It has been a time of sore testing for the Rev. Jerry Falwell, 52. First, he was forced to issue an apology for calling Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and antiapartheid activist, a “phony.” Then in a blow to his pocketbook and pride, the Moral Majority leader was ordered by a California judge to pony up $5,000 to gay activist Jerry Sloan, 48. A former Baptist Bible College mate of Falwell’s, Sloan had challenged the reverend’s defamatory comments about homosexuals.
“The tale of the two Jerrys,” as it is being called in Sacramento, began in March 1984 when Sloan—founder of two gay churches—happened to be watching Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour in the mobile home he shares with his mother, Gloria. Sloan’s indignation grew as Falwell dismissed homosexuals as “brute beasts” and excoriated the Metropolitan Community Church, a network of 250 multidenominational gay congregations, as a “vile and Satanic system [that] will one day be utterly annihilated, and there will be a celebration in heaven.”
Sloan was even more astounded at the vicious remarks because he said the two had been friends at the Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo. Sloan recalled the days (before he was a homosexual) when Falwell ate Sunday dinners with the Sloan family and the two of them after curfew sneaked into dorms through bathroom windows. When Falwell went to Sacramento last July to appear on a television show, Sloan rose from the audience to confront him about his earlier statements, adding that he had them on tape. “I never said that!” shouted Falwell. “It’s an absolute lie! And I’ll give you $5,000 if you can produce that tape.”
As it happened Sloan had ordered a tape of the broadcast for $4 from Falwell’s Lynchburg, Va. headquarters and wrote to Falwell’s attorney asking that the money be forwarded. During the trial last month Falwell argued that since Sloan had not quoted his exact words in his suit, he wasn’t entitled to a cent. But Municipal Court Judge Michael S. Ullman ruled that the substance was similar enough and ordered Falwell to pay up. “Jerry Falwell has finally been caught making bigoted and inflammatory statements about a group not present and able to defend itself,” says Sloan, with satisfaction.
Falwell may have lost this first round, but he’s not quitting. Claiming that Sloan “was never a friend of mine,” that he “duped the judge” and that the suit is typical of the “harassment” of “militant homosexuals,” Falwell is appealing. Sloan isn’t surprised. “That,” he says, “is the old tenacity they taught us at Bible College.”