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bullet"...in the long run, this war can only be won if people of differing faiths, and no faith at all, are able to learn to live with each other – as, for the most part, and underlying this nation’s strength, they have in America." Andrew Tobias 1
bullet"I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians, ... the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this [terrorist attack] happen." Jerry Falwell, 700 Club, 2001-SEP-13. 2

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Attacks by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson:

Jerry Falwell is the Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and the Chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He founded and heads the "Old Time Gospel Hour" program, which is broadcast weekly via many U.S. television networks. The program also appears on Canadian television. However, because of Canada's more restrictive hate laws which protect minorities from media attack, it is sometimes an edited version of the program seen in the U.S.

bullet2001-SEP-13: "700 Club" exchange: On Pat Robertson's "700 Club" TV program, two days after the tragedy, guest Jerry Falwell said via satellite hookup, that "God will not be mocked." He noted that:
bulletThe wall of separation between church and state is being promoted by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and  People For the American Way. These groups argue constitutional cases before the courts in order to maintain "the wall" in government offices and in the public schools, and
bulletWomen have access to abortions upon request, and
bulletPagans -- presumably Neopagans like Wiccans, Druids, followers of Asatru, etc -- follow their earth-based religious faiths, and
bulletFeminists have successfully fought for equal rights for women, and
bulletGays and lesbians are gradually achieving equal rights and equal protection against hate crimes,

He concluded that God became sufficiently angry at America that he engineered the terrorist attack -- presumably to send Americans a message.

On the TV program, Jerry Falwell initially said that the American Civil Liberties Union has "to take a lot of blame for" the tragedy. Pat Robertson agreed. Falwell then continued: "And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.' " Robertson responded: "Well, I totally concur... 2

It is not clear what Dr. Falwell meant by the word "Paganism." Like so many religious terms, it has multiple, unrelated meanings. It is often use to refer to:

bulletAny individuals or groups that the speaker wishes to attack. In this sense, it is a general purpose snarl word.
bulletAncient Pagan religions, active during biblical times, as in worshipers of Baal and Isis in the ancient Middle East.
bulletNeopaganism, which is the only family of religious traditions in America whose members use the term "Pagan" to identify themselves.
bulletAnimists, followers of various aboriginal religions.
bulletHinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and hundreds of other religions which are neither Judaism, Christianity, nor Islam. 45% of the people of the world are Pagans by this definition.

We suspect that he is referring to Neopagans, primarily to Wiccans, who number perhaps 750,000 in the U.S. They are the only group in the U.S. who identify themselves as Pagans. We have sent several Email to his organization at jerry@falwell.com to verify this. We have not received a response as of 2005-SEP-05; we have given up hope of ever receiving one.

It is also not clear from his brief statement how followers of a group of very spiritual religious traditions (Paganism in this case) have been promoting the secularization of America.

Later that day, Ralph G. Neas, president of the People for the American Way (PFAW) posted a comment on the 700 Club exchange. 2 He said, in part: "I am deeply saddened that in the wake of this week's devastating terrorist attacks, Religious Right political leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have chosen the path of division rather than unity....This is a time for a shared national commitment to bringing those responsible for the terrorist attacks to justice. It is also a time to renew our commitment to protecting the constitutional liberties and democratic values that sustain our free society. Today's comments by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell can only impede efforts to bring the nation together in pursuit of these goals."

At 23:20 hrs, CNN started to report on the 700 Club statement. Their scrolling message at the bottom of the screen repeatedly gave a much-abbreviated version of Falwell's full statement. It read: "Rev. Jerry Falwell says he blames Pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians for bringing on the terror attack in  New York [City] and Washington."

bullet2001-SEP-13: James Robison agrees with Falwell: Robison of Euless, TX hosts a popular conservative Christian television program "Life Today." Reporter Laurie Goodstein reported that he "concurred [with Jerry Falwell] but emphasized a different catalog of what he saw as sins: arrogance in relationships with Third World and foreign countries, plundering other countries for resources while supporting their despots, and indifference to others' poverty and pain." Mr. Robison said. "Any time you get away from God, you do become vulnerable," "If it is a parent who stays out all night, the children become vulnerable and are left to fend for themselves. Bad judgment always leaves the door open to perpetrators of pain." 3
bullet2001-SEP-14: Reversal by Dr. Falwell: On the next day, he seems to have reversed his stance. He briefly placed a clarification on his web site which negated his entire 700 Club statement. He no longer blamed God directly (and both Pagans and various liberal groups indirectly) for the attack. Falwell wrote: "I hold no one other than the terrorists and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them responsible for Tuesday's attacks on this nation." He later blamed the media for incompetent reporting; he said that they had reduced his thoughts to sound bites, took his discussion out of context, and distorted his position. 4 This statement has since been removed.
bullet2001-SEP-14: First Christian Broadcasting Network news release: Pat Robertson confirmed Jerry Falwell's theme. He repeated what he believes are the major sins of America: access to abortion, secularism, and separation of church and state, He added new sins that Falwell did not include: "pornography on the Internet," "the occult, etc...on television." Finally, he wrote: "We have insulted God at the highest level of our government. Then, we say, 'Why does this happen?' It is happening because God Almighty is lifting His protection from us. Once that protection is gone, we are vulnerable because we are a free society." 5 He deviated from Jerry Falwell's original belief that God directly engineered the tragedy. Robertson said that God merely removed his protection from America. This allowed terrorists to strike. He holds the traditional Evangelical Christian position that God has provided a shield that protects the country against horrendous events. Robertson said in his written statement: "In no way has any guest on my program suggested that anyone other than the Middle East terrorists were responsible for the tragic events that took place on Tuesday." ??
bullet2001-SEP-14: White House disapproval: A White House representative informed Dr. Falwell that the president disapproved of his 700 Club statement. Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesperson, said: "The president believes that terrorists are responsible for these acts. He does not share those views, and believes that those remarks are inappropriate." ??
bullet2001-SEP-17: Apology by Dr. Falwell: The Associated Press announced that Dr. Falwell had apologized for his remarks on the 700 Club. 6 They reported that "Falwell, a Baptist minister and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., also expressed a belief shared by other evangelicals that divine protection is withdrawn from nations that violate God's will. However, some Christian thinkers warned there was no way to know which sin led to which punishment. On Monday, [SEP-17] Falwell agreed. 'When I talked about God lifting the curtain of protection on our nation, I should have made it very clear that no one on this earth knows whether or not that occurred or did not occur,' he said. He said if the destruction was a judgment from God it was a judgment on all sinners, including himself."

Falwell also told the Associated Press interviewer that no one from the evangelical community or the White House had pressured him to apologize.

bullet2001-SEP-17: Second Christian Broadcasting Network news release: The news release, written by Pat Robertson, addressed comments made earlier by Jerry Falwell. Robertson wrote: "Toward the end of the program, The 700 Club producers had booked Jerry Falwell for a satellite interview. Rev. Falwell’s initial remarks were completely in accord with what had been said in preceding parts of the program, and then, unexpectedly, he uttered a political statement of blame directed at certain segments of the population that was severe and harsh in tone, and, frankly, not fully understood by the three hosts of The 700 Club who were watching Rev. Falwell on a monitor." The news release continued by blaming the People for the American Way for taking "statements out of context and spin them to the press for their own political ends." 7 Robertson did not give specifics on how the PFAW distorted his message of SEP-11. They seem to have quoted his words precisely and completely.
bullet2001-SEP-18: Written apology: The SEP-14 statement on Jerry Falwell's web site was removed and replaced by an apology. Falwell said, in part: "...on the 700 Club...I made a statement that I should not have made and which I sincerely regret. I apologize that, during a week when everyone appropriately dropped all labels and no one was seen as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, religious or secular, I singled out for blame certain groups of Americans." He did not say that his attack on Pagans and others was wrong; merely that it "was insensitive."

He continued by saying that the attack on Pagans and others was "uncalled for at the time, and unnecessary as part of the commentary on this destruction." This would seem to imply that religious intolerance of Pagans and his other verbal attacks will be acceptable at some future date when the memories of the terrorist attack are not as strong. 

He continued: "I do not know if the horrific events of September 11 are the judgment of God, but if they are, that judgment is on all of America -- including me and all fellow sinners -- and not on any particular group."

"My statements were understandably called divisive by some, including those whom I mentioned by name in the interview. This grieves me, as I had no intention of being divisive."

"In conclusion, I blame no one but the hijackers and terrorists for the barbaric happenings of September 11." 8

bullet2001-SEP-18: William F. Buckley Jr. comments on the 700 Club exchange.
bulletBuckley referred to an editorial in the Greensboro (NC) News & Record, which said that "people who hold positions of religious leadership have a responsibility to think before they speak and to consider the implications of what they are about to say. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson failed that test in a most revolting way. They have forfeited any claim to Christian leadership."
bulletBuckley quoted economic analyst Andy Tobias who wrote: "Falwell and Robertson have convinced themselves that when a hurricane hit Virginia Beach (Robertson's neck of the woods), there's no meaning to it, and that when a hurricane fails to hit Orlando as predicted in retribution for Disney's equal rights policies for gays, there's no meaning to it, and that when AIDS devastates the (straight) population of Africa, or 6 million innocent Jews and 3 million innocent Cambodians are exterminated, God merely works in mysterious ways. But when religious fanatics crash planes into the World Trade Center because they believe it will take them to a special place in heaven, this is not caused by a fanatic religious certitude greater in degree but not entirely dissimilar from their own. Rather they conclude that it is caused, at least in part, because people like me have made God mad." 1 (Tobias is gay and is the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee) "
bulletBuckley wrote: "What Falwell did was to accumulate his complaints against the engines of a secularized America and invoke God as an avenger. His complaints against abortion, gay rights and the end of prayer at school boiled down to God vs. the ACLU, the attack on the World Trade Center being a divine shot across the bow of the Supreme Court...As it is true that the acts of terrorists befall everyone, it is no less true that there are reasons for everyone to repent, in this context most notably Osama bin Laden, but also Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and yea, even members of the Supreme Court." 9
bullet2001-SEP-20: LA Times quotes local groups' reaction to Falwell's statement: The LA Times  sampled local opinion on Dr. Falwell's attack:
bulletNancy Sasaki, president of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, accused Falwell of "inciting violence and fomenting hatred."
bulletThe Rev. Dan Smith of the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church called Falwell's remarks "an outrageous affront to religion."
bulletMarshall Wong, of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission said: "The last thing we need is anybody fanning the flames of hatred in a time of national crisis."
bulletMartha Matthews of the American Civil Liberties Union commented: "Just by saying that, Jerry Falwell has firmly established himself in the lunatic fringe of America."
bulletSteve Martin , a West Hollywood City Councilman said he will introduce a resolution condemning Falwell at Monday's council meeting.
bullet2001-SEP-20: Falwell apologizes on TV: During an interview with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, Falwell apologized for his remarks. He said that he: "misspoke totally and entirely." He acknowledged that his remarks were "a stupid statement and indefensible." He asked for forgiveness from the groups that he singled out for attack, and from the rest of the American people. 10
bullet2001-SEP-20: Times Record News of Wichita Falls, TX comments: Judith McGinnis, columnist for the Times Record News commented: "At a time when Americans of all faiths need to join hands and face the future in unity, Christian conservative mouthpieces like Jerry [Falwell] and James [Pat Robertson?] want to whip up a frenzy of cowering fear. 'Repent,' they shriek, 'or more shall be rained down on your heads.' ...Supposedly Falwell has apologized for his rash remarks, but only because his funding dried up practically overnight. May the same happen to every form of organized or even disorganized intolerance in this country. It's time for thinking citizens to tune them out, turn them off and remember the tenets of democracy that keep our nation strong." 11
bullet2001-SEP-28: Walter Cronkite blasts Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson: Writing in the upcoming TV Guide, Cronkite called Falwell's comments "the most abominable thing I've ever heard...It makes you wonder if [Falwell and Roberson are] worshipping the same God as the people who bombed the Trade Center and the Pentagon." 12
bullet2001-SEP-29: Lack of response from Christian leaders: It is almost two weeks after the attack by Jerry Falwell against Pagans and others. To date, we have seen many criticisms of his remarks from secular sources, but only one comment by a Christian leader -- that of Rev. Dan Smith's response to a newspaper reporter, described above. We have learned that the next Christian Research Journal will contain an editorial about insensitive and provocative responses to the tragedy by Christian leaders in its "From the Editor" column. But otherwise, there is silence. This will probably be interpreted by many members of the public as acquiescence.
bullet2001-OCT-29: Comments by Christian clergy: A number of clergy have criticized Falwell and Robertson's comments during interviews initiated by newspaper reporters:
bulletRev. Forrest Sheffield is pastor of Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo, MS. He said: "...this could be a wake-up call for all America. I don't necessarily believe that God is the one who caused something like this to happen, but God can take advantage of any adversity to get our attention and bring a spiritual revival."
bulletThe Rev. William Shack is pastor of St. Paul Outreach Missionary Baptist Church in Tupelo, MS. He also rejected the concept that God caused the terrorist attacks. He said: "It's more a thing of Satan. But there are some good things that can come out of it. One of those is the coming together of this nation and also that we are going to have to depend more on God." 
bulletThe Rev. Milton Winter is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Holly Springs, MS. He strongly disagreed with Falwell's statement: "Jerry Falwell and Osama bin Laden essentially believe that God is angry with America over the same things. "Osama was willing to take matters in his own hands. Falwell was content to pronounce what bin Laden did in the name of his Allah as the righteous judgment of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like bin Laden, Falwell and Robertson deeply distrust civil liberties. In a world ruled by either set of fundamentalists, civil liberties would perish. Dr. Falwell ought to thank his lucky stars for the ACLU, because if freedom of religion and freedom of speech were abolished in America, his would likely be one of the first voices to be silenced. To some, such as the Revs. Falwell and Robertson, God behaves like a terrorist, crashing planes, blowing up buildings, and expressing judgmental rage like some cosmic two-year old in a tantrum that the world he made has gone awry. It is rather like the pagan notion of Zeus, hurling his lightning bolts upon sinners below. But in the Greek myths, Zeus at least was able to aim. It seems to me that if God wanted to destroy the ACLU, he could have hit their office instead of thousands of innocent bystanders. One thing I do know is that our nation must come together - all of its people, and the sort of politics and preaching that pits one group against another - the old-fashioned name for it is demagoguery - must stop. We have tolerated ignorance in the pulpit long enough."
bulletThe Rev. Bryan Owen is the deacon-in-charge of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in West Point, MS. He said: "In my mind, Falwell's statement flies in the face of what we're called to be as Christians. I can understand the anger, but to me it's morally reprehensible to say something like that. I have a hard time believing in a God who would try to wake up American by having thousands of innocent people killed. That is not the kind of God we find revealed in Jesus Christ. If the murder of thousands of men, women, and children happened with either God's active will or God's tacit consent, then the God of Jerry Falwell is a terrorist. The majority of Anglicans regard such a view of God as anathema to the gospel of Jesus Christ." 10

2001-DEC-5: USA: Pat Robertson attacks the Wiccan religion -- maybe: On his "700 club" program, Robertson interviewed Caryl Matrisciana of Jeremiah Films. They were discussing her recent video concerning the Harry Potter books. She is distressed that the books are being read in public schools. She equates the fantasy witchcraft found in these books with an unrelated established Neopagan religion, Wicca. She concluded that schools are violating the principle of separation of church and state. After the interview, Robertson made a list of the main reasons why a country like the U.S. could invoke divine displeasure. He talked "about God lifting his anointing his mantle from the United States of America." The first item on the list was "Witchcraft." It is not known whether Robertson is referring to:

Fantasy witchcraft (which doesn't exist outside of novels), or


The religion of Wicca, or


The hurting or killing people by verbal curses -- sometimes called "witchcraft" in the Bible, or


Some of the other 14 or so meanings of the word "witchcraft."

Other reasons on his list is the decriminalization of sodomy; the practices of bestiality and incest; and abortion access. ("Sodomy" is a term that is often used by Fundamentalist Christians to refer to homosexual behavior.)

He concluded: "We're doing all the things that God said were so repugnant that the land itself would be repulsed and would vomit its inhabitants out. And, if there was ever a time that we need God's blessing, it's now. We don't need to bring in heathen, pagan practices to the United States of America. We need to call on God and ask him for revival." Some unstable individuals might interpret this as a call to physically attack religious minorities. 13


2001-DEC-6: Vast majority of Americans reject Falwell's belief about God: The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a public opinion poll among 1,500 adults on NOV-13 to 19. The margin of error is within 3 percentage points. "Most respondents -- 89%--completely or mostly rejected the idea that the attacks were a sign God was not protecting the United States. Evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had made that argument, then later apologized for the remarks." 14

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Attack by James Dobson:


2001-SEP-17: At about 13 minutes and 40 seconds into his Focus on the Family daily radio program, Dr. James Dobson said: "I also pray that the Lord will bring a national revival that will sweep through our nation and pull us back from the wickedness and the Paganism that's engulfed us in recent years." It is not clear whether Dobson is attacking the 750,000 Neopagans in the U.S. or is using the term "Paganism" in some other way. As noted elsewhere, it is a term that has multiple meanings. On 2001-SEP-18, we faxed Focus, requesting a clarification of Dr. Dobson's statement. Almost four years later, as of 2005-SEP-04, they have not yet replied. We have given up hoping for a response. 16

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Author's comments:

The comments by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were seriously criticized by many secular individuals and groups, including a non-profit agency working for separation of church and state, newspaper editor, economist, political commentator, and the President of the United States. Yet, as Jerry Falwell has said, no one from the Evangelical Christian community pressured him to apologize. We have searched the Internet, TV news programs, and the local, national, and international media in vain for some criticism of their statements by other leaders of the Christian community. A few have criticized Falwell during interviews initiated by reporters. But, to our knowledge, none have made independent statements. Some of the public will interpret this silence by fellow Christian leaders as demonstrating their agreement with Falwell and Robertson's statements of hatred against religions and secular movements.

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  1. Andrew Tobias, "It was my fault," 2001-SEP-17, at: http://www.andrewtobias.com/newcolumns/
  2. "PFAW President, Ralpy G. Neas, Addresses Divisive Comments by Religious Right Leaders," People for the American Way, at: http://www.pfaw.org/news/press//2001-09-13.320.phtml
  3. Laurie Goodstein, "Falwell's Finger-Pointing Inappropriate, Bush says," New York Times, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/15/
  4. Initial statement on Jerry Falwell's home page" at: http://www.falwell.com/, dated 2001-SEP-14.
  5. "Pat Robertson's statement regarding terrorist attack," Christian Broadcasting Network, 2001-SEP-14, at: http://www.cbn.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/
  6. "Rev. Falwell Apologizes for Remarks," Associated Press, 2001-SEP-17, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/
  7. "Jerry Falwell Apologizes," Replacement statement on his home page at: http://www.falwell.com/, dated 2001-SEP-18
  8. Pat Robertson, "Pat Robertson Addresses Comments Made by Jerry Falwell," 2001-SEP-17, at: http://www.cbn.com/partner/
  9. William F. Buckley, Jr., "Invoking God's Thunder," 2001-SEP-18, at: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ucwb/
  10. John Armistead, "Could the terrorist attacks have been punishment from God on America?," Djournal.com at: http://www.djournal.com/djournal/
  11. "Bin Laden's brothers -- Falwell & Robertson -- react to attacks with similar intolerance, divisiveness," Times Record News, Witchita Falls, TX, at: http://www.trnonline.com/stories/09202001/
  12. "Falwell = Terrorists, says Cronkite," NYPost.com, at: http://www.nypost.com/entertainment/
  13. "Religious Right leaders stick to theme that gays, abortionists, and others invite God's wrath on America," People for the American Way, 2002-JAN-4, at: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/right/
  14. "U.S. Muslims' Image Gains, Poll Finds," Associated Press, 2001-DEC-7, at: http://www.latimes.com/news/
  15. Chuck Baldwin, "Bush-Whacked," Covenant News, 2001-NOV-20, at: http://covenantnews.com/baldwin011120.htm
  16. The program could be heard on "Recent Broadcasts" of the Focus on the Family radio program, at: http://www.family.org/fmedia/bcpast.html for a few days.  However, a audio tape of the program can be ordered from the Focus on the Family web site at http://www.family.org  Look for the broadcast dated 2001-SEP-17.

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Copyright © 2001 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-SEP-19
Latest update: 2005-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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