This post is an overview of the scandal that brought down Jerry Falwell Jr at Liberty University. Falwell posed provocatively for a picture that was uploaded on social media and created an uproar. Falwell is placed on indefinite leave. Finally when it comes to scandal in evangelicalism its always sex that will do it. Many other scandals are fine and tolerated, bit in the end its always the sex scandal that causes brings down someone. This us why evangelicalism has systemic issues.
“It isn’t the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble – it’s the attempted cover-up.”
The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
The picture that led to Jerry Falwell Jr’s downfall.
The yacht where Jerry Falwell Jr had problems with his zipper.
A video from the incident aboard the yacht.
There is a lot of information to process in this post so let’s get started in looking at the temporary downfall of Jerry Falwell Jr.
A Party on a Yacht and a Social Media Posting
On his summer vacation Jerry Falwell Jr had his family on a yacht. Liberty University has a deal with NASCAR’s Rick Hendricks and the $200,000 a week yacht can be used by Liberty free by the Falwells. The yacht is named “Wheels.” It is designed for travel in the Caribbean and the Bahamas and can go 4,000 nautical miles. It has a crew of eight and can carry twelve guests. It has six staterooms. Recently there was a party aboard the yacht and Jerry Falwell was with his wife’s assistant. He posed with alcohol (though he said its black water) and had his zipper down and his shirt up in stateroom. He was grabbing his wife’s assistant in a sexually provocative pose. You can see the picture above. Jerry Falwell Jr then uploaded it to Instagram for a brief time and decided to delete it. What happened next is a story of right timing.
Robert Downen is a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. The Illinois native who attended Eastern Illinois University was on Instagram checking out various accounts. He saw Jerry Falwell Jr’s picture and captured it. He then uploaded it to Twitter in the post you see above where he created a stir. People were puzzled, shocked or even angry.
How a Liberty Student Would be Punished For Similar Behavior
When Jerry Falwell Jr’s photo appeared on social media several evangelicals with ties to Liberty or even a Liberty student explained what the behavior would mean to an ordinary Liberty student. You can read about that in the Twitter thread below. Meanwhile on Reddit a Liberty student calculated that 965 points would be accrued. Fines would amount to $9,195.00 and service hours would be close to 900. Expulsion is also a strong possibility as well. You can see the breakdown by the Liberty student in the chart up above.
A Shaky Apology
A couple of days after the posting of the picture and with outrage growing Jerry Falwell Jr went on a local Virginia radio station WNLI and apologized. Falwell from differing reports sounded like he was intoxicated as his voice was slurred. On the radio show Falwell said the women in the photograph is his wife’s assistant. He explained that she is pregnant and had problems with her pants, and that his own jeans were small and he had problems with his zipper due to weight gain. This is how Falwell described it. “She’s pregnant, so she couldn’t get her pants up,” he told the Lynchburg, Va., radio station, as the host chuckled. “And I had on a pair of jeans that I hadn’t worn in a long time, so I couldn’t get mine zipped, either. And so I just put my belly out like hers.” He then conclude with the following. “She’s a sweetheart,” he added, “and I should never have put it up and embarrassed her.” The apology did not go over very well and the issue continued in social media. You can read more about this in the Washington Post, “Jerry Falwell Jr. said a racy photo was ‘in good fun.’ A GOP lawmaker says he should resign.”
Rep Mark Walker From North Carolina Demands Falwell Step Down
Mark Walker is a Southern Baptist pastor who is elected to Congress from the 6th district of North Carolina. He has also been on Liberty’s staff in the past. On August 6, 2020 Mark Walker came forward as the first person to demand that Falwell step down. It came in a tweet which I have above. Mark Walker said that he was disgusted by the behavior of Jerry Falwell Jr. This actually became a tipping point and led for more to happen to Jerry Falwell Jr. You can read more about this in Politico in, “Top GOP lawmaker calls on Falwell to resign as Liberty University president” and The Hill in, “GOP congressman calls for Falwell’s resignation.”
A Decision By the Board of Regents and Falwell Steps Away for a Season
On August 7, 2020 Liberty University acted on the situation with Jerry Falwell Jr and declared that the Board of Trustees request that he “take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University.” This is the statement from Jerry Provo that was released by the university below.
“In the 13 years that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has served as president of Liberty University, Liberty has experienced unprecedented success, not only academically and financially, with a world-class campus, but also spiritually. As we enter our 50th Anniversary year, we have been blessed to grow to a record 120,000 students, both residential and online, and continue to fulfill our founder’s mission to Train Champions for Christ across the world.
“Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure. Today, my colleagues and I on the Liberty University Board of Trustees and Jerry mutually agreed that it would be good for him to take an indefinite leave of absence. This was a decision that was not made lightly, and which factored the interests and concerns of everyone in the LU community, including students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, leaders of the Church, as well as the Falwell family.
“To support Jerry through this period, we ask that our entire community lift him up in prayer so he may be able to fulfill God’s purpose for him and for Liberty University.”
The leave is indefinite and can be read about in more detail in the following press sources.
- NPR, “Jerry Falwell Jr. On ‘Indefinite Leave’ From Liberty University After Racy Photo.”
- CNN, “Jerry Falwell Jr. will take a leave of absence from Liberty University.”
- Washington Post, “Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent evangelical supporter of Trump, on indefinite leave of absence from Liberty U.”
- New York Times, “Falwell Taking Leave From Liberty University Amid Photo Uproar.”
- Politico, “Falwell placed on ‘indefinite leave’ from Liberty University.”
- Reuters, “Jerry Falwell Jr. takes indefinite leave from Liberty University post.”
Analysis in Evangelicalism its Always the Sex that Matters. Other Abuse or Criminal Activity is Fine Though
The writer of this blog is someone who has processed out of evangelicalism. And along the way and through it there is something that he has observed. Evangelicalism is often toxic and has deep flaws. One of them is what gets a person to be let go who engages in abuse. Often evangelicals erect systems to protect people and their abusers. And in the process they often double down and dig deeper. Evangelicals have a warped sense of what sin it. The Mars Hill and Sovereign Grace scandals highlight this issue. Abuse of power is fine. Financial misconduct often doesn’t lead to a person’s termination. Bullying and emotional abuse is okay and is tolerated. Abuse of power is always tolerated. What it often comes down to is the sex. And even there it is limited. Take child sex abuse many people dismiss that as an issue. They downplay or say, “let’s give the sex offender grace.” Yet if a person sleeps with their boyfriend or girlfriend, or its trying to figure out if they are gay then everything comes crashing down. In the end its always the sex. By the way at Slate Ruth Graham says something similar but says its the alcohol as well.
And the Liberty University scandal confirms that as well. Jerry Falwell Jr wasn’t fired for being racist. He was not fired for mismanaging a university. He was not fired for his bullying or authoritarianism. Heck even when Politico had an article by Brandon Ambrosino and Falwell bragged about how big his penis was and that his wife couldn’t take it, even that didn’t do it. Instead it took a sexually suggestive photo to make its rounds on social media to do it. In the end its always sex and its why evangelicalism is toxic. Evangelicals don’t know what sin is. They stand idle by as the gospel takes a hit and draw a line in the sand over sex. But even there they pick and choose. In Jerry Falwell Jr’s temporary downfall you know who has been silent? Donald Trump. Falwell has been the biggest support this blog would say of Trump and Trumpism. And he allowed Liberty to be used by Trump to launch his campaign. In Jerry Falwell Jr’s fall from grace the White House is noticeably quiet. This seems to confirm what Never Trumper Rick Wilson frequently says, “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”
That said and I will make this prediction. This writer knows evangelicals and evangelicalism. Trust me I wish that were not the case. But I spent a lot of time in the evangelical movement and can sniff it a mile away. Jerry Falwell Jr is going to come back. He is going to be “repentant” and “humble.” He will say he learned his lesson and then two weeks later he will be back to his old ways. Jerry Falwell Jr’s return one day will be the biggest shit show in evangelicalism. It will make Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald’s comeback to be small. But this is why evangelicalism is unhealthy and toxic. Learn from this and walk away. That is the only way out of evangelicalism and an end to the circus or the madness which exists.
Avoid Liberty as You Would Avoid Cancer
The news from Liberty reveals why this is a toxic culture. Liberty is not the kind of school you attend if you want to pursue an academic degree. You often don’t have the freedom to pursue or dive into many topics. In this blog’s view those who attend Liberty come from reactionary insular conservative homes that fear the outside world. The thought of going to a secular school like Virginia Tech, California State University Fresno or Colorado State University Boulder. In the view of this blog if you attend Liberty you will be set back in life. Why attend Liberty when you can attend a place like Trinity International University? Why attend Liberty and continue to support a subpar educational institution. College education is the biggest investment you can make with your life. Why would you squander and waste it at a place like Liberty? This blog has heard stories of people who attended Liberty and who withdrew because of the culture. For me getting a degree from Liberty is a waste. In many universities they have sayings. For example Marquette University in Milwaukee states, “Be the difference.” The University of Southern California’s motto is, “Let whoever earns the palm bear it.” The University of Kansas in Lawrence has, “I will see this great vision in which the bush does not burn.” as its motto. Might this blog suggest that Liberty’s motto become “Be stunted for life.” Why go to Liberty? If you want an education go elsewhere. But avoid Liberty as you would avoid cancer.