Religion Unplugged

Time for a pop quiz: 7 questions about the stunning exit of Jerry Falwell Jr.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged

Editor’s note: Every Friday, “Weekend Plug-In” features analysis, fact checking and top headlines from the world of faith. Got feedback or ideas for this column? Email Bobby Ross Jr. at therossnews@gmail.com.

Was it just three weeks ago that we were talking about a “racy picture” of Liberty University’s then-president, Jerry Falwell Jr., sparking curiosity and controversy?

Given the allegations that surfaced this week, that infamous deleted photo of Falwell with his pants unzipped, belly button showing and arm around a woman (not his wife) suddenly seems tame.

So does the news — reported earlier this month by Religion News Service’s Emily McFarlan Miller — that Falwell “liked” a handful of Instagram images showing young women in swimsuits.

Becki Falwell and her husband, Jerry Falwell Jr., take part in a town hall discussion on the opioid crisis in America hosted by Liberty University. Photo via Shutterstock.

For anyone who spent the week taking a long nap in a cave without TV or internet (I envy you, friend), here is a Reader’s Digest version of what occurred: On Sunday night, the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard broke the news that Falwell said he had “suffered depression caused by a former family friend who had an affair with his wife and who has been threatening to expose it.”

Then on Monday, Reuters dropped a bombshell that seemed to explain why Falwell had sought friendly coverage with a conservative publication the previous day.

“Giancarlo Granda says his sexual relationship with the Falwells began when he was 20,” journalist Aram Roston reported. “He says he had sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell Jr., head of Liberty University and a staunch supporter of President Trump, looked on.” (In an interview with Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, the Falwells denied the accusation that Jerry was involved in his wife’s affair.)

After Reuters’ story was published, developments happened fast. Falwell, already on an indefinite leave of absence as president of the world’s largest evangelical university, reportedly resigned. Then he insisted he hadn’t resigned. Then he really did resign.

But the headlines didn’t stop: On Thursday night, Politico published an exclusive story by Brandon Ambrosino about a claim, denied by the Falwells, that Becki initiated a sexual act with a student.

And in the wake of Falwell’s departure, Liberty alumni are demanding change and action by the university’s board, report Religion Unplugged’s own Meagan Clark and Paul Glader.

Read the full column.

This column appears in the online magazine Religion Unplugged.

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