Jerry Falwell Jr. agreed Friday to take an “indefinite leave of absence” from his roles of president and chancellor of Liberty University at the request of the Board of Trustees after he shared a provocative, now-deleted vacation photo on social media, the latest in a series of scandals for the evangelical leader.
Falwell landed in hot water once again this week after posting a photo of himself on a yacht while on vacation with his pants unzipped, midriff hanging out, a drink in hand and his arm around a woman.
The picture brought accusations that he was indulging in behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated by his university’s students, and a call for his resignation from GOP lawmaker and former pastor Rep. Mark Walker, who said Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling.”
Falwell began stoking controversy shortly after he took over as president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest conservative Christian universities, urging students at a 2015 convocation to carry concealed weapons so they could “end those Muslims before they walked in,” referencing a mass shooting in San Bernardino.
After offering his early endorsement of Trump in the 2016 election, the prominent evangelical figure was criticized by students for silencing anti-Trump dissent and creating a “culture of fear,” accusations that were expanded upon in a 2019 Politico exposé, citing two dozen Liberty staff, which alleged Falwell would discuss his sex life at work in graphic detail and show off photos of his wife “in provocative and sexual poses.”
As controversy swirled around Falwell’s business dealings involving a young pool attendant in Florida, photos emerged of the Liberty president and members of his family partying at a Miami Beach nightclub in 2014; Falwell dismissed the allegations, which don’t line up with the school’s standards for students barring co-ed dancing and drinking, saying the images were photo-shopped (though the photographer published more the next day).
Some of the controversies have involved Falwell’s support of Trump, which was seen as integral in winning support from the Christian right in the 2016 election, including allegations that Trump fixer Michael Cohen helped Falwell get rid of racy “personal” photos in someone else’s possession in 2015, as well as reports that Cohen hired a Liberty employee to manipulate polls in favor of Trump ahead of the election, with sources saying Falwell’s son accompanied the employee on a New York trip to collect payment.
“Jerry Falwell Jr.’s ongoing behavior is appalling,” wrote Walker, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference, in a Thursday tweet. “As a Music Faculty Advisory Board Member and former instructor [at Liberty University], I’m convinced Falwell should step down. None of us are perfect, but students, faculty, alumni … deserve better.”
The university has numerous restrictions that most American colleges do not have, including, as of 2015, a $20 fine for attendance at a dance and a $50 knock for students “visiting alone with the opposite sex at an off-campus residence.” Like his father, Falwell has been heavily involved in politics.
Sadly, Falwell's hypocrisy is the norm among so many self-styled leaders of the evangelical movement.Hopefully, his removal will become permanent.