Jerry Falwell Jr
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Jerry Falwell Jr

Jerry Falwell Jr.
Jerry Falwell Jr. (49270624903) (cropped).jpg
Falwell in 2019
4th President of Liberty University[1]

May 15, 2007 - August 25, 2020
Jerry Falwell Sr.
Jerry Prevo
Personal details
Born
Jerry Lamon Falwell Jr.

(1962-06-17) June 17, 1962 (age 58)
Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Becki Tilley
Children3
ParentsJerry Falwell Sr.
Macel Pate Falwell
RelativesJonathan Falwell (brother)
EducationLiberty University (BA)
University of Virginia (JD)

Jerry Lamon Falwell Jr. (; born June 17, 1962) is an American attorney, former academic administrator, and prominent member of the Evangelical Christian community. Starting with his 2007 appointment upon his father's death, Falwell served as the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia until resigning amidst controversy in August 2020.[2][3][4][5]

Early life and education

Jerry Falwell Jr. was born on June 17, 1962, the eldest son of Jerry Sr. and Macel Falwell (née Pate).[6] He attended private schools in the Lynchburg area, including Lynchburg Christian Academy (later renamed as Liberty Christian Academy), from where he graduated in 1980. He then attended Liberty University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in history and religious studies in 1984,[6] and the University of Virginia School of Law, where he obtained a Juris Doctor in 1987.[6]

Career

From 1987 until 2007, Falwell served in private practice in Virginia and as the lawyer for Liberty University and its related organizations. He joined the Board of Trustees of the university in 2000.[6]

2007-2020: Liberty University

As part of a succession plan the elder Falwell laid out before his death, Jerry Jr. was to be entrusted with Liberty University while Jerry Sr.'s other son, Jonathan Falwell, inherited the ministry at Thomas Road Baptist Church. The decisions were rooted in each's personality: Jerry Jr. had aggressive business instincts, and Jonathan was more charismatic and interested in ministry. This succession plan took effect when Jerry Sr. died in 2007.[7]

Under Falwell Jr., Liberty University came under scrutiny for its alleged authoritarian control over employees and students, nepotism toward Falwell family-owned businesses in the school's investments, and increasing influence of Falwell's wife Becki in school affairs. Beginning in 2001, Falwell had established two companies for the purpose of making property deals with Liberty-affiliated nonprofits, and his two sons and their wives were on Liberty's payroll.[8] A 2019 Politico article described the university as a "dictatorship" in which Falwell ruled through fear; it also reported that the university had sold merchandise promoting Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and that Falwell Jr. had had crude discussions about his sex life at work and had shown other Liberty employees provocative photos of his wife.[7] Falwell's leadership also came under fire in a letter signed by members of Congress, Andy Levin and Jamie Raskin, to Betsy Devos, which claimed that Falwell personally blocked students from writing student columns critical of Trump.[9][10] A Reuters investigation, published in August 2019, alleged that Falwell signed a real estate deal in 2016 that transferred the university's sports facilities to his personal trainer, who did not put down any money for the deal.[11] The publication reported that instead, Liberty immediately paid almost $650,000 to the trainer, who now owned the property, to lease the property for nine years.[11]

On August 7, 2020, Liberty University announced that Falwell would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from his positions following controversy around a photo he had posted on social media, which showed him with his pants unzipped and his arm around the waist of a woman whose shorts were similarly unzipped.[2][12] On August 23, Falwell made a public statement that his wife had had an affair and that they had been targets of blackmail. The next day Reuters published a story in which the man with whom Falwell's wife had an affair claimed that Falwell regularly watched him engaging in sexual activities with Falwell's wife.[13][5] Later in the day, on August 24, it was reported that Falwell had agreed to resign from Liberty University.[14] Falwell immediately denied this, while the university claimed that negotiations were ongoing.[13][14] On August 25, both Falwell and Liberty University confirmed that he had resigned.[3][15] Because he is leaving his position without a formal accusation or admission of wrongdoing, Falwell will receive a $10.5million severance package.[15]

After his departure, Liberty opened an investigation into his past personal entanglement in the school's finances and real estate. Transactions that personally benefit an individual could jeopardize Liberty's tax-exempt status.[8]

In October 2020, Falwell sued Liberty University for damaging his reputation,[16][17] but in December 2020 dropped the lawsuit.[18]

Possible governmental positions

In November 2016, Falwell said that President-elect Donald Trump had offered him the position of United States secretary of education, but that he had turned down the offer citing personal reasons and because he did not want to leave Liberty University for more than two years.[19] In January 2017, Falwell said that he had been asked by President Trump to head a task force on reforms for the United States Department of Education.[20] In June 2017, Falwell confirmed to the Chronicle of Higher Education that he would be one of 15 college presidents participating in the task force.[21] The task force was never formed.[22]

Political views

Homosexuality

Falwell was described in 2000 by Frontline as a longstanding critic of "the homosexual lifestyle".[23] In October 1999, at the invitation of his longstanding friend, Soulforce founder Mel White, he hosted a meeting of 200 gays and lesbians and 200 members of his own congregation in Lynchburg, in a debate over gay rights.[24] Falwell said during the meeting that his views about homosexuality were unchanged, but that he would moderate his rhetoric.[25] In the follow-up Frontline interview, Falwell echoed views declared by his father that homosexuality was a sin "forbidden by the Bible", and said that "ex-gays" had said, "They believe that they chose in and they chose out." When asked about the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, Falwell also said, "any kind of verbal or physical violence is wrong, and it should not be permitted".[23][non-primary source needed]

In April 2009, following the Miss USA 2009 same-sex marriage controversy, Falwell offered a full scholarship to Carrie Prejean, a beauty pageant contestant who spoke out against LGBTQ rights during the Miss USA pageant.[26][27] In August 2013, Falwell announced that if the federal government forced recipients of its aid to comply with LGBTQ discrimination protections, he would forgo the money.[28] In March 2019, Falwell again caused controversy among LGBT advocates at Liberty University when he said his granddaughter would be "raised according to her God-given gender".[29]

Muslims

Speaking of the 2015 San Bernardino attack, Falwell stated during the university's 2015 convocation that if "some of those people had got what I have in my back pocket right now," the attack would not have happened. He said that he was astounded that Barack Obama believed more gun control was the best response to the attack. Falwell said that he'd "always thought that, if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them."[30][31]

His comments were criticized by both Christians and Muslims.[32][33] According to one report, Falwell was only heard saying, "then we could end those Muslims before they walked in", with the "and killed them" part drowned out by applause. Falwell later said he was referring to Muslims committing terrorist attacks and not Muslims in general.[34]

Donald Trump

On January 26, 2016, Falwell announced his endorsement of Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election, causing some Liberty University alumni and other evangelicals to express concern that Falwell had "sold his soul."[35][36] It was later revealed, in a secretly recorded conversation with comedian Tom Arnold that Trump's personal lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen, had helped Falwell recover compromising photos prior to securing his endorsement.[37] On July 21, 2016, at the RNC convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Falwell Jr. called Trump "America's blue collar billionaire" and "one of the greatest visionaries of our time" in his endorsement of the candidate he felt most likely to defend the "right to bear arms," "stop Iran...from becoming a nuclear power," and "appoint conservative pro-life justices to the Supreme Court".[38]

President Donald Trump and Falwell, 2017.

In an August 19, 2016 editorial in The Washington Post, Falwell compared Trump to Winston Churchill.[39] A group called the Red Letter Christians criticized Falwell for the pivotal role he played in "forging the alliance between white evangelicals and Donald J. Trump, who won 81 percent of their vote."[36] Trump, who is a personal friend of Falwell's, gave the commencement address in 2017 at Liberty University in Lynchburg, a city which has been described by The New York Times as "the heart of pro-Trump evangelical Christianity".[36]

In August 2017, following a white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville, Falwell defended President Trump, saying that he didn't have "a racist bone in his body," adding that the president was being attacked by "thin-skinned Americans": "You know, he's a little abrasive sometimes in the way he says things, and we have some thin-skinned Americans sometimes who ignore the substance of what he's saying because they're put off by his demeanor," Falwell said. "And I think we need to grow up as a people and stop being so easily offended."[40]

Asked in a January 2019 interview, "Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?", Falwell answered, "No."[41]

Israel

In June 2016, Falwell expressed support for Israel when Liberty University moved to invest $5million of its endowment in Israel. Falwell stated, "Liberty is glad to be part of supporting the only democracy that's a close ally of the United States [in an area] that is in such turmoil right now."[42]

In April 2017, Falwell referred to Trump as the "dream president" for evangelicals and cited "reuniting Israel with America" and Trump's appointment of "people of faith" in his administration as the reasons why evangelicals support Trump.[43]

Coronavirus response and conspiracy theories

In March 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) began to spread quickly in the United States, leading to the widespread closures of schools and universities. By March 13, most universities in Virginia announced that they were moving their classes to online-only, discontinuing in-person instruction. Falwell announced on March 13 that in-person classes at Liberty University would resume following spring break (March 14-22, 2020) in defiance of those throughout the country who called for schools to be required to close.[44][45] Also on March 13, Falwell promoted a conspiracy theory that North Korea and China had collaborated to create the coronavirus.[46] He also said that people were overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak and that Democrats were trying to use the situation to harm President Trump.[44]

After Liberty University's spring break, without the knowledge of city officials,[47] Falwell reopened Liberty University on March 23 to students to physically return to the campus despite calls for the campus to stay closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. Falwell then claimed that the mortality rate among young people was low.[48] He also blamed the media for exaggerating the threat of COVID-19, saying, "They are willing to destroy the economy just to hurt Trump."[49]

In response to Falwell's decision to reopen Liberty University, Lynchburg mayor Treney Tweedy said in a statement:[50]

I want the residents in this community to know that at no time did I or the City Manager endorse having the students return to Liberty University's campus or any of the other college or university campuses in our community. In fact, it is quite the opposite. When we asked President Falwell to close his campus, he explained that he had to remain open for on-campus international students who had not gone home, some lab classes and the School of Aviation. President Falwell also noted that the University would be moving to an on-line platform for instruction....

I was very surprised and disappointed to later learn of President Falwell's most recent decision to allow students back on campus. We are in the midst of a public health crisis. I am concerned for the students, faculty and employees at Liberty University, and I am also very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community. Liberty University is an important part of this community; however, I believe it was a reckless decision to bring students back on campus at this time. It is unfortunate that President Falwell chose to not keep his word to us and to this community.

Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, criticized Falwell's decision to reopen Liberty University, citing scripture (1 Corinthians 4:2) to support his statement.[51]

Marybeth Davis Baggett, a professor at Liberty University, protested against Falwell's reopening of the university. In an op-ed published by The Washington Post and Religion News Service, Baggett called Falwell's decision a "foolhardy decision [that] tracks Falwell's conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19 and smacks of defiance." She continued, "[Falwell's] public comments on the pandemic have manifested bravado, self-congratulation and callousness in the extreme, as ... he spewed far-fetched, unsubstantiated and misleading information about the coronavirus outbreak.... By continuing to flout the danger of this novel coronavirus, Falwell also encourages reckless behavior in the university's students."[52]

Prior to the school's reopening on March 23, Liberty University's lead physician Thomas W. Eppes, Jr. informed Falwell that, "We've lost the ability to corral this thing." Of Liberty University's 15,000 on-campus students, 1,900 students initially returned, with 800 of those subsequently leaving again. Falwell said that the university administration had "no idea" how many other students had returned to off-campus housing. By March 30, according to a report by Eppes, almost a dozen returning students had symptoms of COVID-19, eight students had been told to self-isolate, three had been tested, and one student (who lived off campus) had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. By March 30, the school implemented a policy requiring any student who returned to school to self-quarantine for 14 days.[53]

An anonymous student filed suit against Liberty University in April, stating in the lawsuit, "Liberty's decision to tell its students that they could remain on campus to continue to use their housing, meal plans, parking, and the benefits of the services and activities for which their fees paid, was not only illusory and empty – because there were no more on-campus classesbut it was also extremely dangerous and irresponsible."[54]

Personal life

Falwell is married to Becki Tilley and lives on a farm in Bedford County, Virginia.[6] They have three children, among them businessman Jerry "Trey" Falwell III.[6] Falwell III is the vice president of university operations at Liberty University and also owns the Alton Hostel (also called the Miami Hostel) in Miami's South Beach.[55][56]

2019 photographs

In 2019, Reuters reported that Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor: to help get rid of photos described by Cohen as being the kind that would typically be kept "between husband and wife."[57] At least three of the photos were later discovered to be of Falwell's wife.[58]

According to Brandon Ambrosino, writing in Politico in 2019:[7]

Longtime Liberty officials close to Falwell told me the university president has shown or texted his male confidants - including at least one employee who worked for him at Liberty - photos of his wife in provocative and sexual poses.

At Liberty, Falwell is "very, very vocal" about his "sex life," in the words of one Liberty official - a characterization multiple current and former university officials and employees interviewed for this story support. In a car ride about a decade ago with a senior university official who has since left Liberty, "all he wanted to talk about was how he would nail his wife, how she couldn't handle [his penis size], and stuff of that sort," this former official recalled. Falwell did not respond to questions about this incident.

2020 controversies

In March 2012, Falwell and his wife stayed at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach luxury hotel, where they met and became friends with a man in his early twenties who worked there as a pool attendant. The Falwells financially backed their son, Jerry "Trey" Falwell III, and the man in a 2013 purchase of a South Beach hostel called the Alton Hostel, which operates under the name the Miami Hostel.[56][5] A lawsuit was filed against the Falwells and the man in 2015, dismissed, and then refiled in August 2017. The plaintiffs, a man and his son, claimed they had helped to think of the hostel business idea but had then been wrongfully left out of the venture.[56]

In August 2020, Falwell published a photograph on Instagram (since deleted) of himself with his jeans unzipped and his hand around the waist of a young woman whose shorts are similarly unzipped;[59] the image was taken at a party on a private yacht, which Falwell later explained was a costume party themed after the Trailer Park Boys television series.[60] In the photo Falwell was holding a glass of dark liquid, and in the caption he wrote "I promise that's just black water in my glass. It was a prop only." Journalists noted the partial undress and consumption of alcohol were among actions that violate the Liberty University code of conduct.[12][61][62] A former instructor at the university, Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC), called for Falwell's resignation.[63] On August 7, Liberty University announced that Falwell would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from his positions.[2][12]

In late August, Reuters contacted Falwell and his wife with their initial reporting on his wife's alleged affair with the pool attendant they had met in 2012. Shortly after, on August 23, 2020, Falwell announced in a public statement that his wife had had an "improper relationship" several years earlier with a man who later threatened to reveal the affair "unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies".[64] On August 24, Reuters published their report that the man was the pool attendant with whom Falwell had invested in the hostel. The man, now 29 years old, said he began a sexual relationship with the Falwells when he was 20. He claimed that the affair started the same month he met the couple, in March 2012, and continued into 2018.[5] He claimed to have had "frequent" sexual encounters with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell Jr. looked on, sometimes in the same room and sometimes remotely via camera.[13] The man shared audiotape, emails, and texts with Reuters as evidence for the veracity of his assertions about the relationship.[5]

Later in the day on August 24, it was reported that Falwell had agreed to resign from Liberty University, though Falwell denied the report.[14][13] An anonymous university official told The Washington Post that there had been a delay in negotiations.[14] On August 25, Falwell confirmed that he had resigned.[3]

In October 2020, Falwell sued Liberty University for damaging his reputation,[16][17] but in December 2020 dropped the lawsuit.[18]

References

  1. ^ "Liberty University Board Accepts Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s Resignation as President". Liberty News (Press release). Liberty University. August 25, 2020. Retrieved 2020. Falwell was the fourth president of Liberty University, assuming the role after his father, Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., passed away in 2007.
  2. ^ a b c "Jerry Falwell Jr to take leave of absence after racy photo". BBC News. August 8, 2020. Archived from the original on August 8, 2020. Retrieved 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Sarah Pulliam Bailey; Susan Svrluga; Michelle Boorstein (August 25, 2020). "Jerry Falwell Jr. confirms he has resigned as head of Liberty University". Washington Post. Retrieved 2020.
  4. ^ Gayomali, Chris. "Jerry and Becki Falwell's Illicit Years-Long Affair with a Miami Pool Boy, Explained". GQ. Retrieved 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rostonv, Aramv (August 24, 2020). "Business partner of Falwells says he had affair with the power couple". Reuters. Archived from the original on August 24, 2020. Retrieved 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Jerry Falwell: President". Liberty University. Archived from the original on January 29, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Ambrosino, Brandon (September 9, 2019). "'Someone's Gotta Tell the Freakin' Truth': Jerry Falwell's Aides Break Their Silence". Politico. Archived from the original on September 9, 2019. Retrieved 2019. photos of his wife in provocative and sexual poses.
  8. ^ a b Roston, Aram; Schneyer, Joshua (September 4, 2020). "How Jerry Falwell Jr. mixed his personal finances with his university's". Yahoo News. Retrieved 2020.
  9. ^ Levin, Andy; Raskin, Jamie (October 7, 2019). "First Amdt Letter to ED" (PDF). Representative Andy Levin. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 19, 2020. Retrieved 2020.
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  22. ^ Young, Will E. (July 24, 2019). "Inside Liberty University's 'culture of fear'". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 28, 2019. Retrieved 2020. in the end, the task force was never formed
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  30. ^ Jim DeMint - The Integration of Politics and Spiritual Maturity. Lynchburg, Virginia. December 4, 2015. Event occurs at 46:53. Archived from the original on August 24, 2020. Retrieved 2016.
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  33. ^ Wheaton, Oliver (December 6, 2015). "University President: 'If more people had guns, we could end those Muslims'". Metro. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved 2015. Falwell has been accused of 'anti-Muslim bigotry' by Ibrahim Hooper from the Council on Islamic-American Relations.
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  38. ^ Rohr, Alex (July 21, 2016). "Falwell's GOP convention speech echoes his father". The News & Advance. Lynchburg, Virginia. Archived from the original on January 4, 2020. Retrieved 2019. Falwell often compares his endorsement of [Donald Trump] to his father, The Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., endorsing divorced actor Ronald Reagan over Baptist Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter.
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  44. ^ a b Heim, Joe (March 13, 2020). "Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says in-person classes to continue". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 17, 2020. Retrieved 2020. 'It's just strange to me how so many are overreacting,' Falwell said, comparing media coverage of the novel coronavirus to coverage of earlier epidemics. 'It makes you wonder if there's a political reason for that. Impeachment didn't work, and the Mueller report didn't work, and Article 25 didn't work. And so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.'
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  46. ^ Peters, Jeremy W. (March 18, 2020). "From Jerry Falwell Jr. to Dr. Drew: 5 Coronavirus Doubters". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 18, 2020. Retrieved 2020. Mr. Falwell ... shared a theory that he said he had heard from a local restaurant owner: Perhaps the North Koreans and the Chinese colluded to spread the coronavirus inside the United States.
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  64. ^ Bedard, Paul (August 23, 2020). "Exclusive: Falwell says Fatal Attraction threat led to depression". Washington Examiner. Archived from the original on August 24, 2020. Retrieved 2020.

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