The Trouble With Jerry

Oklahoma Gazette | November 9, 2005
Jerry Falwell is rarely at loss for words. Falwell, recently announced as one of the preachers at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s 2005 Pastor’s Conference, made headlines in 1999 when he denounced Tinky Winky, the purple member of the “Teletubbies” children’s TV series, as a role model for the gay lifestyle.

Words flow less freely when attempting to get comments from local Baptist pastors about Falwell, the founder and leader of the Moral Majority from 1979 to 1987.

Falwell exceeded his previous infamy in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when he blamed gays, atheists, the ACLU and other groups for the attack. On Pat Robertson’s nationally broadcast television program “The 700 Club,” Falwell said: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”

Falwell apologized the next day for the comments, but stood by his theological reasoning that the groups he listed were moving America away from its spiritual foundations and thus withdrew the nation from the protection of God.

In light of his well-publicized comments, some local Baptist pastors are concerned about the decision to invite Falwell to speak at the conference. Ryan Abernathy, the pastor of Journey Fellowship in Oklahoma City, said he is disturbed by the choice of a polarizing figure like Falwell.

“I’m afraid this communicates to our congregations that we share Rev. Falwell’s views,” Abernathy said. “I don’t share his views. I don’t want gay people thinking we blame them for the attacks on our nation.”

Todd Littleton, the pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, said the selection of Falwell represents a further marginalization of pastors who don’t like being pushed farther right by the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Rev. Falwell’s appearance at this year’s Pastor’s Conference creates a conundrum for me,” Littleton said. “His views do not reflect my own. At the same time, I do not believe it healthy to only hear from those with whom I agree. Yet, I am wont for a way to signal my conviction we have gone too far. … Our denominational environment does not allow for dissent without assuming disloyalty.”

Ray Sanders, official spokesman for the BGCO, said the selection of Falwell does not necessarily represent a message about the way the BGCO is moving. According to Sanders, the BGCO has nothing to do with the selection of speakers.

“The conference is put on by the pastors,” Sanders said. “They select who they want. And I believe that anyone who attends will find the same support and encouragement they always find at the conference.”

Does that mean the BGCO would not step in to prevent choices with which it doesn’t agree? For example, what if the pastors chose the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson or the politically liberal John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop of Newark, N.J.?

“We choose not to deal in speculation,” Sanders said. “I don’t think that would ever happen. These men have always chosen speakers who reflect the spirit and direction of the BGCO.”

Two local Baptist pastors, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said selection of the three-seat committee to choose the annual speakers generally defaults to the ministers actually attending the conference during the vote. That selection usually occurs at odd hours when many of the pastors are not attending the conference.

Pastor Ray Earley of Cartwright, the president of this year’s conference, is responsible for the choice of speakers. He said he chose Falwell because he believes him to be a “great man of prayer.” He said he was unaware of Falwell’s inflammatory comments.

“This is not a conference where political views are made or shared,” Earley said. “We’ll be focusing on our need as churches to focus on God through prayer.”

Is it possible for Christians to be unaware of Falwell’s less than charitable comments? Abernathy of Journey Fellowship believes it is.

“So many church people don’t read mainstream news sources,” he said. “They believe those sources are biased against Christians.”

Jeff Moore, the pastor of Altus First Baptist and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Board, is aware of Falwell’s comments but doesn’t think they should be an issue.

“We (Baptists) know who we are,” Moore said. “Most Baptists can think for themselves. I want him to talk to us about being a better pastor, not politics.”

The conference will be held Monday at Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond. Falwell is scheduled to preach at 1:15 p.m. Teaching Pastor Dennis Newkirk and Elder/Vice President Kim Swyden of Henderson Hills did not return calls for comment.

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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