Jerry Falwell’s passing leaves a void in the American political scene, and one conservative leader in West Virginia is wondering if anyone can fill the fiery fundamentalist preacher’s shoes.

Falwell emerged as a force to be reckoned with 27 years ago in a barnstorming drive to register evangelicals in his successful mission to drive President Carter from the White House.

Political observers agreed Falwell made the difference in Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 and his re-election four years later, with the assistance of the Moral Majority the Lynchburg, Va., preacher founded.

“We’re losing a champion for the Christian cause and morality,” West Virginia Family Foundation chairman Ray Lambert said Wednesday, a day after the Baptist preacher collapsed in his study and died.

“I don’t know who will have the intestinal fortitude to step up and take his place, but someone like that is sorely needed in our nation. His passing will leave a void.”

Lambert indicated Focus on the Family founder James Dobson likely will carry the evangelical banner, at least for now.

Lambert said one trait of Falwell impressed him a great deal — the ability to forgive, as in the matter of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt over a lawsuit the preacher once filed on grounds of character defamation.

“Even though he took issues with Larry Flynt, he still loved Larry Flynt because Jesus loved Larry Flynt,” he said.

“Even though they were at odds, Falwell had a concern for his soul. He served as a good Christian example as to how all Christians should approach those who may take a different stand on social and moral issues.”

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said the Baptist preacher and founder of Liberty University was an inspiration to many.

“He showed that, when one has the faith of the size of a mustard seed, one truly can do great things,” Byrd said in a statement.

“My sympathies go out to his loved ones in these difficult days.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Rep. Nick Rahall, also D-W.Va., who said Falwell’s life was a reflection of the Scriptures.

Specifically, Rahall quoted Matthew 25:21, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

“Rev. Falwell took his talents and multiplied them in public dialogue, education and always pastoring,” Rahall said.

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