elementary and high school. In 1971, Liberty University was founded. Today, over 21,500 students from 50 states and 80 nations attend this accredited, liberal arts Christian university. Falwell’s dream has become a reality. A pre-school child can now enter the school system at age 3, and 20 or more years later, leave the same campus with a Ph.D., without ever sitting in a classroom where the teacher was not a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Falwell is also publisher of the National Liberty Journal, a monthly newspaper which is read by over 200,000 pastors and Christian workers, and the Falwell Confidential, a weekly e-mail newsletter to over 500,000 pastors and Christian activists.
In June 1979, Falwell organized the Moral Majority, a conservative political lobbying movement which the press soon dubbed the "Religious Right." During the first two years of its existence, the Moral Majority attracted over 100,000 pastors, priests, and rabbis and nearly seven million religious conservatives who mobilized as a pro-life, pro-family, pro-Israel, and pro-strong national defense lobbying organization. The Moral Majority chose California Governor Ronald Reagan as "their candidate" for President in 1980, registered millions of new voters, and set about to inform and activate a sleeping giant - 80 million Americans committed to faith, family, and Judeo-Christian values.
With the impetus of the newly organized Moral Majority, millions of people of faith voted for the first time in 1980 and helped elect Ronald Reagan and many conservative congressmen and senators. Since 1979, about 30% of the American electorate has been identified by media polls as the "Religious Right". Most recent major media surveys have acknowledged that these "faith and values" voters re-elected George W. Bush in November 2004.
Though perhaps better known outside Lynchburg for political activism, Jerry Falwell's personal schedule confirms his passion for being a pastor and a Christian educator. He often states that his heartbeat is for training young people for every walk of life.
Falwell and his wife of nearly 48 years, Macel, have three grown children and eight grandchildren.
Jerry Laymon Falwell, Sr.
Founder and Chancellor, Liberty University
Founder and Senior Pastor, Thomas Road Baptist Church
Date of Birth: August 11, 1933
Place of Birth: Lynchburg, Va.
Education: Attended Lynchburg College, Lynchburg, Va.
Graduate of Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Mo., Theology (1956)
Tennessee Temple Theological Seminary, Doctor of Divinity
California Graduate School of Theology, Doctor of Letters
Central University, Seoul, Korea, Doctor of Laws
VOCATIONS AND POSTS
Thomas Road Baptist Church: Pastor since 1956
Old Time Gospel Hour, Inc.: President since 1956
Elim Home for Alcoholics: since 1959
Lynchburg Christian Academy , K-12: since 1967
Liberty University: Chancellor since 1971
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary: Chancellor since 1973
Liberty Bible Institute: Chancellor since 1972
Moral Majority, Inc.: 1979-1989
Liberty Godparent Home for Unwed Mothers: since 1982
Liberty Broadcasting Network: President since 1985
Clergyman of the Year in America, Religious Heritage of America, 1979
Jabotinsky Centennial Medal, for friendship to Israel; presented by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, 1980
Christian Humanitarian of the Year, Food for the Hungry International, 1981
Most Admired Man Not in Congress, Conservative Digest, 1983
Voted several times among the 10 Most Admired Men in America, Good Housekeeping Poll
Named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America, U.S. News & World Report, 1983
Debated New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, defending the "Western Nuclear Alliance," at Oxford Debating Society, 1985
Named the Most Influential Central Virginian of the 20th Century in a survey conducted by the News and Advance in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dec. 1999
Named Virginia 's most influential clergyman of the 20th Century by the Virginia Historical Society
Featured on the covers of Newsweek and Time, and on countless print and broadcast outlets
Speaker at dozens of colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, UCLA, and Notre Dame
Met privately numerous times with Presidents George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon. Met with world leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, South African President F.W. DeKlerk, Jordan's King Hussein, and Israeli Prime Ministers Begin, Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Sharon.
Led missionary and humanitarian efforts in nations around the world, including the former Soviet Union
Church Aflame - Impact, 1971
Falwell: Capturing a Town for Christ - Revell, 1973
Listen, America! - Doubleday, 1980
The Fundamentalist Phenomenon - Doubleday, 1981
Finding Inner Peace and Strength - Doubleday, 1982
When it Hurts Too Much to Cry - Tyndale, 1984
Wisdom for Living - Victor Books, 1984
Stepping Out on Faith - Tyndale, 1984
Champions for God - Victor Books, 1985
If I Should Die Before I Wake - Thomas Nelson,
Strength for the Journey - Simon & Schuster, 1987
The New American Family - Word, 1992
Falwell: An Autobiography - Liberty House, 1997
Fasting Can Change Your Life - Regal, 1998
Wife Macel Pate Falwell, married 4/12/58
Two sons, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Attorney, Vice-Chancellor of Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va. and Jonathan Falwell, Attorney and Executive Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg Va.
One daughter, Jeannie Falwell Savas, Surgeon, Richmond, Va