Falwell's Fire and Brimstone

The Rev. Jerry Fallwell passed away today at the age of 73. Last year he sat down with Nightline's Terry Moran. The following report was first published on April 27, 2006.

Watch Nightline tonight at 11:35 p.m. EDT for much more on Falwell's life and mission.

When the Rev. Jerry Falwell speaks from behind the lectern at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., there is a unique presence surrounding him.

Perhaps it is the hundred or so audience members gathered before him, a mix of those utterly fascinated and others who are only mildly engaged. Maybe it's the university staff behind him, all of whom stare at the preacher in silent reverence. Most likely, it is the portrait on the wall behind him -- that of a similar Falwell, yet one that harkens back to a younger, more energized man.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Falwell's pronouncements -- idealistic or hateful, depending on one's point of view -- regularly made news. He said that AIDS was God's punishment for homosexuals and that Democrats were doing the work of Satan. It was his "Moral Majority" that helped secure the presidency for Ronald Reagan.

But, according to Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who studies the Christian conservative movement, "Falwell's golden years are behind him, no doubt."

Falwell even admits, "I could tell you I'm not what I used to be as far as potential of work and energy."

These days, Falwell focuses most of his energy into Liberty University, the private Christian college he founded in 1971, and its 26,000 like-minded students.

Falwell can still make headlines, though, when he so chooses. In 1999, he famously stated his belief that the Tinky Winky character on the popular children's show "Teletubbies" was gay, adding that "role modeling the gay lifestyle is damaging to the moral lives of children."

More infamously, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Falwell generated attention for his remarks on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club." During the broadcast, he blamed the attacks on groups ranging from pagans to gays to the ACLU and said that the attackers had given us "probably what we deserve."

Even if his political clout is on the wane, Falwell is still a sought-after supporter for political candidates. During his 2000 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain notably referred to Falwell as "an agent of intolerance."

As McCain begins his all-but-announced 2008 presidential campaign, however, he says that Falwell and he have buried the hatchet.

On May 13, McCain will speak at the Liberty University commencement.

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