Archives For Jerry Falwell

It hasn’t been a very good week for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee has been dealing with the revelations of “troubling incidents” related to bullying gay classmates in the same week that the president gave his support for same-sex marriage rights. Now, in what can only be called unfortunate timing, Romney will be giving the commencement speech today at Liberty University, the school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“Whatever the exact explanation, Romney and his team clearly do not feel that they can take the support and – maybe more importantly – the enthusiasm of evangelicals for granted the way most previous Republican nominees could. This could severely complicate Romney’s efforts to separate himself from what to general election swing voters are some of the most unappealing aspects of the modern Republican Party. Any position he takes or utterance he makes that puts him at odds with the Christian right threatens to prompt a loud uproar from evangelical leaders. How much slack (if any) they’re willing to cut Romney in the name of general election expediency is unclear at this point.”

All eyes will be on Romney to see if he can solidify support among conservative Evangelical Christians, a group that has been reluctant to admit he’s Christian at all due to his Mormon faith. While Romney has tentatively tried to stand up for his religion, a full-throated defense of the rights of religious minorities in this country has yet to emerge. Anyone expecting a “Sister Souljah moment” will no doubt be disappointed, Romney needs Liberty University and the forces it represents on his side, and that means overlooking its unfortunate, hurtful, retrograde, beliefs. Those beliefs include fighting against “homosexual propaganda,” and, naturally, a virulently anti-Pagan ethos. It is an ethos that goes far beyond the late Falwell’s infamous 9/11 comments.

“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 [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] happen.”

According to Right Wing Watch, school policy itself reserves the harshest of punishments for Liberty students who might engage in a Pagan or esoteric practices.

30 Reprimands + $500.00 Fine + 30 hours Disciplinary Community Service + possible Administrative Withdrawal. […] Involvement with witchcraft, séances or other satanic or demonic activity.

It should be pointed out that “involvement with witchcraft” is placed in the same category as rape, committing a felony crime, unauthorized weaponry, and selling drugs. As a private university, LU certainly has the right to make any rules it wants for its students, including the banning of “demonic activity,” but it should also make us ask what that means when individuals who want to run the United States pander to them.  Frankly, any national politician who seeks the imprimatur of Liberty University needs to immediately clarify their stance on pluralism in our country.

To reiterate what I’ve said before, the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

Perhaps we truly are entering a “Libertarian moment” in 2012, and fiscally conservative/socially liberal Pagans alienated by the prominence of conservative Christianity will flock to former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, who expressed no consternation within my campaign” when it comes to taking modern Pagans seriously in our electorate. That may not worry Mitt Romney, but is should worry Republicans who want to thrive in an increasingly post-Christian world. Eventually all those “others,” agnostics, and “nones” will add up to the margin of victory.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

In December of last year, I reported that a UU Pagan group in Albemarle County, Virginia generated some controversy when they took advantage of new school board rules that allowed the distribution of religious-themed flyers to school children.

“Some local Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, decided to take advantage of the new forum as well. They created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist and used the backpack system to invite the entire school community…The flier invites people to ‘an educational program for children of all ages (and their adults), where we’ll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.'”

This was all a result of threatened litigation brought by the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel, when the school refused to allow the distribution of Bible camp literature.

“A letter from the Jerry Falwell-linked Liberty Counsel has prompted the Albemarle County School Board to change its policy. The Board will now allow religious organizations to send home fliers with school children in backpack mail.”

But all this “religious freedom” at school isn’t going down too well. Pagans were bad enough, but then the atheists got involved!

“The county began allowing religious activity fliers but promised to revisit the issue in a year. And over the past school year, a Pagan flier in December and one for the atheist-oriented Camp Quest this spring sparked more controversy. Superintendent Pam Moran told the School Board her email inbox shut down when a national organization — Vision America headquartered in Lufkin, Texas — got wind of the “beyond belief” Camp Quest fliers and flooded her with messages protesting school-abetted “atheistic indoctrination.” Technicians had to work over the weekend to get her email back up and running.”

So now the Albemarle School Board, not wanting to find out who will try to distribute literature next, has banned all non-school related flyers from their “backpack mail” system. A situation that their teaching staff seems to have preferred all along.

“In the end, distributing religious and nonreligious materials through the schools was miring teachers, principals, administrators, and the Albemarle School Board in controversy. And a majority of School Board members wants to eliminate any fliers that aren’t school- or government-related at its June 28 meeting … ‘Last year, 16 out of 16 elementary principals recommended we not do this,’ admits Friedman. ‘We did not listen.'”

The irony here is that conservative Christians are the ones who pushed for the distribution of religious material at the school, and then complained so loudly about “atheist indoctrination” once other groups took advantage of the system that it had to be ended. So who wants “religious freedom”? It certainly isn’t the conservative Christians, who seem to only want freedom if it’s their religion.

If you are looking for more religious commentary on the passing of Jerry Falwell, I urge you to check out the On Faith blog panelists, where you can hear opinions ranging from fawning to critical (no response from Starhawk yet). Also adding their two cents are the Get Religion blog, and the religious mega-site Beliefnet.

Yesterday marked the release of the DVD for the stunning Academy Award-winning adult fairy-tale Pan’s Labyrinth. You can read my review of the film, here. The DVD comes in two editions, a single-disc version, and a double-disc deluxe version featuring making-of features and other extras. Guess which one is on my birthday wish list!

Finally, the New York Times has a published a story on Wiccans by Neela Banerjee. The article points out that despite growing acceptance and rights for modern Pagans, many still keep their faith hidden at work and from family for fear of their jobs, children, and alienation from family.

“David Steinmetz, professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, said, ‘Wiccans have so many things stacked against them, from what the Bible says about the practice of magic to the history in this country of witch trials, that the image of them adds up to something so contrary to the consensus about genuine religion that still shapes American society.’ … Members of other religions, including Jews and Catholics, have sometimes been forced to mask their faith in the past because of religious bias, Professor Steinmetz said. But it is rare, he added, for people to keep their religion from parents and grandparents, as many Wiccans do.”

So while modern Paganism has come a long way, there is still much to be done to combat the misconceptions and attitudes we face.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.”John Milton

“A mighty oak has fallen in God’s forest.”Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell, one of the great fire and brimstone fundamentalists, has gone to meet his reward. Being that I’m not a Christian, I won’t make any predictions about the state of his immortal soul, but considering his huge infamy within modern Pagan communities I would be remiss in not paying my own form of tribute.

Though I’m sure many of us would deny it, in some ways Falwell was a great boon to legitimizing modern Paganism. He was a self-constructing straw man for the intolerance and hypocrisy of Christianity. While he held real power during the heyday of the Moral Majority, by the nineties he had devolved into a hateful cartoon character, constantly offending and backtracking.

“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 [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] happen.”

Quotes like that, and several others, slowly moved us into the mainstream. His pure hatred and vitriol forced many mainline Christians to define themselves by what they were not, which is not a Christian like Jerry Falwell. So when he called NOW “the National Order of Witches”, or claimed that Lilith Fair was a celebration of a “pagan figure” full of “lesbian imagery”, or accused Michael Dukakis of promoting Wicca, you could be sure a stream of condemnations would follow. He even managed to (accidentally) pass a Pagan-friendly policy or two.

“A group of Pagans in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise their multi-cultural holiday program to public school children – and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.”

His intolerant buffoonery was the perfect caricature of anyone opposing the free exercise of our faiths. It exposed the dark underbelly of monotheism and in turn allowed the “mainstream” religions to move towards our acceptance (or at least co-existence) by rejecting Falwell. Not that he won’t have his apologists in the post-mortem, there is still a number of people who take him seriously. But even the “Religious Right” has modified and mainstreamed its views away from the Falwells, Robertsons, and Swaggarts, and more towards the Rick Warrens and Richard Ciziks of the movement.

Personally, I can’t muster up much emotion in any direction regarding his passing. While no doubt some of my compatriots will take one final shot at the famously closed-minded televangelist, it truly is difficult to demonize someone who has already done the job for you.

“How do you demonize a man who declared that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were evidence of God’s judgment on a nation corrupted by civil libertarians and advocates of abortion and gay rights? Falwell demonized himself and followed up his sincere vitriol with the usual insincere public relations apology … This man’s legacy is one of bigotry, xenophobia, anti-modernism, and utter stupidity. No doubt his funeral will be well-attended.”

So here’s to Jerry Falwell, a man who made a mockery of Christianity, and in the process made (some) people act more “Christian” towards us. I feel confident that both his supporters and his opponents sleep confidently in the knowledge that he has gone to his just punishment/reward.