Jerry Falwell died today. I disagreed with him on most political positions, and many of his religious positions. In his later years he said some truly reprehensible things.
Jerry Falwell changed the definition of fundamentalist Christianity to include political involvement. Before the "Moral Majority," fundamentalists were separated from the world, especially on political matters. They were waiting for the end, and expected God to sort out this sorry world, and that soon. Fundamentalists differed from evangelicals, their post-war, college-educated cousins, precisely over whether it was worth trying to save this world.
The Moral Majority as an organization was mostly the creation of political conservatives who were not themselves fundamentalist Protestants, but who saw that they needed someone out front who was. Falwell, an independent Baptist of great entrepreneurial zeal, took that role and ran with it. The organization that he created was mostly made of fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants. A greater wonder is that it got them to work together with conservative Catholics, Orthodox, and Jews -- often for the first time.
I believe that when groups get involved in electoral politics, they can't help but be drawn toward the center. They learn something of the humanity of their opponents by engaging them. More effectively, they learn that they have work together with people who oppose them on one issue but agree with them on another. This moderates conflict and helps hold the body politic together. If electoral politics were possible in Iraq, the civil war would diminish. Electoral politics is happening in Iran, and moderates are emerging within an extreme cultural revolution.
So let us give one cheer for Jerry Falwell, may be go to his reward.