Jerry Falwell Jr. officially stepped down as president of Liberty University, the conservative evangelical Christian school his father co-founded, on Monday night, following a day of scandal and confusion over whether he had actually resigned. Falwell, 58, told The Washington Post late Tuesday that he was relieved to be free of the burden of running the university, and said the contract he negotiated in July 2019 entitles him to $10.5 million over two years, including $8 million in retirement and $2.5 million for the equivalent of two years’ salary.
“The board was gracious not to challenge that,” Falwell told the Post. “There wasn’t any cause. … I haven’t done anything.”
Falwell’s departure follows weeks — or years — of scandal culminating in a Reuters report in which a much younger former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, said both Falwell and his wife, Becki Falwell, had been involved in a seven-year intimate relationship with him, Jerry Falwell watching the other two have sex. Both Falwells told the Post on Tuesday only Becki Falwell had been involved in the affair.
While Jerry Falwell told the Post he was stepping down partly out of boredom with the job, he told The Associated Press on Tuesday that “the only reason I resigned” is “because I don’t want something my wife did to harm the school I’ve spent my whole life building.” Becki Falwell said she wished “Christians, and people, would be as forgiving as Christ was.”
Falwell’s scandals have diminished his standing in the evangelical community, and the large severance package irked his critics, including a group of Liberty alumni called Save71 that has spent the past several months calling for his ouster and replacement “with a responsible and virtuous Christian leader.” If the Liberty board is “going to bow down and let this happen, it’s going to be an obvious statement that they care less about the interests of the university than Falwell,” Dustin Wahl, a Save71 founder, told the Post.
Sexual indiscretion was the clear cause of Falwell’s fall from grace, said Jonathan Merritt, a Liberty graduate and writer on conservative evangelical culture. “In some ways, Jerry Falwell Jr. is living the consequences of the moral hierarchy that his dad helped to put into place,” he told the Post. But “evangelicals tend to have an individualistic view of sin, so when one famous leader falls from grace, they tend to see it as ‘one bad apple.'” Peter Weber