In the wake of Jerry Falwell’s death, many people will be writing about his founding of the Moral Majority and its impact on politics. That is only right and fitting.
But Jerry Falwell was more than a preacher, or a televangelist, or a politician. He was a marketer who made it ok to be a born-again Christian. In creating the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell made it ok to be enthusiastic about your faith. He made it ok to insert politics into the pulpit. He made it ok to tell others to believe what you believe. And while this group was unlikely to have been the majority, there were certainly plenty of people in the 1970s who wanted the 1950s — or at least an idolized, Ozzie-and-Harriet version of the 1950s — to come back. God willing, Falwell was going to try and get it for them, by attacking the Supreme Court’s decision on school prayer and more importantly by going after Roe v. Wade. It was that want, that need, that sold the Moral Majority.
Also, in letting people know it was ok to be an evangelical, Falwell did the one thing any marketer wants to achieve: He opened the door for evangelicals to do what they do best — sell their religion to others.
The other key thing that Falwell did (and it is what televangelists always do) was that he developed a database. Before email and the internet, religious databases in conjunction with the pulpit helped to get out the message, get in the money and get out the vote. Importantly, snail mail can do what email cannot — it can communicate with people who already agree with your message while making sure that message is not communicated to the opposition. Even now, those databases are the envy of the Left.
Love him or hate him, Jerry Falwell was the source of much debate and a hard-core Conservative until the end. While I certainly did not agree with his politics, I did admire his ability to promote his beliefs.