May 15, 2007 - Posted at 9:10 p.m. CDT
WALNUT RIDGE, AR -- The man who helped mold the religious right into a political force has died. The Reverend Jerry Falwell was found unconscious Tuesday morning in his office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The television evangelist was 73 years old.
Once news of his death spread, Region 8 remembered the outspoken and sometimes controversial televangelist.
"Before there was conservative talk radio, before there was Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, there was Jerry Falwell," said Jonesboro Walnut Street Baptist pastor Dr. Glen Putman.
"He was one of these who said this is the way it is. I think he could cut issues black and white...it's either this way or this way," said Williams Baptist College professor Dr. Ken Gore, "There is no middle ground or grey area."
Jerry Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1956 after graduating from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Thirty-five adults were recorded as being in attendance at the church's first meeting. Today the population is in excess of 24,000 and based in a 6,000 seat auditorium.
Falwell established Lynchburg Bible College-now Liberty University-in 1971 . Today Liberty University is a fully accredited evangelical Christian Liberal Arts university.
He also created the Moral Majority in 1979...one of the largest conservative lobby groups in the U.S. But a key part of Reverend Jerry Falwell's legacy was to blur the line between religion and politics.
"He was a lightening rod individual in that he would take a stand on the issues that he thought he ought to take a stand on," said Dr. Putman.
"Recent history will show that he got the ball rolling for this generation of churchgoers that they really should consider the possibility of voting and that their vote does mean something," remarked Dr. Gore, Dept. of Christian Ministries.
The nationally known televangelist was once offered to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. ASU coach Dickey Nutt recalled his basketball team playing Liberty University and getting to meet the former athlete.
"Once we did get to meet him and shook his hand and talk to him and spend some time with him, you knew real quick that you were with a very, very special man and we will always be grateful for those memories," said Nutt.
Those who had met Falwell say regardless of opinion or religious beliefs, you couldn't deny his charisma.
"Truly he was a bulldog. To just speak what he thought. And there was an appeal of that kind of statesmanship that people really followed after him. And it will be interesting how history will record him" said Dr. Putman.
"He had that knack, that special knack of just capturing your attention. The world lost a great man today, Jerry Falwell," said Nutt.