The news coming out of Lynchburg, Va., is certainly unusual – and it seems to shift by the hour.
Yesterday, media outlets reported that Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor and president of Liberty University and a close evangelical ally of President Donald Trump, had resigned in the wake of revelations concerning a sex scandal. A few hours later, Falwell insisted he was not resigning – but then told The Wall Street Journal that he was.
If you’ve been following the news, you’re aware that Falwell that been behaving rather strangely as of late. He was placed on indefinite leave earlier this month by Liberty’s Board of Trustees after he posted a photo of himself on a social media site with his arm around a young woman while holding a drink. Both Falwell and the woman had their pants unbuttoned and their stomachs exposed. Falwell claimed the photo was intended as a joke and said the woman is his wife’s assistant.
It was an odd incident, and one could not help but feel that there was more news to come. Sure enough, Falwell gave an interview to a conservative newspaper over the weekend asserting that he has been depressed lately because his wife, Becki, had a brief affair with a young man the Falwells met while vacationing in Miami. Falwell said he was going public with the story because the man was trying to blackmail them, but to some people, it looked as if Falwell were trying to excuse his weird behavior by tossing his wife under the bus.
In yet another stunning development, the man in question, Giancarlo Granda, confirmed the affair in a story published by Reuters yesterday, but he disputed key details of Fawell’s version. Granda said his affair with Becki wasn’t brief – it lasted seven years – and that Falwell wasn’t clueless about it. In fact, he took part by watching the two engage in sex acts. Granda steadfastly denied trying to blackmail the couple.
As is often the case in situations like this these days, Granda says he has an electronic paper trail of texts, FaceTime messages and so on, and he shared some of them with Reuters.
An individual’s sex life would normally be a private matter of no interest to most others – and certainly not to Americans United. But Jerry Falwell has spent years judging others for their behavior and asserting that his conservative Christian beliefs have endowed him with a superior form of morality. (That didn’t stop him from endorsing Trump for president, but that’s another story.) He has advocated for public policies to be based on his religious beliefs, even if those policies would harm others, especially women and LGBTQ people. Falwell is a typical Christian nationalist theocrat wannabe, and the fact that he can’t be bothered to follow the dogma he yearns to impose on others exposes him as a hypocrite.
Perhaps some good can come from this scandal: Liberty now has an opportunity to clean house and reexamine some of its past practices. While Falwell seems to be going back and forth on the question of resigning, the school’s board always has the option to fire him outright and should do it if necessary.
With Falwell gone, officials at Liberty could begin the work of moderating its extreme right-wing politics and moving the school toward a version of evangelicalism that does more than simply serve as an apologist for the policies of the Republican Party.