LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP) – After drama, denial and dispute, it’s official: Jerry Falwell Jr. has resigned as president of Liberty University.
The school announced his departure Tuesday (Aug. 25), saying Liberty’s board of trustees had accepted his resignation.
The move came amid escalating controversy over Falwell’s conduct, as well as allegations that he condoned an affair between his wife and a man he described as a family friend. The man, who was also a business partner, told Reuters that he had a sexual relationship with Becki Falwell from 2012-2018, and alleged that Jerry watched some of their encounters.
Following publication of the Reuters report Monday, multiple news outlets reported Falwell had agreed to resign. When Falwell denied those reports, Liberty sent a statement Monday evening saying he had agreed to resign and then reversed course.
In a statement announcing his departure, Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb said “after agreeing (Monday) to immediately resign and then reversing course, Falwell, through an attorney, sent the resignation letter late last night to members of the (board of trustees’) Executive Committee pursuant to the terms of his contract of employment.”
Falwell told the Associated Press on Tuesday that “the only reason (he) resigned” was “because I don’t want something my wife did to harm the school I’ve spent my whole life building. I never broke a single rule that applies to staff members at Liberty, which I was. So I want everybody to know that.”
Becki Falwell also spoke with the AP, saying she and Jerry “have the strongest relationship and Jerry is the most forgiving person I’ve ever met. It’s a shame that Christians can’t give us the same forgiveness that Christ gave us.”
Falwell, son of Liberty founder Jerry Falwell Sr., had been president since his father’s death in 2007, and presided over an era of tremendous growth for the university. But he had been on indefinite leave since Aug. 7 after criticism for posting a photo to social media that showed him on a donor’s yacht with his pants unzipped and his arm around a female Liberty employee. He told a local radio station the photo was taken during a costume party while he was on vacation.
Tuesday, Falwell told the AP the board of trustees “put me on leave for showing my belly in a picture and my contract doesn’t allow that.” He added: “I’m 58 years old and I think there’s something else in the cards for me. And so the board was gracious in accepting my resignation … and it’s time to move on.”
Sunday evening, Falwell released a statement to the Washington Examiner claiming his wife Becki Falwell had an “inappropriate personal relationship” in the past with a family friend who had threatened to go public. Falwell said he and his wife had faced “increasingly threatening behavior” including extortion.
In the statement, Falwell also denied being involved in the sexual relationship. He described the situation, even after the relationship had ended, as “like living on a roller coaster” and a “‘fatal attraction’ type situation.”
“Over the course of the last few months,” Falwell said in the statement, “this person’s behavior has reached a level that we have decided the only way to stop this predatory behavior is to go public.”
Less than 24 hours later, the Reuters report was published. Hours after that, several news outlets reported Falwell had agreed to resign — and shortly afterward, he denied it to several news outlets. He told Virginia Business the man’s allegations were “90% false” and called the reports of his resignation “completely false.”
That led to a statement late Monday night from the school disputing his denials – and finally to his resignation, which was accepted first by the board of trustees’ executive committee and then by the full board.
Allen McFarland, the acting chairman of the board of trustees, said in a statement he was “encouraged by the unity of Christ I saw exemplified by our board today. Liberty University’s future is very bright and in capable hands of leaders who are committed to being good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted!”
McFarland, who is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Va., is the current president of the SBC of Virginia.
The school announced that Jerry Prevo would remain as acting president. Prevo, who had been chairman of the board of trustees, took on the role Aug. 10.
“Our students are ready to be world changers as champions for Christ,” Prevo said in Liberty’s statement announcing Falwell’s resignation. “Their spirit is strong as they look to the future. I intend to do all I can to nurture their spiritual side as they grow academically and enjoy all our campus has to offer.”
During Falwell’s tenure as president, Liberty’s enrollment grew from 38,000 to more than 100,000, and the school’s athletics program moved to the top level of NCAA competition. The school’s endowment grew to more than $1.7 billion under Falwell’s leadership, and he oversaw approximately $1 billion in ongoing or planned construction on the 7,000-acre campus.