WASHINGTON — Paul Weyrich, a man who worked away from the limelight to galvanize conservative Christian political advocacy, died Thursday (Dec. 18).
Weyrich, 66, co-founded the now-defunct Moral Majority with the late Jerry Falwell and served as the first president of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank.
"He was key behind the scenes in establishing the religious right," said Jerry Falwell Jr., who succeeded his father as president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. "I think he recognized that there were people in many different faiths who shared the same moral values and he saw the need for a coalition to pull those groups together."
Weyrich, who served as a deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean, Va., used that coalition and others to advance policies, such as the maintenance of the anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform.
"Paul Weyrich fought tirelessly for three decades to protect the pre-born, preserve traditional marriage and ensure that people of faith had a voice in shaping the public policy that affected their lives," said Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson. "Had there been no Paul Weyrich, there would be no conservative movement as we know it."
At the Values Voter Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council in 2007, Weyrich urged grass-roots activists to fight efforts to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, which would require broadcasters to give a portion of their airtime to opponents' views.
"The reason I am here is because I want you to talk to radio station owners, particularly those who carry news talk programming," he said at that Washington meeting. "It's going to be up to you to inform them."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Weyrich was a Washington fixture who didn't lose his fighting spirit despite his battle with diabetes. Two years before the summit appearance, Weyrich underwent surgery for amputation of both of his legs.
"He didn't over-intellectualize about Christians ‘jumping into the fray,’" Perkins said. "He recognized early that the fray had jumped onto us. … Paul Weyrich was the first to show us how we could effectively petition our government for redress of our grievances."
Through his 35 years of work in Washington, including his role as president and chairman of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, Weyrich gained the respect of supporters and opponents.
"I don't think there's anyone who knew more about grass-roots organizing or how to organize grass-roots conservatives to make a difference in political campaigns and in public policy," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "It was always about the cause, not about personal profit or personal gain. He was someone who was dedicated to the cause of conservatism."
Interfaith Alliance President Welton Gaddy, who differed with Weyrich on many issues, nevertheless credited him with sharing a concern for the proper role of religion in U.S. politics.
"The religious right has lost a leader and strategist," said Gaddy. "The nation has lost a patriot. And, I have lost a friend."