Contrary to what was written and said in the liberal media Jerry Falwell held political beliefs that were actually quite "middle of the road" with regard to key cultural questions such as abortion, birth control, school prayer and homosexuality, according to a new biography written by his widow.
"While he opposed abortion, Jerry would have accepted legislation that allowed it in the case of rape, incest or if the mother's life was in danger," Macel Falwell tells readers in her new book "Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy." Moreover, Falwell believed the civil rights of homosexuals should be safeguarded, despite harboring moral objections to the homosexual lifestyle, she explains.
The prominent televangelist and evangelical Christian pastor, who co-founded the "Moral Majority" in the late 1970s, was a congenial, likable man many steps removed from the "bizarre public persona" incorporated into media portraits, Falwell observes in one of her earlier chapters.
After he died last year, the list of well wishers reaching out to surviving family members directly and elsewhere in print included Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and perhaps most notably, Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine.
"He was the kind of person who if you just spent a half-hour with him you would like him because he was someone who really loved people," she said an interview. "He could win them over almost instantly."
Despite their differences, Flynt described Falwell as a friend in article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times May 20, 2007. The article recounts the legal battles but acknowledges the rapprochement between the two men.
Falwell sued Flynt in the early 1980s for libel based on a parody that appeared in Hustler magazine. The parody suggested Falwell's first sexual encounter had been with his mother.
Although Falwell was successful in the lower court level, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision handed down on Feb. 24, 1988, decided in favor Flynt and his magazine. Hustler v. Flynt was also the subject of a Hollywood film.
But the story does not actually end where the movie does, [Macel] Falwell explains in the biography. Falwell and Flynt actually agreed to travel around the country and hold public debates on some of the key issues where they differed, she wrote.
Shortly after he published his own autobiography in 1997 Flynt appeared on the Larry King show with Falwell. They were together in the same room for first time since their Supreme Court Case, Flynt recalled in his article.
"Not only had we been arch enemies for 15 years, his beliefs and mine traveling in different solar systems, and not only had he sued me for $50 million (a case I lost repeatedly, yet eventually won in the Supreme Court), but now he was hugging me in front of millions on the Larry King Show," he wrote
"I'll never admire him for his views or his opinions," Flynt later continued. "To this day, I'm not sure if his television embrace was meant to mend fences, to show himself to the public as a generous and forgiving preacher or merely to make me uneasy, but the ultimate result was one I never expected and was just as shocking a turn to me as was winning that famous Supreme Court case: We became friends."
The hostile reception Falwell received in the media and in public settings such as college campuses did not seem to weigh him down or impact his overall disposition, especially when his was home, his wife observed.
"He was focused on the family and didn't bring politics home with him," she said. "We made a decision when we got married that after God we would put our children first and they just loved him."