Jerry Falwell is dead. Story here.

Pastor Falwell was an old-fashioned evangelical. By that description I do not mean your grandparents' conservative Christianity. No, he was a throwback to the evangelicalism of the mid 19th century. Evangelicals 160 years ago were busy founding congregations and gathering a growing America into them. Falwell founded a new congregation in an old bottling plant in Lynchberg, Virginia, and grew it into the 20,000+ member Thomas Road Baptist Church. Evangelicals 160 years ago were founding institutions to improve and Christianize America, such as schools and colleges and orphanages. Falwell founded a college, now the 7000+ student Liberty University, Christian schools, a treatment center for alcoholics, and a home for unwed mothers. Evangelicals 160 years ago were politically active, pouring lots of energy into partisan politics, mostly on the side of Whigs and later Republicans, hoping to create a Christian America. Falwell helped found the Moral Majority and was its spokesman as it helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency.

Perhaps his most noticable contribution to U.S. history was the way he led Southern evangelicals into politics. The 19th-century evangelicals I described above were overwhelmingly northern. Southern evangelicals, succumbing to the social pressure to preserve slavery and later segregation, tended to preach an individualistic, heaven-when-you-die salvation, and leave the social order and politics alone. (Most Southern Baptist deacons of old put their political energies into the Klan and the Democrat Party, but the churches as churches were not political.) Falwell changed all of that. Alarmed by secularization, free-speech turned into a defense of pornography, and elites hostile to traditional values, southern evangelicals rallied to Falwell's banner. He helped change things.

Rest in Peace, Brother Falwell.

See also my later post on Falwell and controversy.