What Jerry Falwell Taught Me

My partner just emailed me. Jerry Falwell died, she said. Such a rush of emotion. And then questions. Does he have a number 2? Who will succeed him? But Scout asked the best question. I just yelled into the kitchen to tell her. She yelled back. "I wonder where he's headed now..."

I learned a lot from Jerry Falwell. I debated him on television a number of times. He taught me not to take a breath at the end of my sentences but to grab catch breaths in mid-sentence. That way, the interviewer has a tougher time interrupting. I learned that when you have a title like Reverend, you get some sort of free pass. A free pass to say terrible things and get away with it.

But most importantly I learned that you only get a free pass if people are willing to give it to you. You only get power when people are prepared to relinquish it. You only get a platform when people offer it to you.

As a woman, I have a lot of anger toward Jerry Falwell. I would never have an abortion but believe that a woman has a right to choose. As a gay person, I have a lot of anger toward Jerry Falwell. He raised a good deal of money for his cause, for his "church" on my back. As a Christian, I have a lot of anger toward Jerry Falwell. He used his deeply held religious beliefs as cover for the vast array of statements he made through the years that will reverberate for decades to come.

But as I watch CNN this afternoon (I can't bear to watch Fox), I realize the anger I feel should be directed to all those Mr. Falwell leaves behind -- all of you who created this demagogue. To all those who booked him on a TV or radio show, to all those who put money in his coffers, to all of you who followed him blindly. You gave Falwell the opportunity, the platform, the microphone and the money. He couldn't have done it all without you.

The world lost a powerful bigot today. The question ahead is not who will take his place. Someone will. The question is did you learn anything? Will you recognize that with power comes responsibility. When the next one asks for money or a microphone, maybe you'll think twice. Maybe you'll consider what it really means to be Christian.

"Showing qualities such as kindness, helpfulness, and concern for others."