Jerry Falwell Jr. will take an “indefinite leave of absence” from his role of president of Liberty University following the outcry from a racy photo he posted on social media.
The evangelical Christian university’s board of trustees announced Friday that it requested Falwell Jr. to take leave “to which he has agreed, effective immediately.” The board’s statement did not provide a reason for Falwell Jr.’s leave.
However, the leave of absence comes just days after Falwell Jr., “President Trump’s principal liaison to evangelicals,” posted a since-deleted photo on social media of himself with his pants unzipped and his belly exposed with his arm around a woman he later stated was his wife’s assistant. Falwell Jr. was holding a cup of dark liquid in photo; “I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.”
wut is happening pic.twitter.com/8iEOr9EeRQ
— Robert Downen (@RobDownenChron) August 3, 2020
In an interview this week with WLNI (via CNN), Falwell Jr. explained that the photo was taken during a costume party aboard a yacht. “You know, it was weird because she’s pregnant so she couldn’t get her (shorts) up and I was like, trying to like — I have a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a long time so I couldn’t get mine zipped either. So I just put my belly out like hers,” Falwell Jr. said. “I’ve apologized to everybody, and I’ve promised my kids… I’m going to try to be a good boy from here on out.”
Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a board member and former instructor at Liberty, called Falwell Jr.’s behavior “appalling” and tweeted, “I’m convinced Falwell should step down.”
The deleted photo served as the final straw for the board of trustees as well. Throughout his tenure as president of Liberty University — which began in 2007, following the death of his father Jerry Falwell Sr. — Falwell Jr. has frequently come under criticism, including for his unabashed support of Donald Trump, a candidate many Evangelicals initially disapproved of.
Falwell Jr. was also criticized for his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic at the university and, more recently, for posting a photo on social media — in an attempt to mock Virginia governor Ralph Northam — of a face mask bearing a photo of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume; numerous black Liberty University staffers and student athletes left the school following that incident in May, the Associated Press reported.
There is also the Falwells’ bizarre relationship with a 21-year-old Miami pool boy, a friendship that was exposed in 2018 as part of a lawsuit against the Falwells.
In a statement, Liberty’s board of trustees chairman Jerry Prevo said, 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… 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.”