Bomber stalked Falwell funeral

Mr Falwell was the controversial preacher who built the religious-based Moral Majority lobbying organisation into a conservative Christian empire that influenced American politics.


Campbell County authorities arrested a Liberty University freshman on charges of manufacturing an explosive device after they found several homemade bombs in the trunk of his car, Major Steve Hutcherson said.

Mark David Uhl, 19, had told a family member he had made explosive devices and that he planned to attend the funeral, Hutcherson said. Authorities did not know what the man's plans were, he said, and it was not immediately known whether Uhl had a lawyer.

The funeral returned Mr Falwell to his roots – the Thomas Road Baptist Church, where he started as a young evangelist in 1956 with just 35 parishioners in an old abandoned soda bottling plant.

His son Jonathan Falwell now leads Thomas Road Baptist, and the sanctuary seats 6,000.

Over four days, more than 33,000 people had viewed the body of a man who was vilified as much as he was admired.

"He was a champion of the fundamental values that we hold dear," said fellow Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson. "He stepped on some toes."

The rise of Christian conservatism – and the Moral Majority's full-throated condemnation of homosexuality, abortion and pornography – made Mr Falwell perhaps the most recognisable figure on the evangelical right. His sharp comments and criticisms, however, also made him among the most controversial of the religious right wing's leaders.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said abortionists, feminists, gays and others "have tried to secularise America … helped this happen."

Jerry Falwell Jr. said the family had been told on Monday night that there had been a threat, but that it had been taken care of with an arrest.

In his sermon, the Rev. Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, praised Jerry Falwell for his outspokenness.

"He said 'I believe God has called me to confront the culture,' and did he ever confront it," Mr Vines said. "Falwell understood that Christians have a right in this country to be heard."

No Republican presidential candidates attended the event.

Mr Falwell, 73, died a week ago after collapsing in his office at Liberty University. His physician said he had a heart condition and presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality.

Jerry Falwell founded the university in 1971 and became a force in Republican politics in the 1980s after starting the Moral Majority and organising the conservative Christian vote to send Ronald Reagan to the White House.

Even as a young preacher, he broke new ground, launching television evangelism with the "Old Time Gospel Hour" in 1956.

He built the Thomas Road Baptist congregation to an estimate 24,000 over the years by knocking on doors and listening to the people who answered.

To the end, he stayed in touch with his congregation.

Mr Falwell also made careful preparations for a leadership transition after his death of both the church and Liberty University to his sons. Jonathan's brother, Jerry Falwell Jr., is already vice chancellor at Liberty.

A private burial was planned on the grounds of Liberty University near a former mansion where Mr Falwell's office was located.

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