Jerry Falwell, standard bearer of US Christian right, dies at 73

The Rev Jerry Falwell, the televangelist who helped make the religious right a dominant force of American politics, died yesterday at his office on the campus of his Virginia university.

The Rev Jerry Falwell, the televangelist who helped make the religious right a dominant force of American politics, died yesterday at his office on the campus of his Virginia university.

Mr Falwell, 73, had a history of heart problems, his doctor said. He was rushed to hospital after being found at his office at Liberty University, the campus he founded. He never regained consciousness.

The fundamentalist preacher was at the height of his powers in the 1980s as the man who imposed the mores of conservative Christians who previously had shunned public life on mainstream politics.

But even after his star faded, and a younger generation of activists took charge of delivering the votes of the religious right to Republican leaders, Mr Falwell's influence lingered. He played a pivotal role to shifting America to the right on abortion, gay marriage and pornography.

His support was also seen as crucial to the current crop of Republican leaders. The Arizona Senator, John McCain, who once derided televangelists as "agents of intolerance", last year made a point of delivering the commencement address at Liberty University. Mr McCain said in a statement yesterday: "Dr Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country."

The engine for those changes was his Moral Majority lobbying organisation, formed in 1979, which registered millions of conservative Christians to vote, and helped to elect Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980. The lobbying organisation, and his nationally telecast sermons, gave Mr Falwell a broad pulpit for his conservative beliefs, allowing him to rail against trade unions and state-funded schools.

Mr Falwell withdrew from active politics in 1987 after bruising libel suits against Penthouse and Hustler magazines.

He called Aids God's wrath on gay people, and said the 9/11 attacks were brought on by lesbians, atheists and civil liberties activists. He also kept close to circles of power, supporting both Presidents Bush in their runs for the White House.

But while he scaled the pinnacles of American power in his latter years, Mr Falwell's beginnings were humble. His first foray in public life began in a church in his native Lynchburg, Virginia, with a few dozen members in 1956. He soon began broadcasting sermons from his living room, and his congregation, linked by television audiences around the country tuning into the Old-Time Gospel Hour, expanded into the millions.


Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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