Liberty University on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. as president and chancellor effective immediately, bringing to a close the saga of the evangelical leader’s swift and scandalous fall from grace.
The university said in a statement that the board of trustees voted unanimously on a conference call to ratify the resignation after Mr. Falwell sent a letter late Monday through his attorney on the terms of his resignation.
“Falwell’s severance compensation was dictated by the terms of his pre-existing employment agreement without any adjustment by the University or its Board,” the Liberty University statement said.
The resignation followed a tumultuous day of competing media reports about whether Mr. Falwell had resigned, even though his departure appeared preordained after a pair of salacious incidents this month that called into question his ability to lead the evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Mr. Falwell, who had taken a leave of absence Aug. 7 after posting photos of himself and a woman on Instagram with their pants unzipped and midriffs exposed, disclosed Sunday that his wife had engaged in an affair with a family friend and said the man sought to blackmail the Falwells.
Mr. Falwell said he agreed to step down because he wanted to protect Liberty from exposure to further derision.
“That’s the only reason I resigned: because I don’t want something my wife did to harm the school I’ve spent my whole life building,” Mr. Falwell told The Associated Press. “I’ve never broke a single rule that applies to staff members at Liberty, which I was. So I want everybody to know that.”
Mr. Falwell is departing after 13 years as president, a post he assumed after the death of his father. The Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of Liberty, was a leader of the Moral Majority movement that helped to elect President Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Mr. Falwell spent most of his educational and professional life at Liberty, earning his undergraduate degree from the university in 1984 and later serving as general counsel and on the Board of Trustees before assuming the presidency in 2007.
“The university’s heartfelt prayers are with him and his family as he steps away from his life’s work,” the Liberty statement said.
Mr. Falwell was an early and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Trump critics were among those who slammed Mr. Falwell as his resignation grew imminent.
“The Jerry Falwell Jr. saga seems to me vividly to capture the beating heart, the effectual truth, of Trump’s Republican Party,” tweeted Bill Kristol, founder of the now-defunct neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine.
In Sunday’s stunning disclosure, Mr. Falwell told The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard that his wife, Becki Falwell, had engaged in an affair with young man who became a family friend and business associate and then threatened to expose the relationship unless the Falwells paid him.
“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,” Mr. Falwell said in a 1,200-word statement. “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.”
Also on Sunday, Giancarlo Ganda told the Reuters news agency that he had a years-long sexual relationship with Mrs. Falwell after meeting the couple as a 20-year-old pool boy at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach 2012, and that Mr. Falwell knew about the relationship and “enjoyed watching from the corner of the room.”
The Miami Herald and other outlets revealed that the Falwells met 20-year-old pool boy Giancarlo Granda at the Fontainebleau and later purchased an Alton Road hostel with Granda for $4.6 million in 2013.
Mr. Falwell told Virginia Business on Monday that Mr. Granda’s allegation of a lengthy affair with his full knowledge was “90% false.”
Despite their recent problems, Mrs. Falwell told the AP that she and her husband are “more in love than ever.”
“We have the strongest relationship, and Jerry is the most forgiving person I’ve ever met,” Mrs. Falwell said. “It’s a shame that Christians can’t give us the same forgiveness that Christ gave us.”
Liberty University’s honor code includes the provision: “Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.”
After Mr. Falwell was placed on leave, Jerry Prevo took over as acting president, but the Board of Trustees plans to hold a meeting to select a search committee for a new president for the university, which has more than 100,000 students on campus and online.
“I am so encouraged by the unity of Christ that 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!” acting board Chairman Allen McFarland said in a statement.
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