(RNS) — Jerry Falwell Jr., the embattled president of Liberty University and one of the biggest champions of President Donald Trump, has resigned, Religion News Service has learned. His resignation from the Baptist school in Virginia came within hours of the publication of a news story that alleged he and his wife Becki had a years-long sexual relationship with a business associate.
Falwell had been placed on indefinite leave earlier this month after posting, then deleting, a provocative Instagram photo of him posing with his arm around a woman at a party with their zippers down and midriffs showing. After that post, Liberty University alumni and former teaching faculty at the school called for his permanent ouster, citing a long list of offensive statements by Falwell, who has been one of President Trump’s staunchest allies.
Earlier today, Reuters published a story on Monday (Aug. 24), saying Falwell’s onetime business partner, Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel had a six-year relationship that involved him having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell looked on.
“Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda said in the Reuters story.
Colby Garman, pastor of the Pillar Church in Dumfries, Virginia, and a Liberty alumnus, last week published a letter signed by 50 Liberty alumni calling on Falwell’s permanent removal, saying his behavior has embarrassed the school and its reputation. He reiterated today his call for Falwell’s removal. Commenting on Twitter, he said that the allegations about the Falwells are sad and if true, would be “a reminder of just how deeply entangling sin can become.”
Falwell, who has been president of Liberty University, one of the nation’s largest Christian schools, since his father’s death in 2007, apparently saw the writing on the wall. Just last week, the board of trustees at the school met and decided to delay any decision about whether Falwell would be reinstated after his leave.
The Reuters story comes one day after the Washington Examiner published a story in which Falwell said he was suffering from depression because his wife had an affair with a family friend and business associate and that friend has been threatening to expose it.
“Over the course of the last few months, this person’s behavior has reached a level that we have decided the only way to stop this predatory behavior is to go public,” Falwell said in a statement published by the Examiner.
“We have categorically rejected this person’s demands while dealing with him and this particular member of the media who seemed just as obsessed with the prurient, untrue aspects of this story, however fantastic.”
Reached by phone, Falwell told RNS he already had given his statement to the Washington Examiner and wouldn’t comment further. In the statement, Falwell said he was not involved in the relationship with the family friend, who he did not name.
The allegations of a sexual threesome have been swirling for some time. Last year, Falwell allegedly sought out President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to help prevent the release of some racy personal photos, according to published reports. Falwell then denied Cohen’s account that he flew to Florida around 2015, and got the person with the Falwell photos to agree to destroy them.
Those who study U.S. evangelical said that while churches and other institutions may look the other way when it comes to race, money, or politics, sexual sins are not tolerated within that subculture. Many Christian schools, such as Liberty University, have honor codes that spell out what they consider to be Christian standards for sexual conduct.
“I don’t see how Falwell survives this,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah University, and a frequent commentator on evangelicalism said before news of Falwell’s resignation broke. “He’s done.”
Falwell also made headlines when photos of Falwell and members of his family partying at a Miami Beach nightclub in 2014 surfaced. More recently, he apologized after tweeting images of a politician in blackface and Ku Klux Klan imagery.