The Rev. Jerry Falwell has seen the future, and it works. The future, that is, of South Africa, a country from which he returned recently to announce the little-appreciated benevolence of the government and the great pity that its purposes were not better and more sympathetically understood by Americans. Where that government does things that people here might deplore, Mr. Falwell explains that you have to break eggs to make omelets. Sound familiar?

Well of course it does. That is because it has become something of a tradition in this century for Americans to go abroad to visit repressive regimes and return home to make ninnies of themselves in this fashion. You don't have to think all these states are equally repressive to get the connection. In the most extreme case, Alexander Solzhenitsyn took note of it as a resident of the Soviet gulag. Some of the most scathing passages in his history of Stalin's prison state are reserved for Americans who came and looked right through it, then took home glowing accounts of how nicely everything was working. More recently we have had those "fact finders" who trudge across Nicaragua and return to pronounce authoritatively on the success of various programs and the exponential increase in human happiness under the Sandinista regime, just as others did in a fortunately bygone day on their visits to Hanoi, coming home to tell us how well off our prisoners of war were in that enlightened country.

Mr. Falwell did discover one truth: that South African blacks are not a culturally or politicially monolithic group. This self-evident fact, already well known to everyone who has given the subject more than 30 seconds' thought, is reflected in much written-about conflicts between various black leaders over how to respond to the Pretoria government's actions. There are differences between blacks who do and do not accept the autonomy of the homelands, blacks who favor violent rebellion and blacks who do not, blacks who are for more and less gradual means of achieving political freedom, those who are and those who are not willing to make a special deal for themselves in return for lending their support to white repression of other blacks.

Mr. Falwell, discovering this, said that Bishop Tutu was a "phony" if he purported to speak for all blacks. But he does not need to instruct the bishop on the divisions that exist among blacks in South Africa. Bishop Tutu has put his life on the line, charging into angry crowds of blacks fighting other blacks to try to quell such conflicts and save lives. Bishop Tutu also knows it is possible to speak out against the repression being visited on all blacks in South Africa who are denied freedom of movement and fundamental political rights, just as Mr. Falwell might speak out against the repression of Christians in Russia without purporting to represent them all politically. Mr. Falwell evidently fails to make the connection.

This should suprise no one. Jerry Falwell has never been a very reliable witness where racial justice was concerned. He is the man who has informed his audience over the years that separate but equal was "God's law" and that "the true Negro does not want integration. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race." In 1965 he referred to "alleged discrimination against Negroes in the South." Of the two prelates, Bishop Tutu and Reverend Falwell, we continue to prefer the witness on South Africa of the man who lives there.