Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Jerry Falwell has risen in recent years from near obscurity as a Baptist pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia, to national celebrity as the founder and President of Moral Majority, Inc., the front-line political action organization of the new Religious Right. This study discusses (1) Falwell's background and speaker preparation, (2) the historical setting surrounding the recent resurgence of Fundamentalism and its political involvement, (3) Falwell's audiences and occasions, (4) his use of evidence and lines of argument, (5) his style and delivery, and (6) his effectiveness. The study is based on a series of sermons delivered on five consecutive Sundays beginning July 1, 1979. Each sermon announced the formation of Moral Majority, Inc., and contained lengthy appeals promoting membership. For the first thirty-five years of his life Falwell was a separatist. He viewed involvement in social or political movements as secular and improper distractions for a man of God. The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion brought Falwell out of spititual separatism and into the political arena through his nationally syndicated television program, "The Old-Time Gospel Hour.". Falwell's audiences were primarily blue-collar, middle and lower-middle class, and both religiously and politically conservative. Consequently, Falwell spent more time asserting his conclusions than he did justifying them. Falwell relied heavily upon emotional appeals in his sermons. In addition, he employed logical proof in his sermons, but his sources of evidence were few. He relied heavily upon the Bible as an evidential source and as an absolute authority. He often employed quantitative supporting materials, but rarely substantiated them. His reasoning, almost without exception, was cast in syllogistic terms. He employed demagogic strategy by (1) intensifying a popular crisis psychology, namely that America is on a disastrous downhill trend, (2) defining the cause of the crisis as a single abstract evil, namely secular humanism, and (3) providing an equally simple escape from the crisis, a new faith, a new belief, with himself at the helm, namely Moral Majority, Inc. It is doubtful that anyone would use the word eloquent to describe the preaching of Jerry Falwell. The sermons studied indicated a distinct preference for the simple and clear statement as opposed to erudite expression. However, if one can accept Emerson's assertion that the eloquent man is he who "is inwardly drunk with a certain belief," then Jerry Falwell, local preacher turned political activist, must be ranked among the most eloquent. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.).
Ray, Vernon Oliver, "A Rhetorical Analysis of the Political Preaching of the Reverend Jerry Falwell: the Moral Majority Sermons, 1979 (Electric Church, Demagogue)." (1985). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 4072.