A Tribute to Don Wildmon: ‘Only Through Adversity Are True Heroes Born’
The “prince of the power of the air” has made it his mission to thwart righteousness in the godly (Ephesians 2:2). Even a half-century ago, the media was a hub that pushed unbiblical ideas. Television was used, even then, to praise worldliness. But not everyone was willing to sit idle and tolerate these secular advancements. In 1977, Donald E. Wildmon founded the American Family Association (AFA) in the kitchen of his home in Tupelo, Mississippi to boldly fight back, even if no one else did. He stepped down from his pastoral position so that he could step into the public square and fight for biblical truth.
For over 45 years, Wildmon faithfully served the Lord in the face of severe adversity, and on December 28, 2023, the beloved founder, minister, husband, father, and friend went home to be with the Lord.
Wildmon championed the belief that we had a duty to join the game of defending truth. But for Wildmon, if we were going to play, we had to play to win. “Only through adversity are true heroes born,” he urged. And his life was certainly a reflection of such thinking.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, worked closely with Wildmon. “Don had the true heart of a servant,” he said. “He wasn’t fazed by criticism because he was not interested in the accolades of man; he was focused on making sure the cultural forces of the country didn’t prevent or inhibit the saving message of the Gospel. … I am thankful for godly men like Don Wildmon.” And, really, we all should be.
It’s men like Wildmon who serve as an example of what it looks like to stand firm. More than that, Wildmon served as a role model for individuals of all different ages, genders, and backgrounds because, for those of us unified by the truths of Scripture, he was a portrayal of endurance. Despite those in opposition criticizing him as he pursued holiness in the public arena, Wildmon kept his eyes on the Lord. As the American Family News stated, he “left a legacy of tenacious righteousness.”
Through his many accomplishments, those closest to Wildmon said he always remained humble and kind. “[H]e was a servant of the Lord and he followed through with what the Lord gave him to do,” said his son, Tim Wildmon. Dr. Alex McFarland, former president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, summed it up this way, “In founding the American Family Association, the American Family Radio network, and the associated ministries, he set in motion an influence for the gospel that only God could measure. What a legacy he leaves … and what an amazing, faithful servant at a key point in our nation’s history.”
In his 85 years on this earth, Wildmon served, supported, accomplished, and fought in more ways than can be fully expressed. He served in the U.S. Army’s Special Services for two years. After that, he was ordained as a pastor of the United Methodist Church, and only a year later he received his Master of Divinity from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology as well as an honorary doctorates from Asbury College and Wesley Biblical Seminary. All of this predates his time serving AFA.
Wildmon went on to author 22 books, appeared on TV shows like “The Phil Donohue Show” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He was featured in major outlets such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Newsweek. He was also honored by several ministries and groups over time and received numerous awards. Some of which included the James C. Dobson Values and Leadership Award at FRC’s 2010 Value Voter Summit, Vision America’s Daniel Award in 2013 (which was later renamed as the Don Wildmon Award), the Friend Ships Humanitarian Award from Friend Ships ministries in 2014, and was named the receiver of the NRB Hall of Fame Award in 2017. And yet those only scratches the surface.
Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Sometimes a verse like that can be difficult to relate to. But for men like Wildmon, he had every reason to grow weary in the good he was doing for the Kingdom of God. However, not once did we see him draw back.
“Most games worth playing will have moments of discouragement,” Wildmon once said. “I’m gonna play, and I’m gonna play to win. And I hope you will, too.” Now that Wildmon is in the presence of our God, we reflect on his life and can be certain he was met with a “well done good and faithful servant.” AFA is now in the hands of his son, where the fight for truth continues. May we all follow in his footsteps, and heed what he urged us to do, namely, to play to win. He never backed down, and neither should we.
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.