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The Quest for the Historical Jerry

You can tell a lot about someone by what he says about Falwell.

The penultimate item in U.S. News & World Report's list of "10 Things You Didn't Know About Jerry Falwell" explained that "Falwell had been controversial throughout the years." The article then quoted his "I point the finger in their face" remarks, made on The 700 Club two days after the September 11 attacks.

Some rightly bemoaned that this was the only thing people did know about Falwell—except perhaps for his supposed "outing" of Tinky Winky the Teletubby. Conservatives rued how the "liberal media" treated Falwell. Focus on the Family headlines included "Media Warped Young Conservatives' Views of Falwell" and "Assassinating the Dead." Then again, liberals said his frequent television appearances evinced a conservative bias in the media. Religion journalist-turned-academic Gustav Niebuhr said Falwell gained media prominence largely because he "returned reporters' phone calls ahead of deadline, sat through countless interviews, and was always blunt, succinct, and consistent— thus, eminently quotable."

Blunt and succinct, yes, but without nuance, and consistency was a problem. The Falwell who spoke of Christians' political duty also said, "Preachers are not called to be politicians, but to be soul winners." The Falwell who said he was tired of being a "lightning rod" for criticism told CT that the reason "the general public thinks of me as a 'John the Baptist, confront-the-culture, nuke-the-earth' kind of person" is because he deliberately played one on TV. At the same time, he often befriended his sparring partners off camera. And gay-rights groups' favorite villain also called for churches to do more to combat anti-gay violence and "to bring down the rhetoric and the stridency" in fights over sexual ethics.

Usually, ...

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Tidings
Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's managing editor for news and online journalism. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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The Quest for the Historical Jerry
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