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How Falwell Helped Give the Religious Right Its Voice in American Politics

Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died at age 73, organized Christian conservatives into a movement in the 1980s, the Moral Majority. He had many fans but also many critics. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Conservative Christians, known in America as the religious right, lost one of their best-known leaders this week. Jerry Falwell died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his Virginia office. He was seventy-three years old and had a history of heart problems.

Reverend Falwell wanted to organize socially conservative Christians to become politically active. So, in nineteen seventy-nine, he helped launch the Moral Majority and became its public face.

Some believe this heavily Republican group helped to elect Ronald Reagan president in the nineteen eighty election. Republicans also won control of the Senate for the first time in many years.

Reverend Falwell described the movement as pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-Israel and pro-national defense. There was a joke, that the Moral Majority was neither. But, at its height, the group said it had six and a half million members. They opposed abortion, sex-same marriage and any other threats they saw to family values.

Jerry Falwell began as a Southern Baptist minister at a small church in Lynchburg, Virginia, in nineteen fifty-six. Later he became known to millions through a television program, "The Old-Time Gospel Hour." And that small church he started grew into one of the largest in the country today.

Jerry Falwell had many supporters but also many critics, including other Christian clergy. He was widely denounced for comments he made after the September eleventh, two thousand one, attacks on the United States.

He blamed pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, and others who, he said, were trying to make America non-religious. "You helped this happen," he said. He was speaking as a guest on the show of another well-known evangelist, Pat Robertson, who agreed with him.

Both men later apologized. Yet some people say their comments about the terrorist attacks may have done more since then to hurt the religious right than to help it.

Some will also remember Jerry Falwell for what he said about Tinky Winky, from the BBC children's program "Teletubbies." In nineteen ninety-nine he accused the character of being homosexual and morally damaging to children.

Jerry Falwell closed the Moral Majority in nineteen eighty-nine. But he launched a new group to continue the "evangelical revolution" in politics, the Moral Majority Coalition. That was in November of two thousand four, right after religious conservatives helped re-elect President Bush.

In his later years, Jerry Falwell spent much of his time at Liberty University in Lynchburg. He served as president. He opened the college in nineteen seventy-one. In recent years, he also worked to bring attention to what he said was a misrepresented threat of global warming.

Jerry Falwell did not have as much influence anymore. But he will be remembered for his part in giving a voice to conservative Christians in modern American politics.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.