Jerry Falwell Jr. recently confirmed something a lot of people have suspected for a long time: He’s not an evangelical Christian and never really was.
Falwell, who resigned from Liberty University last year in the wake of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, granted a wide-ranging interview to Vanity Fair magazine recently during which he spoke frankly about his fall from grace. Falwell made it clear that he does not share the religious views of his late father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of Liberty and a pivotal figure in the rise of the Religious Right.
“Because of my last name, people think I’m a religious person. But I’m not,” Falwell Jr. said. “My goal was to make them realize I was not my dad.”
Falwell’s downfall began in the summer of 2020 in the wake of revelations that he and his wife, Becki, had been involved in a sexual relationship with a young man in Florida named Giancarlo Granda, often described in the media as a pool attendant.
Falwell insisted that Becki had a brief affair with a man he did not identify, but Granda told Reuters the affair lasted seven years, and that Falwell enjoyed watching his wife have sex with Granda (who showed Reuters texts and photos from the Falwells that buttressed his account).
The revelations came shortly after Falwell posted a strange photograph of himself on social media. The photo depicted him on a yacht with his arm around a young woman with his pants undone. Liberty’s Board of Trustees put Falwell on leave over the photo and later decided to demand his resignation. Falwell walked away with a severance package worth $10.5 million, although he later filed suit against the university, a legal action he soon dropped.
Falwell Jr. told Vanity Fair that he had long chafed at his father’s rigid views on morality. As a teenager, the younger Falwell recalled enjoying rock music, and later drinking alcohol and partying. He was also adamant that he was not interested in becoming a preacher.
“People would say to me, ‘We know you’re gonna be a preacher because your dad is one.” I thought, “That’s the last thing I want to be,” Falwell told Vanity Fair.
Falwell went on to become a lawyer and began working at Liberty, helping shore up its finances during a rocky period in the 1990s. When his father died in 2007, his empire was divided between his two sons. Falwell Jr. took Liberty University, and his brother Jonathan became pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Falwell claims his father gave him the college because he had a better head for business. “My dad told me, ‘Use Jonathan for the preacher stuff, but don’t let him get near the business’,” he told the magazine.
While Falwell remains far to the right politically and said he’s still a Christian, he told Vanity Fair he’s no longer a churchgoer.
“Nothing in history has done more to turn people away from Christianity than organized religion,” Falwell declared. “The religious elite has got this idea that somehow their sins aren’t as bad as everyone else’s.”