Falwell To Jesus Get A Hummer

Not being a religious person, I don't spend much time thinking about excommunication. But I do believe now is the moment to initiate excommunication proceedings against Jerry Falwell, not to drive him out of the Baptist church (any church that will have him for a leader deserves him), but to expel him from public discourse.

Since 9/11, Falwell, the former head of the so-called Moral Majority, has been on a hellfire of a tear. After those awful attacks, he appeared on Pat Robertson's television show and blamed abortion-rights advocates, feminists, pagans, gay and lesbians, and the ACLU for pissing off God to such an extent that She/He/It permitted the strikes to occur. Falwell took plenty of flak. He issued a non-apologetic apology but appeared to have finally walked off the plank of hate-rhetoric into the dark sea of self-marginalization. Fox News Channel celeb Bill O'Reilly, for one, said he would have nothing to do with him.

But Falwell managed to slither back. By the end of the year, he was a guest once again on O'Reilly's show. More recently, in June, he made news on CNN defending a Baptist leader who had decried Mohammed as "a demon-possessed pedophile" and who had commented, "Allah is not Jehovah; Jehovah is not going to turn you into a terrorist that will bomb people." And in recent weeks, he has continued his anti-Islam rant and been invited to do so by the media. In October, he was interviewed by 60 Minutes and maintained "Mohammed was a terrorist."

I am not advocating censoring wrongheaded or dangerous opinion-mongering. But a recent Falwell appearance on CNN provided the grounds for certifying him a nut-case not worthy of a microphone. What had brought Falwell in front of the camera was a creative and edgy television ad campaign mounted by the Evangelical Environmental Network. The spot's text reads:

"God saw that [the Earth] was good, and Jesus says, love thy neighbor as thyself. Yet too many of the cars, trucks and SUVs that are made, that we choose to drive, are polluting our air, increasing global warming, changing the weather, and endangering our health. Especially the health of our children. So if we love our neighbor, and we cherish God's creation, maybe we should ask, what would Jesus drive?"

The group set up a website: www.whatwouldjesusdrive.org where visitors are asked to take the WWJDrive Pledge: "Confessing Jesus Christ to be my Savior and Lord, including Lord of my transportation choices, I pledge the following: I will...walk, bike, car pool and use public transportation; if I need to purchase a vehicle, I will choose the most fuel efficient and least polluting vehicle that truly fits my needs...." In other words, no SUVs on the road to Calvary. EEN also encourages Christians to pressure government leaders and the automobile industry to increase fuel efficiency of vehicles and to reduce pollution.

On CNN, Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, explained the project by citing the latest science on global warming, which predicts a 2 to 10 degrees Fareneheit hike in temperature this century, and noted the likely effects of global warming "will produce catastrophic changes that will especially hurt the poor." Booked as countervailing voice, Falwell scoffed at such hokum and declared he and the missus each drive GM Suburbans.

Fine, Falwell is free to be foolish, and CNN is free to exploit his foolishness to achieve that much-sought-after image of fair-and-balanced. But Falwell went further. He claimed, "global warming is a myth." Sider tried to rebut him, saying, "Our best scientists tell us that, in fact, global warming..." But Falwell interrupted to counter, "No our best scientists don't tell us." He explained: "It was global cooling 30 years ago...and it's global warming now. And neither of us will be here 100 years from now to know what it is. But I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. We'll be cooler by then, if the lord hasn't returned....The fact is that there is no global warming."

Falwell was lying. The consensus of the climate-science community is indeed that human-induced global warming is real and that it poses serious dangers. Last year, after much foot-dragging, President Bush acknowledged this. His acceptance came begrudgingly when the National Academy of Sciences released a report that Bush had commissioned. The study decisively noted, "Greenhouse gasses are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise....The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities....Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century."

Does Falwell not consider the NAS to be "our best scientists"? Does he know better ones? Does he know better himself?

Falwell then shifted from deceit to delusion: "The whole [global warming] thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability." That must be why so many radical anti-American individuals and outfits such as the NAS, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, British Petroleum, William Clay Ford Jr., Kenneth Lay and Enron (yes, indeed!), Colin Powell, and Christine Todd Whitman have acknowledged the threat of global warming. Falwell is a paranoid loon to believe some devilish force cooked up global warming to annihilate America. And he ignores all the other costs of an oil-obsessed economy: air pollution, oil spills (see Spain), a dependence on imports.

Falwell could have tried to counter Sider by citing the uncertainties of climate science or referring to those few scientists who (unconvincingly) challenge the overwhelming scientific consensus. He could have debated Sider's theological approach to public policy. Hey, if the rapture is coming, who cares what the temperature is outside? Instead, he broke one of the Ten Commandments. He also tried to undermine Sider's credibility, at least among evangelicals, by suggesting Sider is an Earth-worshipper (gasp!) and not a diehard believer in biblical creationism.

Falwell's appearance on this segment illustrates a fundamental problem with shouting-head journalism. Cable news networks, adopting the bedrock principal of the adversarial judicial system, often act as if the best way to present information is to serve the viewer two opposing advocates battling it out. But in many instances, this ends up confusing rather than illuminating. Not every fact is debatable, not every opinion equal or worth equal time. What was the journalistic responsibility of Judy Woodruff, who moderated the Sider-Falwell exchange? Shouldn't she have informed the audience that there was absolutely no factual basis to what Falwell was saying? Is it her job to provide a platform to someone who can be proven to be a liar? And what is the price Falwell pays for bearing false witness? None. For Falwell, there's no payback for willful deception, just as there was none for spouting a hateful blame-America explanation (and justification) for the September 11 massacre. Prevarication will not lead to his removal from the great media Rolodex.

At the end of the spot, Falwell said, "I urge everyone to go out and buy an SUV today." Could it be that Falwell actually wants to encourage global warming? Are rising temperatures a sign of the apocalyptic end-times some Christians eagerly anticipate? Here's another possible reason for Falwell's burn-baby-burn stance: The gay meccas in the United States, Key West, Provincetown, and San Francisco, are at sea level. Coincidence or God's plan? But the most likely explanation is that Falwell is a boob. He ought to be kept far from the pulpit of public debate.

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