I had never heard of Cathleen Falsani until this evening while surfing the internet. I came across her forthcoming book on the Zondervan website. She seemed like a nice enough lady, the sort of person with which I could have easily imagined myself becoming friends. But then I read these comments of hers, published on the Huffington Post, on the occasion of Jerry Falwell's death:
In fact, my very first thought upon hearing of the Rev. Falwell's passing was: Good.
And I didn't mean "good" in a oh-good-he's-gone-home-to-be-with-the-Lord kind of way. I meant "good" as in "Ding-dong, the witch is dead."
But that thought -- good riddance, I suppose -- was not meant to be cruel or malicious. After all, the faith that the Rev. Falwell and I share teaches us that he was, at that moment, in a far better place, with Jesus in heaven, and not roasting on a spit in Hell's kitchen.
By shrugging off his mortal coil, the Rev. Falwell had ceased to suffer the pain of humanity.
Still, I'm not particularly proud of my knee-jerk reaction. But there it is....
My initial reaction to the Rev. Falwell's death was, and remains, relief -- not unlike the ease I felt when a particularly nasty bully who used to spit at me on the playground and threaten to beat me up after school moved to another town.
The Rev. Falwell was a spiritual bully. He was the Tony Soprano to Pat Robertson's Paulie Walnuts....
And if there's one thing I learned from the Rev. Falwell's example, it was to heed Jesus' warning to "judge not."
I won't miss having to apologize for the insensitive, mean-spirited, sometimes downright hateful things the Rev. Falwell said in the name of Christ. I won't miss having to explain that not all evangelicals are like the Rev. Falwell, that not all of us are that self-righteous, judgmental and holier than thou.
It takes an awful lot to shock me these days, but that did it.
To be sure, I share, as many of you no doubt share, some of Ms. Falsani's concerns and criticisms on how the Rev. Falwell spoke and conducted himself over the years. Like her, and like many of you, I cringed on more than one occasion when I saw and heard him on television opining on certain controversial issues. It is clear that he could have been more artful and winsome and less combative. And he probably should have allowed some of his talented and credentialed faculty members at Chancellor Falwell's Liberty University (e.g., Gary Habermas) to speak in his stead on matters in which the Rev. (and Chancellor) Falwell was clearly out of his depth.
Although there are many people with which I disagree on matters of politics and faith, it would never occur to me to take pleasure in their deaths. In fact, if I did find such feelings emerging from my heart, I hope I would immediately acquire a sense of shame. I would then take my sin to the Church, confessing it privately to my priest. I would certainly not publish it on the internet, "confessing" it passive aggressively on a widely-read blog.
The irony, of course, is that Ms. Falsani, who finds the Rev. Falwell to be too "judgmental," unleashes on him a severity of judgment that if offered by the Rev. Falwell against practically anyone on Earth (except, probably, Pat "Paulie Walnuts" Robertson) would quickly incur Ms. Falsani's ungracious wrath.
By the way, Ms. Falsani's forthcoming book is entitled, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace