Jerry Falwell's Legacy

It's been over a week and a half since Jerry Falwell died. I've thought about him many times but between the trip to Ithaca NY and work and church obligations I haven't had the time to collect my thoughts til now. The truth is I'm kinda saddened by his passing.

Falwell had lost relevancy in later years as other preachers of the Religious Right had come to the fore, and I find myself thinking more about him in his death now than I did the last decade or so of his life. But his impact on me and all of us was huge.

I grew up hating Jerry Falwell. One of the first political buttons that I owned as a fledgling liberal activist was one that said "The Moral Majority is Neither." At that time, given how prevalent and powerful the Moral Majority was as a political and social force, Falwell acted as a sort of anti-beacon in shaping my identity. His exclusionary views on religion, family, and what it means to be an American were what I knew I did not want to be, and did not want my country to be.

At this stage in my life I've moved beyond defining myself by what one is against, in favor of a more positive identity. But I recognize the influence that Falwell had on my life, and am wistful that the "anti-beacon" is no more.

In thinking about Falwell now, I realize that his influence on me and us was even more profound that just my/our political views. Jerry Falwell is the reason why my job exists - not just to promote liberal religious views in public policy, but to promote religious views in the first place. While there historically has been a long tradition of religiously motivated political activism within the U.S., with Unitarians and Universalists being in the heart of it, by the 1980s the accepted practice had become to keep religion and politics separate. Those of us who were activists did so on a purely secular basis. Even those who were religious kept their religious beliefs separate from their political views (or pretended to).

When Falwell's Moral Majority started getting into politics a lot of people said, "Hey you can't do that!" But what he was doing was perfectly legal and in keeping with our country's founding traditions. We just hated that he was so effective at it. Falwell made religion relevant to society again, and for that I must give him a nod.

Battle Hymn of the Republic - Redux

In doing a little research on The Battle Hymn of the Republic (originally written by Unitarian Julia Ward Howe as a Union rallying cry for the Civil War), I discovered that Mark Twain wrote a parody of sorts in 1901 in response to American imperialism in the Philippines. I like his version better:

The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date)

Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.

I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps—
His night is marching on.

I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!"

We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!

In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom—and for others' goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich—
Our god is marching on.

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Mothers Day. (Thanks Ma!!)  And while you're celebrating the strong sustaining women in your life, give a nod to Julia Ward Howe, the creator of "Mother's Day" (without the Hallmark commercialism), suffragist, abolitionist, and the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  I'm not a huge fan of the old battle hymn, but I gotta admit that Ms. Howe was a talented, strong woman.

And a Unitarian!


I'm hearing people complaining about a double standard/hypocrisy with respect to Don Imus' comments. The argument goes something like this: Imus used the same words that "rappers" use, and they don't get in trouble. So why is it that black men are allowed to say "ho" but when a white man says it all hell breaks loose?

Ignoring for the moment that for as long as power is held predominantly by one group in this country a "double standard" is not a double standard, this debate ignores the central issue. (so what else is new?) What Imus said was wrong, it was racist, even if he had not used the words that he used. It wasn't "nappy-headed hos" that was the problem; it was the judgment that he was making about the women's Rutgers team.

Lost in the soundbite and controversy of the words he used is the context in which he made the comments. Imus was comparing the players of the Rutgers team with the players of the Tennessee team. Both teams have a majority of African-American players. The Tennessee team tended to be more light-skinned/straighten-hair and the Rutgers team tended to be more dark-skinned/kinkier hair.

Bear that in mind as you read what Imus and his crew said:

IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and...

McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.

IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like... I don't know...

McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.


ROSENBERG: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.

Translation: dark skin, kinky-hair = scary, repulsive, bad. light skin, straight hair = nice, attractive, good.

And the worst part of it is that he probably has no idea just how hurtful those comments were to those young women, and to other African-American women. For Imus and for many Americans, the racial dimension of their ideas of beauty and worth are so deeply ingrained that they're not even aware of them.


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative