In his apparently last television interview recorded the week before his death, Jerry Falwell defended controversial statements he made following 9/11 holding secular and liberal groups responsible for the terrorist attacks.
Forty-eight hours after 9/11, Falwell said on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” that the attacks were likely evidence that God was judging America and “probably what we deserve.”
“The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this,” Falwell said. “And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this, but throwing God out successfully–with the help of the federal court system–throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”
After criticism, including rebuke from the White House, Falwell apologized a couple of days later, calling his remarks “insensitive,” “uncalled for” and “unnecessary.”
“In the midst of the shock and mourning of a dark week for America, I made a statement that I should not have made and which I sincerely regret,” Falwell said in his apology statement issued Sept. 18, 2001. “I apologize that, during a week when everyone appropriately dropped all labels and no one was seen as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, religious or secular, I singled out for blame certain groups of Americans.”
“I do not know if the horrific events of September 11 are the judgment of God,” Falwell said, “but if they are, that judgment is on all of America–including me and all fellow sinners–and not on any particular group.”
But days before his unexpected death May 15, Falwell told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour he stood by his original statement. The interview airs tonight in the last of a three-part series on “God’s Warriors” examining the link between religion and politics and the effects of Judaism, Islam and Christianity on politics, culture and public life.
In a video clip on the series Web site, Amanpour reminded Falwell he sparked controversy by suggesting that the Lord was removing his protection from America in 2001.
“I still believe that,” Falwell said…. “We’re killing a million babies a year in this country by abortion. And I was saying then, and I’m saying now, that if we in fact change all the rules on which this Judeo-Christian nation was built, we cannot expect the Lord to put his shield of protection around us as he has in the past.”
“So you still stand by that?” Amanpour asked.
“I stand right by it,” Falwell replied.
Falwell’s final comment brought him full circle. Before Falwell apologized in September 2001, both he and Robertson claimed the media distorted their remarks about 9/11 and took them out of context.
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics at the time called those statements “dishonest.”
On Wednesday Parham said Falwell’s candid comments to CNN days before his death confirmed the “core dishonesty” of his previous apology.
“He spoke wrongly with Pat Robertson after 9/11,” Parham said. “When confronted for his theologically and politically wrongful remarks, he spun the truth with guile and pride.”
“The truth simply wasn’t in Falwell,” Parham said. “He was a prototypical Christian fundamentalist who made bitter comments to fire up his base and lied when called to accountability for statements of hatred.”
In his final interview, Falwell apparently didn’t remember saying America “deserved” 9/11 in 2001. “What I said was the people that are responsible must take the blame for it,” he told CNN.
According to a transcript by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Falwell said on Sept. 13, 2001, “What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
CNN’s “God’s Warriors,” produced over 11 months and shot in locations on four continents, began Tuesday with a segment on “Jewish Warriors,” followed by “Muslim Warriors” Wednesday. Tonight’s final episode, “Christian Warriors,” airs at 9 p.m. ET
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.