Jerry Fallwell Jr. has had an exceptional week.
Okay, got “understatement of the year” out of the way.
And I have to pause here to make the point – and apologize if this sounds flip – that one of the things I learned from the Falwell story is: I really should have gotten into the university business. Apparently there’s money to burn in that racket. Anyway ....
And of course “burn” is what happened. Wealth’s ability to fund hedonism led to some fairly lurid news stories, but then it’s a story the news loves to tell, that readers love to read: Political big shot caught in an embarrassing situation, so embarrassing that resignation follows. The public life, the talk-show appearances, the standing-by-the-candidate-at-the-podium gigs, that’s over. Just take the $10 mil -plus severance and find someplace quiet, get back in touch with ....
In touch with what? There’s the thing. Falwell, as his father before him, represented a trend that came to the fore in ’64 during the Goldwater campaign, and was later perfected during the Reagan campaign, of religious leaders yoking themselves to the social conservative political movement. Some of you may recall the “silent majority” campaign of times past.
People on both sides had solid reasons for this yoking, on one hand to bring a block of votes, on the other to bring legislative initiatives. This, ultimately, is nothing new, but that it came to the fore as the era of the televised President was perfected made it more visible, a brighter awareness in the national consciousnesses.
And a brighter awareness, bringing a bloc of votes, uses the term “we” a lot. That’s just how it is, that’s how the game is played. Union Presidents do the same thing, 2nd Amendment advocates, all these policy-focused groups want to be known as being able to deliver a bloc, a “we,” and they use the term.
No problem with “we,” in the game of politics it’s a built-in construct. The problem is, in this case, “we” can be inverted to “them” as in “those people.”
So Fallwell’s “we” in expressing a bloc able to act as one became “them” able to act as one becomes “those people” who act as one. And that bloc is religious folks, Christians, who, the logic goes, apparently are political conservatives (because “we”) who apparently march in lock-step behind a guy who says one thing and does another and no sense going to church “those people” are all hypocrites anyway.
I, for many years, was subject to that same sort of thinking, and assumed to be Christian was to be one of those people (there, on the TV, standing by the politician) and I wasn’t going to go to church because I didn’t want to be one of those people.
Then one day I went to church. It turned out I was wrong. I kept going to church, different churches, met lots of people, lots and lots of people, haven’t met a Fallwell yet. I write newspaper columns, meet with politicians, a number of whom are Christian, haven’t met a Fallwell yet.
It turns out those people are not what you see on television. That’s some other reality. Here, boots on the ground, among my people, among you people, it’s a whole different experience.
A couple weeks ago area church members got together and, the Sunday before school started, did a prayer walk around area schools. It’s just what it sounds like, walking the school and praying on and for a safe and successful school year, to invoke a power greater than our own to protect those people who will be there – something all-the-more important in these face mask times.
You want activism? There’s your activism. It troubles me that people will not participate in that sort of peaceful activism, or even pursue it, or even go to church, even just to try it, to check it out, because it’s, based upon national political reporting, a throng of greasy Fallwell archetypes or Fallwell surrogates.
It’s not. If it is somewhere, it’s someplace I’ve never been. Where I’m from, it’s people quietly walking, and praying, for a better world and a better place for their children, week in and week out.