US evangelical leader Falwell quits college after personal scandal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jerry Falwell Jr, a leading force in the U.S. evangelical Christian movement whose endorsement played a key role in President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, has resigned as president of Liberty University, it said. school on Tuesday.

Falwell’s dramatic departure as head of one of the world’s largest Christian universities came a day after Reuters reported that a Falwell family business partner came forward with a startling allegation that he had a relationship sexual intercourse involving Falwell’s wife and the evangelical leader.

To read the Reuters report on the case, click here

Falwell, who for more than a decade served as president of the university founded by his father, did not respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday’s announcement from the university ended a day of feverish back-and-forth over Falwell’s fate. Falwell, 58, initially agreed to resign shortly after the Reuters report came out, but later changed his mind following media reports of his decision, according to the university.

Falwell’s departure represents a remarkable fall from grace for a man who has been a powerful force in American conservative politics.

His endorsement in 2016 helped Trump, a thrice-married New York reality TV star, win over evangelical voters in a crowded Republican field that included more established conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz.

The revelations about Falwell, however, may have little effect on Trump’s chances in 2020. In the years since winning Falwell’s support, Trump has built his own base of unconditional support within the evangelical movement.

A June survey by the Pew Research Center showed a strong majority of white evangelicals — about 72% of them — approved of Trump’s handling of labor, down slightly from 78% in April.

Monday’s Reuters report was the latest in a series of personal embarrassments for Falwell.

The head of the university had taken indefinite leave from Liberty earlier in the month. The step, announced in a terse statement from the school’s board of trustees, came days after Falwell posted, then deleted, an Instagram photo of himself with his pants unzipped, standing with his arm around him. a young woman whose pants were also partially undone. Falwell later told a local radio station that the photo was meant to be a good-natured joke.

On Monday, Reuters reported Giancarlo Granda’s allegations. Granda told Reuters he was 20 when he met Jerry and Becki Falwell while working as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in March 2012. From that month until 2018, Granda told Reuters the relationship involved him having sex with Becki Falwell. while Jerry Falwell watched.

Granda shared with Reuters texts and other documents that he said supported his account of a sexual relationship with the couple.

On Sunday evening, as Reuters prepared to publish the story, Jerry Falwell released a statement in which he said Becki Falwell had had an affair with Granda. Becki Falwell did not respond to questions from Reuters.

Falwell’s statement did not mention Granda’s allegation of a love triangle and he did not respond to questions from Reuters about it.

The statement also says Granda had tried to extort money from the couple over the matter.

Granda denies any such intentions, saying he was looking to negotiate a buyout over a business deal he allegedly made with the couple.

Falwell’s departure leaves a big void at Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty. The school was dominated for decades by Falwell Jr and, before him, by his late father, who in earlier times was a major force in Republican Party politics.

Liberty said Falwell Jr would receive severance pay at a level dictated by his employment contract – and the school would not adjust that previously agreed sum. Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb did not respond to a question about how much Falwell would receive in severance pay.

Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell III, known as “Trey”, worked as a vice president at the school. Lamb did not respond to a request for comment on whether Trey Falwell remains employed at the school.

Save71, a group of Liberty alumni, students and faculty who have called for new leadership, welcomed Falwell’s departure.

In a statement, the group said Liberty’s board had “renounced its moral and fiduciary duties for years” and “allowed Falwell and his family to run the school as a personal business at the expense of his teachers. and its students.

Reporting by Katanga Johnson, Jan Wolfe and Aram Roston; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Rosalba O’Brien

Barry F. Howard