For Falwell, publicity is sacred

Image: Media shower attention on Christian televangelist, no matter how silly his pronouncements.

July 11, 1999|By Clark Morphew

DON'T YOU THINK that Jerry Falwell is a nosy, sour, crabby old goober who ought to be isolated in his fundamentalist cave and left for at least a decade without publicity or attention of any kind?

I say this because it seems that nearly every month, Falwell and his troops in Virginia say something so stupid and out of touch with the real world that it makes all of us shake our heads and laugh. However, the media seem to get a big kick out of giving Falwell precious attention and therefore an enhanced image across the nation.

In February, Falwell warned the world that Tinky Winky, one of four fictional characters on the children's television show "Teletubbies," was a gay role model that parents ought to keep away from their kids. Falwell based his claim on this evidence: Tinky Winky is purple and carries a bag that might be called a purse.

After the "Teletubbies" revelation hit newspapers and television shows, Falwell appeared publicly and said that he knew nothing about Tinky Winky, that this was an issue the editor of his newspaper had raised, and he laughed about the entire episode. But Falwell had made his point, and no amount of righteous defense of Tinky Winky could have saved the poor little creature.

Now Falwell and his warriors in Lynchburg, Va., are attacking the Lilith Fair, a high-powered concert tour that drew 800,000 people last year across the United States. The concerts, which were designed to showcase women artists, feature such luminaries as Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks and Queen Latifah.

Falwell's charges insinuate that lesbians attend the concerts and that most of the women are libertines and certainly irresponsible. He also claims that the concerts will produce even more women who cannot accept their share of family duties. Falwell offers no proof that these things will happen; nor does he promise to produce such evidence.

It seems that it is enough for Falwell to simply voice his accusations. Then the media complete the task by publishing his stupid pronouncements across the country.

I understand that some editors published these reports because they are comedic, giving readers a good laugh. In fact, when I read the items, I smiled and shook my head. Falwell is so far from my world, so completely foreign to my way of life, that he has become a comedy act in my mind.

In this case, Falwell stands on such sinking sand that he actually turns to mythology to try to prove his point. He claims, with some accuracy, that the Lilith character and legend come from Jewish literature. Falwell says that Lilith was Adam's first wife and that she had problems being submissive and obedient. So, she ran away and got involved with some male demons and bore their children. Her kids were such terrible demons that she set about murdering them.

I called a local rabbi, who said the character of Lilith can be found in the Midrash, a collection of very early rabbinical commentaries on the scriptures. One should note that the Midrash is not consecrated scripture but rather the interpretation by rabbis of the great stories that come out of Jewish literature.

My dictionary says Lilith is a female demon or vampire that lives in desolate places; the first wife of Adam, before the creation of Eve; and a night witch that menaces infants.

This possibly accounts for the fact that not many female infants are named Lilith. In a Falwellian world, fundamentalist Christians would completely dispense with the name because it has been connected to evil endeavors.

But that isn't the point. My concern is that Jerry Falwell gets way too much publicity from these ridiculous stunts. Suddenly, newspapers have become his best and cheapest publicity tool.

Clark Morphew is an ordained clergyman and a religion writer for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

Pub Date: 07/11/99

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