Thousands pack service for Falwell
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell was remembered by thousands yesterday as a champion of conservative Christian values who fearlessly galvanized the religious right into a powerful force in American politics.
The funeral returned Falwell to his roots -- the Thomas Road Baptist Church, where he started as a young preacher in 1956 with just 35 parishioners in an old, abandoned soda-bottling plant. More than 10,000 people attended the funeral, many in overflow seating.
"He was a champion of the fundamental values that we hold dear," fellow Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson said. "He stepped on some toes."
Falwell, 73, died a week ago after collapsing in his office at the university. His physician said Falwell had a heart condition and presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality.
The most prominent of those attending his funeral were leaders of the religious right; none of the Republican presidential candidates attended.
Speakers remembered Falwell the politician, who became a force in the GOP in the 1980s after starting the Moral Majority and organizing the conservative Christian vote to help send Ronald Reagan to the White House.
"He said, 'I believe God has called me to confront the culture,' and did he ever confront it," said the Rev. Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who gave a sermon that included personal stories about Falwell and Biblical references.
Falwell was outspoken in his condemnation of homosexuality and pornography, and his opposition to abortion led him to politics.