Robert Knight

How does a conservative columnist remain in good standing at the Washington Post? Taking a cheap shot at Jerry Falwell might do the trick.

That’s what Michael Gerson did on March 19 in an otherwise excellent column taking apart Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race in America.

In “A Speech that Fell Short,” Gerson likened the late Rev. Jerry Falwell to the America-hating, racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Lest I be accused myself of demonizing Barack Obama’s former pastor and mentor, please recall that even his defenders don’t deny the documented record that has emerged this week. It’s quite shocking.

Since Dr. Falwell is not around to defend himself against such a scurrilous comparison, I’ll point out the problem.

First, unlike Wright, Jerry Falwell was no hater. After his most controversial moment, when he blamed pro-abortion and pro-homosexual groups for 9-11 as God’s punishment on America for abandoning moral standards, he apologized. In his many years of opposing abortion and homosexual activism, he also offered the good news that Christ died for everyone and that no one is beyond the possibility of grace. He did not use profanity, nor did he repeatedly degrade any group of people the way Wright routinely castigated white people. He did not spin wild conspiracy theories, such as Wright’s conjecture that the U.S. government created AIDS to wipe out black people. (Wiping out black people is Planned Parenthood’s job.)

While opposing homosexual activism as a false and dangerous hijacking of the civil rights movement, Dr. Falwell took pains to explain the difference between sin and the sinner, and welcomed all people to his church. But gay activists and liberal media routinely painted him then and now as a “hater” and “bigot.” This week, Mr. Gerson joined the bashers, firing this vile shot:

Yet didn’t George Bush and other Republicans accept the support of Jerry Falwell, who spouted hate of his own? Yes, but they didn’t financially support his ministry and sit directly under his teaching for decades.

Whoa, Mr. Gerson. Do you mean to say that if the Republicans had attended Thomas Road Baptist Church, or perhaps Liberty University, where Dr. Falwell was founder and chancellor, that this would be morally equivalent to Obama’s listening to Wright’s racist, leftist rants for 17 years? That appears to be what you’re saying. And what part of Rev. Falwell’s defense of Biblical morality do you find hateful, by the way?

Over on CNN, in a rant that is less surprising than Gerson’s remark, commentator Jack Cafferty played the bigot card on March 17, as reported by Newsbusters.org:

How is this different than John McCain chasing after Pat Robertson or the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, who talk about how we have a culture of murdering unborn children in this country and that we've turned into Sodom because we coddled the gay community in this country? I mean, to me, that stuff is considerably more offensive than decrying racial violence and intolerance in this country, which members of the black community have some firsthand knowledge of.

Gerson and Cafferty are not alone in using crude caricatures of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Maybe this is some folks’ way of appearing more enlightened than the knuckle-draggers who still defend sexual morality. Similar cheap shots have surfaced in far more conservative venues than The Washington Post.

The next time you see this happen, just shake your head and say, “Yup. It’s another Gersoning.”

If it happens on TV, you can say, “Yup. That person’s being Caffertyed.

Or, if you prefer:

“It’s another high-tech Gersoning.”

On second thought, forget it. I never did like name calling, just accurate descriptions.

As a Christian who also errs, I don’t think Mr. Gerson or Mr. Cafferty are beyond redemption at all for their stunningly unfair comments about my friend Jerry Falwell.

But they might want to apologize to the Rev. Falwell’s family and to Rev. Robertson and his family, not to mention the Thomas Road congregation, the Liberty University community and to the Rev. Robertson’s many viewers and supporters.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.