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Rev. Jerry Falwell dead at 73

Rev. Jerry Falwell (Baptiststandard.com).

Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and Liberty University, died today after being found unconscious in his office and taken to a hospital.

Falwell, 73, was found unconscious at about 10:45 a.m. after missing an appointment this morning, according to Ron Godwin, executive vice president of Liberty University.

He was taken to Lynchburg General Hospital, the News & Advance of Lynchburg reported.

Godwin said he didn’t know what caused the collapse but pointed out Falwell, a WND columnist, had “a history of heart challenges.”

“I had breakfast with him, and he was fine at breakfast,” Godwin said. “He went to his office, I went to mine and they found him unresponsive.”

Godwin said “CPR efforts were unsuccessful.” Falwell’s physician, Dr. Carl Moore, said the minister was found without a pulse and never regained consciousness.

Moore said Falwell had a heart rhythm abnormality.

In March 2005, Falwell was hospitalized for “respiratory arrest” from a bout with viral pneumonia.

Evangelist Pat Robertson responded to news of Falwell’s death today, calling him a “tower of strength on many of the moral issues which have confronted our nation.”

Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 to support lawmakers who opposed abortion, homosexuality, pornography and bans on school prayer. The organization grew to 6.5 million members before he stepped down as president in 1987. He credited it with registering millions of conservative voters that helped elect Ronald Reagan and give Republicans control of the Senate in 1980.

“I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved,” Falwell said he resigned from the group.

Falwell launched an independent Baptist church in 1956 with 35 people that grew into the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church. His “Old Time Gospel Hour” television show was carried on stations nationwide. He founded Lynchburg Baptist College in Lynchburg in 1971, which became Liberty University. The school now has 7,700 students.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the scheduled feature speaker at the university’s commencement Saturday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who spoke at last year’s commencement, said he was praying for Falwell’s family.

“Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country,” McCain said.

Another presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, said, “An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us.”

“He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action,” Romney said in a statement. “Ann and I have had the honor to talk and meet with Reverend Falwell and get to know him as a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him. He will be forever remembered.”

In recent years, Falwell spoke out on cultural controversies including the Christmas holiday.

“I believe the celebration of Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to honor Christ and share the gospel,” he told WND. “And I plan to celebrate it on the ‘other side.'”

Falwell acknowledged many of the customs associated with the observance are not found in the Bible, but he did not have a problem with that.

“The Christmas tree and Santa Claus don’t bother me,” he said. “If we can use anything to get people under the sound of the gospel, without violating Scripture, it’s a good thing.”

He also addressed the issue of the Sabbath Day, the biblical day of rest.

“The church always met on Sunday throughout the New Testament,” Falwell said. “Saturday is clearly the Sabbath as is recorded many times in the Old Testament. In Christian Church tradition, Sunday became ‘the Lord’s Day’ when Jesus rose from the grave.”

He noted the actual times of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were not universally agreed upon.

“I personally believe he was crucified on Wednesday evening … and rose after 6 p.m. Saturday evening,” Falwell told WND. “Others believe he died on Friday. … But the point is, he did rise on Sunday, which, in Jewish tradition, started the evening before at 6 p.m.”

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