The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died Tuesday at the age of 73, was a powerful and polarizing figure in both the religious and political arenas. Below are reactions to Falwell's death from religious and political leaders.
Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Jerry Falwell, a man who cherished faith, family, and freedom. As the founder of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry lived a life of faith and called upon men and women of all backgrounds to believe in God and serve their communities. One of his lasting contributions was the establishment of Liberty University, where he taught young people to remain true to their convictions and rely upon God's word throughout each stage of their lives.
Today, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Macel, and the rest of the Falwell family.
Hustler Magazine Founder Larry Flynt -- Falwell brought a landmark libel case against Flynt
"My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. … I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling."
The Rev. Al Sharpton:
"I am deeply saddened by the passing of Rev. Jerry Falwell. Though he and I debated much and disagreed often, we shared a very cordial and warm friendship. I visited him in Lynchburg, dined with him, and even talked with him during personal crises. Though we were as politically opposite as two people could be, I truly respected his commitment to his beliefs and our mutual belief in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As I stated to my nationally syndicated radio show, I pray for the Falwell family and join the nation in mourning the passing of this religious leader."
The Rev. Billy Graham:
"Jerry Falwell was a close personal friend for many years. We did not always agree on everything, but I knew him to be a man of God. His accomplishments went beyond most clergy of his generation. Some of my grandchildren have attended, and are attending, Liberty University. He leaves a gigantic vacuum in the evangelical world.
I am praying for his family, and especially the university that he headed."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"We regret his passing. He's certainly been a prominent figure in American religion and politics for the last 20 years. And I know he'll be greatly, greatly missed."
Former Sen. Fred D. Thompson
"America has lost a man of great faith, and a leader dedicated to defending the rights of all Americans to express their faith in the public square. Jeri and I wish to extend out deepest condolences to the Falwell family, and we will keep them in our prayers."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"I never met Rev. Falwell. I'm certainly sorry about his death. I extend my condolences to his family and his parishioners and those people around the country who care so much about him."
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:
"I join the students, faculty, and staff of Liberty University and Americans of all faiths in mourning the loss of Rev. Jerry Falwell.
"Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Falwell's family at this difficult time."
Christian evangelical leader and chairman of Focus on the Family, James Dobson
"Our hearts and prayers go out to Jerry's wife Macel, his children Jerry, Jonathan and Jeannie, and his church. This is a tragic loss for them — and for all Americans. Jerry's passions and convictions changed the course of our country for the better over the last 20 years — and I was proud to call him my friend.
"It was Jerry who led an entire wing of Christianity — the fundamentalist wing — away from isolation and into a direct confrontation with the culture. In the late 1970s, he began making it respectable for Christian pastors to talk from the pulpit about the evil of abortion, simply because he did so on his television program and in his printed communications. Until he led the way, the common response from conservative pastors was to say that abortion is a matter best left to a woman and her doctor.
"Jerry also led the conservative church in grassroots organizing by starting the Moral Majority in 1979, as a means of putting wheels on his deeply held beliefs. The organization was key to Ronald Reagan winning the White House in 1980, and the Moral Majority suddenly came to the attention of the national press corps.
"Because Jerry and his Moral Majority were the first ones out of the trenches in the culture war, they got shot at repeatedly by the national media and by liberal church leaders. But he always weathered the onslaught, permanently stamping the conservative American church with respectability on social action.
"It was my honor to share the front lines with him in the battle for righteousness in our nation. We will continue that fight, in his honor, until our mutual goals are achieved."