Television evangelist Jerry Falwell has promised not to repeat a remark he made about Jews during a Richmond rally, but his statement has failed to quell a furor over the remark.
Falwell says his comment that a Jew "can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose" was made "in jest" and was never intended to be taken as a racial slur.
But the remark -- at an "I love America" rally attended last week by Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton, Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb and Attorney General Marshall Coleman -- has been attacked by several Jewish groups and the assistant director of the Virginia Council of Churches.
Robb said yesterday that he attended the rally on the State Capitol grounds for a program that "was basically a rededication to the American spirit and the singing of patriotic songs."
After the songs and brief remarks by the politicans, Robb said, Falwell "spoke for about 30 minutes, apparently as the spirit moved him."
Falwell, pastor of a 16,000-member Baptist church in Lynchburg and head of a multimillion-dollar religious broadcast empire used the rally to repeat his frequent attacks against abortion, the Equal Righs Amendment, homosexuality and pornography.
Robb said he did not agree with all of Falwell's positions, but said that the Baptist minister was actually in the midst of a strong defense of Israel when he made the stereotyped reference to Jews.
"All his other remarks were pro-Israel and pro-'the chosen people.' So the statement appeared to be insensitive and inconsistent with what he was saying."
In the criticism that followed, former Del. Ira Lechner (D-Arlington) suggested Robb and other political officials should have left the rally after Falwell's statement. Dr. James Payne of the Virginia Council of churches, according to new reports, has said that the relationship between Dalton and Falwell comes close to infringing on the doctrine of separation of church and state.
"It was an unfortunate choice of words, but in the context in which they were spoken, I don't think it was an anti-Semitic remark," Robb said.
Dalton, a Baptist himself who has had Falwell as an overnight guest at the governor's mansion, said yesterday that he "was comfortable" with the rally.
"I don't think Dr. Falwell intended any slur by what he said," said Dalton.
The governor added that Falwell has as much right to espouse his political beliefs as any other group of individual.