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Speaking at SWBTS, Falwell unashamed of Bush endorsement

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Jerry Falwell refused to back down from his endorsement of President Bush’s re-election bid in his first-ever speaking engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 24. He also said that Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization that has attacked Falwell for his support of the president, was targeting conservative churches.

“The press is here today expecting me to get into politics, which I’m not going to do, except to tell you to vote for the Bush of your choice,” Falwell said. His comment drew laughter and sustained applause from the packed auditorium.

Falwell is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Nationally, he is best known as the leader of the Moral Majority, a conservative political action group founded in 1979. In addition to his nationally televised worship services, Falwell is a frequent and familiar guest on numerous television news programs.

Americans United and its director, Barry Lynn, recently filed a complaint against Falwell and his church with the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that, as pastor, Falwell had openly urged and continues to encourage people to support President Bush’s campaign. Doing so should result in the loss of the church’s tax-exempt status under IRS regulations, Lynn said.

IRS guidelines prohibit churches and other 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from actively endorsing a candidate for office or expending funds in a political campaign. Falwell said that he has always acted as a private citizen when endorsing candidates, specifically President Bush. He also said in an interview prior to the chapel service that, as an editor of a publication, the First Amendment protects his comments.

No investigation of Falwell or his church has taken place, Falwell insisted. He described Americans United’s attempt to cast the situation as an active investigation as a “red herring” and a “scare tactic.”

In his chapel address, Falwell said that Lynn and Americans United had an agenda against socially and politically conservative evangelical churches. He shared a comment he once made to Lynn.

“I told him, ‘You should name your organization properly, Americans United for the Separation of Conservative Churches and State,’ because it doesn’t bother you that the other side is in churches all the time,'” Falwell said. “It just bothers you when Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy and Tim LaHaye and a bunch of these fellows on the right get involved.”

Speaking on the topic of how necessary it is to have a vision for success in ministry, Falwell also expressed excitement about Liberty University’s new law school. He said he hoped God would raise up a generation of Christian attorneys who will reverse the tide of judicial activism in America.

“We curse the darkness, we’re against what the ACLU and Americans United are, and what the crazy runaway liberal judges are doing,” Falwell said. “We’re going to train a few thousand Christian attorneys who are just as radical as the preachers.”

As for his critics, Falwell said his vision for ministry, which is shaped by his relationship with God, allows him to focus on the goals set before him. Addressing his critics, he was unbowed.

“We’re here to stay, we’re going to bring this nation back and we couldn’t care less what you think about it,” Falwell said to his opponents.

Falwell said that godly vision makes it possible for ministers to be risk-takers, a characteristic he has lived by throughout his ministry.

Before Falwell spoke, seminary students listened to Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Pat Carlson. She stressed the importance of voting one’s values in an age of moral decay. Carlson also encouraged seminary students to register every possible voter and then follow through by voting Nov. 2.

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson announced that the seminary would have voter registration tables outside the chapel throughout the following week.

Patterson and Falwell have a longstanding friendship and have often fought for common causes in cultural battles. Patterson paid tribute to Falwell before he spoke and told him he was welcome at the seminary any time. Falwell returned the sentiment when he described the opening of a letter Patterson once wrote to him.

“Both he and I were engaged in a rather dramatic situation … and his letter began, ‘Dear mentor in worldwide rabble-rousing,'” Falwell said. “He’s the only person I know who is slightly to the right of me.”

Throughout his sermon, Falwell made several references to his age, and consistently reaffirmed his determination and plans to continue following his God-inspired vision for ministry for years to come and on his own terms.

“I’m 71 years old as of this Aug. 11 past,” Falwell said. “And I’m far too old to be intimidated by anybody.”

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  • Samuel Smith