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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 22:08 GMT 23:08 UK
Obituary: Jerry Falwell
Jerry Falwell

Conservative US televangelist Jerry Falwell is best known for his role in shaping the political influence of the religious right.

Initially a small-town Baptist preacher, he founded the Moral Majority, a conservative political lobbying movement, in 1979.

He credited the movement's alliance with Republican conservatives with helping Ronald Reagan win the US presidency twice in the 1980s.

During that decade, Mr Falwell made regular appearances on television talk shows and in national magazines.

He had already gained a wide audience through the Old-Time Gospel Hour, a daily local radio ministry and weekly local television ministry which he began in 1956.

In the same year, aged only 22, he founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in a former soft-drink bottling plant, which by 2007 had gained a membership of some 24,000 people through his broadcasts.

Speaking after his death aged 73, fellow televangelist Pat Robertson described him as "a tower of strength on many of the moral issues which have confronted our nation".

Global warming sceptic

However, Mr Falwell was also a controversial figure, with his conservative views on homosexuality, abortion and women's rights putting him at odds with many liberals and moderates.

Jerry Falwell (centre) with his lawyer and wife outside the Supreme Court
Rev Falwell lost a high profile libel case at the US Supreme Court

In 2002, he sparked anger across the Muslim world by calling the Prophet Muhammad a "terrorist". He later apologised.

Shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks, he said that gays, atheists, civil-rights activists and legal abortions in the US had angered God and "helped this happen".

"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad," he said, in comments that prompted outrage among critics.

Mr Falwell also cast doubts on the reality of global warming, dismissing it as a conspiracy dreamed up by Hollywood and the liberal left.

He sued Hustler magazine for libel over a 1983 advert parodying him but lost the case. It became the basis for the 1996 film The People v Larry Flynt.

In 1999, he denounced the BBC TV children's show The Teletubbies, because he believed one character, Tinky Winky, was homosexual.

University founder

The political influence of Mr Falwell's movement waned in the 1990s, partly as a result of a series of scandals involving other American televangelists.

Mr Falwell turned his attention to the college he had established in 1971 as part of a dream to build an educational system for young Christians.

Liberty University, in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, was at that point badly in debt but, with the help of local business allies, he was able to put it on a stronger footing. He still served as its president at the time of his death.

With more than 20,000 students on and off campus, Liberty claims to be the largest evangelical university in the world.

Mr Falwell also published the National Liberty Journal, a monthly newsletter read by many Christian leaders.

A twin son of a businessman in Lynchburg, he told interviewers he was a young delinquent before becoming a born-again Christian at the age of 19 and studying to be ordained.

He leaves a wife, three children and eight grandchildren.


SEE ALSO
US evangelist Jerry Falwell dies
15 May 07 |  Americas
In quotes: Rev Jerry Fallwell
15 May 07 |  Americas

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