I Peter 4:17a: “Judgment must begin at the house of God…”
I Corinthians 10:14: “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
On August 25, 2020, Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned from his position as president and chancellor of Liberty University.
Falwell’s resignation followed two recent controversies that had become national news. Earlier this summer, Falwell posted a photo on Instagram in which he had his arm around a woman other than his wife. Both Falwell and the woman were immodestly dressed, and Falwell was holding a drink; the photo’s caption said, “‘I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.’”(Liberty University bans alcohol consumption by students.) On August 7, Liberty University announced that Falwell had taken an indefinite leave of absence. Falwell later apologized for posting the photo; he added that the photo was a “good-natured joke,” that the woman in the photo was his wife’s assistant, and that the photos were taken during a costume party.
Another controversy involving Falwell erupted in late August. On August 24, Reuters reported that Giancarlo Granda, a former business partner of the Falwells, alleged that Falwell’s wife, Becki, had engaged in a long-term adulterous affair with him. Granda further alleged that Jerry Falwell Jr. had condoned the affair and had been a voyeuristic participant in it. The article included information about a recorded conversation between Granda and the Falwells that lent support to Granda’s allegations. Jerry Falwell Jr. responded with a detailed statement in which he acknowledged the affair between Granda and Becki, denied any personal involvement, and claimed that Granda had been trying to extort the Falwells for some time. Granda denied the blackmail allegations. The truth of this situation is not easy to discern, as there has been deception on both sides. Granda previously denied having had an affair with Becki Falwell. Also, when Reuters shared its findings with Falwell, Falwell—through his attorney—categorically denied everything that Reuters intended to publish about him; this denial was, at best, misleading.
The recent controversies are not the only events that have raised concerns about Falwell’s suitability as the leader of a Christian institution. Previous reports about Falwell’s 14-year tenure as the leader of Liberty University have included allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior, a domineering leadership style, financial improprieties, and the alleged involvement of Trump associate Michael Cohen in destroying compromising photographs at Falwell’s request. On a related note, an August 27, 2020 Politico piece contained detailed allegations from a Liberty alumnus that Becki Falwell had seduced him while he was a student at the university; the article included information about inappropriate Facebook messages purportedly sent to the student by Becki Falwell.
MinistryWatch.com raises concern over how Liberty’s Board of Trustees handled this matter as well. Falwell leaves Liberty University with a reported $10.5 Million severance and retirement package. Following Falwell’s departure, LU announced that it is launching an independent investigation into the former president’s tenure.
In response to this grievous news about a high-profile Christian leader, Christians should pray for the students, faculty, and administration of Liberty University; for the Falwell family, and for Giancarlo Granda. Also, there are some lessons we should learn from this situation. Believers should adhere to the Bible’s standards—not the world’s—in choosing leaders of our institutions. We should ensure that our churches and para-church organizations are characterized by holiness, transparency, and loving accountability. Also, we should examine our own hearts so that we can “have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16b).