Rev. Jerry Falwell, 73, passes away
Jason Cannon, Franklin County Times
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television minister whose 1979 founding of the Moral Majority galvanized American religious conservatives into a political force, died yesterday at age 73.
Falwell was found unconscious and without a pulse in his office at Liberty University, the college he founded in Lynchburg, Va.
Aside from being one of the world's most recognizable religious figures, many say Falwell's impact could be felt down many avenues.
"I would say that he had a big impact on the Southern Baptist Convention," Larry Dover, the Franklin County Baptist Association's director of missions said. "But I would guess where he had his biggest impact was at Liberty University. Several prestigious people hold prominent degrees from Liberty University."
Arguably, Falwell was at his peak in the 1980s, where he and his ministry even gained political strength.
In 1973, Falwell began a series of meetings with fellow pastors and conservative politicians on what he considered their responsibility to support "pro-traditional family" policies.
That led to the founding of the Moral Majority, which claimed to have mobilized nearly 9 million voters and helped put Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980.
"He was a catalyst for voter registration," Dover said. "I don't think it helped Reagan as much in the general election but it helped push him to the forefront in the primary and the Republican Committee for sure."
Aside from becoming one of the most visible Republican supporters, Dover said he felt one of Falwell's biggest contributions was using the tools at his disposal to speak to the masses, becoming one of the nation's first and most widely recognized television and radio evangelists.
Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg in 1956, at the age of 22. The church began with 35 members and now boasts more than 22,000. Within six months of starting the church, Falwell, a onetime prospect for baseball's St. Louis Cardinals, was airing his "Old Time Gospel Hour" on radio and television.
"I was glad to see someone take a stand like he did using a medium that many people don't have access to," he said.