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Archive of American Television interview, 2003

This is an eight-minute excerpt from a two-hour interview with Jerry Falwell done by Don Carleton on October 13, 2005 for the Archive of American Television project of the Academy of Television Arts & Science Foundation.

This is real bread-and-butter stuff for Jerry: it starts with a question about his 1965 sermon “Ministers and Marches.” I haven’t seen or heard this sermon, and I have only seen characterizations of it as being critical of Martin Luther King Jr. Jerry blames the content of the sermon on what he had been taught in Bible college: that religion and politics don’t mix. He name-checks William Sloane Coffin Jr. as an example of a politically-involved liberal Christian minister of the time, and suggests that the failure of Prohibition had caused conservatives to turn away from politics for a generation.

He says he changed his mind about political involvement about this time and suggests that civil rights was the first of several issues (he mentions abortion and bans on voluntary prayer in public schools) that he got involved in. He mentions something about “baptizing black families” and the strong negative reaction he got for doing so in passing, but it isn’t clear to me how this fits the overall story.

He jokingly says the religious right “may have gone too far” but doesn’t say how.

He says Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) (school prayer) as being a major contributor to the formation of Moral Majority, but that Roe v. Wade (1973) (abortion) was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in galvanizing something: either his own determination to start a political organization, or the attitudes of the people who got involved in Moral Majority. He says he consulted “Francis Schaeffer and others” about getting involved in politics; that he first got involved by registering people to vote, but that hearing Ronald Reagan on the radio was a major turning point.

He tried unsuccessfully to get Reagan nominated (instead of the incumbent Gerald Ford) in 1976, and then formed Moral Majority in 1979; he says at its height it included 100 000 pastors and 7 million members, one-third of which were Catholics. It had four main points:

  • Pro-life
  • Pro-Israel; rejects Christian Zionist label and claims he does not support Israeli government when it’s wrong
  • Pro-family; says the divorce rate was 30-40% then and is about 50% now
  • Christian education; says “we’ve started 50 000 schools since then”

And says the Moral Majority included Catholics, Mormons, and conservative Protestants.

Oddly, he says they initially “looked at John Connally” before settling on Reagan, and that Reagan galvanized Moral Majority support in Dallas in August 1980 with his “I endorse you” speech at the National Affairs Briefing sponsored by the Religious Roundtable.

There’s a lot here for just eight minutes; Jerry doesn’t look well, but he’s still sharp as a tack and rattles off a surprising number of facts, talking points, names, etc. in a short period of time, only stumbling when he tries to remember the Christian education plank of the Moral Majority platform. At first glance his Sixties timeline doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, and of course he doesn’t mention the Bob Jones-IRS case as being important. It’s interesting how often he mentions Catholics, and that he mentions Mormons and not Jews as being part of Moral Majority. Finally, a casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that the Moral Majority was assembled for the sole purpose of endorsing Ronald Reagan.

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