So now we know what it takes for Jerry Falwell, Jr. to step away from Liberty University…
The school issued a one-sentence statement tonight saying Falwell would take an “indefinite leave of absence.”
The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell, Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately.
Here’s what I want to know: Why now?
Earlier this week, Falwell made headlines for posting, then deleting, a picture on Instagram in which his arm was around a woman who wasn’t his wife, with their bellies hanging out, with their flies down, and Falwell holding a glass of what he called “black water”:
He was apparently taking part in some Trailer Park Boys theme party. But more to the point: If a student at Liberty was found taking a suggestive picture like that, or even holding alcohol, or even attending a party where alcohol was present, it could be grounds for expulsion. The hypocrisy was unbelievable.
The bad press no doubt played into today’s decision. It didn’t help that a GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, who once taught at Liberty, called for Falwell to step down yesterday.
Jerry Falwell Jr’s ongoing behavior is appalling.
As a Music Faculty Advisory Board Member and former instructor @LibertyU, I’m convinced Falwell should step down.
None of us are perfect, but students, faculty, alumni and @LUPraise deserve better.
— Rep. Mark Walker (@RepMarkWalker) August 6, 2020
(Walker isn’t one to talk. You can’t belong to a political party whose leader is Donald Trump, then say someone else’s behavior is “appalling.”)
It’s telling, however, that this is the scandal that broke the camel’s back from Liberty’s board of trustees.
It’s not Falwell’s racist tweet from May. It’s not the way he targeted reporters who were doing their job. It’s not the way his racism caused Black athletes to transfer out of Liberty over the past several months. It’s not because, when a parent questioned his decision to reopen the school, he called the father a “dummy.” It’s not his lies about the origin of coronavirus. It’s not the sweet land deal he gave his personal trainer. It’s not the “pool boy” scandal. It’s not the way he censored the school’s own journalists. It’s not the distribution of “racy” personal pictures that somehow involved Michael Cohen.
It’s the freaking yacht picture.
Seriously, of all the reasons for Falwell to step down, that picture was the least of anyone’s concerns.
But I’ll go ahead and make this prediction: Falwell is doing this because it’s the easiest way to survive the scandal.
Consider how this is the ideal year for him to step away from Liberty U. for the same reason it’s a good time for high school graduates to take a “gap year.” The school year is already in chaos. If you need to take a break, now’s the time to do it.
A year from now, I fully expect Falwell will return after saying he took some needed time off, spent a lot of time reading the Bible, got reacquainted with God, and turned a new leaf in his personal life.
The students will then go back to calling him “Jerry” on campus. The board of trustees will welcome him back with open arms — before they all go back to their donors to ask for cash. And nothing will truly change.
Falwell, like Trump, doesn’t truly know how to apologize. I can’t imagine he’s suddenly seen the light. He’s just doing some damage control.