Politico’s Juicy Tale of Liberty and the Falwells

by Peter Galuszka

Jerry Falwell Jr. is hitting the news big time following a Politico investigation that alleges self-dealing and sexual misconduct by the powerful head of the evangelical Christian school Liberty University.

More than two dozen Liberty officials and Falwell associates working for Falwell as a “dictatorship” where people are afraid of discussing issues involving him and the school. One allegedly said, “we’re not a school, we’re a hedge fund.”

Personally, I would not really care much about the inner workings of a private, religious school.

What makes this different is that the Falwell family has been major force in conservative, Christian politics for decades. Liberty’s phenomenal growth from a small bible school to a $3 billion operation with more than 100,000 students is a remarkable story.

Falwell’s and the Lynchburg school’s support of Donald Trump is curious given its intensity and contradictions due to Trump’s serial adultery and taped recorded admissions of sexual abuse. Liberty is so strict it hands out demerits or even expels students for what it considers sexual misconduct.

The school has been a magnet for prominent conservative Republican politicians once they leave office. The head of its business school is Robert Hurt, a former GOP congressman from the 5th district. Another recent academic addition is former U.S. Rep Dave Brat who stunningly crushed Eric Cantor, a Richmond GOP favorite, and then was smacked down by Democrat Abigail Spanberger last year. Brat’s professorial specialty is studying the intersection between ethics and capitalism.

Even the esteemed Jim Bacon, publisher of this blog, used a Liberty grad and conservative female activist Penny Nance to smack down what he believes is excessive liberal influence at state schools like Virginia Tech. Nance was taking her son to an introduction day at Tech and was horrified when he was asked if he wanted to be identified as a “he” or a “she.” (Homophobia, anyone?)

The sweet irony here is that the story of the evangelical con man is as American as apple pie. One of my favorite novels and movies is a story dating back more than 100 years about tent preacher Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. Other characters are an idealistic lady preacher and devious prostitute.

The American con man icon fits the Falwells like a glove. Jerry Falwell Sr., the patriarch, was the son of a bootlegger and a Bible-thumping businessman who created the Thomas Road Bapist Church. He started a nationally syndicated religious television talk show called the “Old Time Gospel Hour” where featured guests included such reactionary segregationists as Lester Maddox and George Wallace.

In 1967, he started the Lynchburg Christian Academy, a white, segregationist private school, and then Liberty University in 1971. To boost the new college’s image, Falwell actually printed on brochures images of downtown Lynchburg’s small business skyline with their logos airbrushed out. This made them seem part of the campus much of which at the time still was in mobile homes

Falwell Senior’s most important achievement was creating the ”Moral Majority” of white, evangelical Christians dismayed by the Supreme Court’s ruling on segregation and the cultural upheavals of the 1950s and 1960s. Jerry Senior went so far as to attack “Tinky Winky,” a human-like cartoon figure on the kid’s TV show “Teletubbies.” The preacher thought that Tinky’s carrying a handbag promoted homosexuality

Jerry Jr. took over when his father died and made Liberty University the powerhouse it is today. He wants it on the political map and has drawn such diverse speakers as Bernie Sanders. He wants a football team known as “The Flames” and is willing to hire top talent to get one. His new coach is the former leader of the University of Mississippi’s team. He resigned after it was found that his cell phone had numbers for escort services.

The Politico piece delves into a couple areas of alleged misdoing, such as using university money to build a shopping mall that hired family as managers.

The other involved Jerry Junior and his wife’s curious relationship with a pool boy at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel. The pool boy got more than a million from Falwells to help build a business.

There are exotic personal pictures of the Falwells that were circulating and vanished suddenly with the help of a Trump fixer. There are also allegation of ties with the Miami LGBQT community and Jerry Junior bragging about the size of his genitalia. Please read Politico for details.

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20 responses to “Politico’s Juicy Tale of Liberty and the Falwells

  1. “Homophobia, anyone?
    Did you actually read the article? Because it wasn’t as simple as that . . .
    And it would be “Transphobia”

  2. “Jerry Senior went so far as to attack “Tinky Winky,” a human-like cartoon figure on the kid’s TV show “Teletubbies.” The preacher thought that Tinky’s carrying a handbag promoted homosexuality”

    That is an interesting and yet totally incorrect version of what happen.
    It was actually the University newsletter that posted a small piece on its back page, and that one piece then became a handy rod to beat Falwell. The controversy had originally arisen in England(which is hardly the Bible Belt) where the actor who play “Tinky” was openly gay and had been arrested for public sex.

    The character had also become a gay kitsch reference long before anyone conservative brought it up, with “Tinky” related products (but not other Teletubbie related material being ) being sold in your “edgy” sort of retail establishments.(Think Carytownish)

    And yes this is too much time to spend on such a trifling issue, but it disturbs me when the media tries to cover a “culture issue,” removes 99% of the backstory,warps the context and then its poor reporting becomes the standard telling of the story.

  3. Will a player on The Flames be known as a flamer?

  4. Peter is on my turf now, but I don’t have time to correct him at length. From 1976 to 1986 I created and owned the Falwell beat in Virginia, with some fun competition from other outlets. The nicest thing I can say about the Elmer Gantry comparison is it is trite, repetitive, a true cliche, and patently unfair (unless you know that none of Falwell’s convictions were truly held, and I think most were.) Early on I might have used it, but I don’t think I did. Later I never would have.

    This reads like the attacks on Falwell that were common 40 years ago, snide, patronizing, reeking of Yankee and mainstream religious condescension. The only thing missing is the word “deplorables.” Now, I don’t know Junior, haven’t spoken with him, can’t comment on any of the allegations. My personal guess is, and who will ever know, is that Senior would have seen through The Chosen One as easily as he saw through Hurricane Pat or many others. I really don’t think Senior would have embraced Trump the way Junior has, but that is only a guess on my part.

  5. Ripper: That’s an excellent question.

    Warrenhollowbooks: you seem to know about Tinky Winky on a granular level. Any sources to offer? Even if Tinky had been played by a gay man or woman, what differencewould it make when they are in costume trying to amuse a preschooler?

    Steve, How am I supposed to respond to that? I covered the Falwells some but not a great deal. I never claimed to be an expert. By 1986 I was long gone –in Moscow. Are you disputing me or Politico? Specifics?

  6. “Even if Tinky had been played by a gay man or woman, what difference would it make when they are in costume trying to amuse a preschooler?”

    Well, when he’s purple, wears a big triangle, carries a purse, is played by a gay man who is in the news for being arrested for gay sex in a public place then the issue of homosexuality MIGHT become connected in the public mind with the show.
    Point being though, the controversy war preexisting.

    “you seem to know about Tinky Winky on a granular level.” . . . benefits of a Classical education

  7. I am sure a two year old is instantly at risk and will use his or her credit card to do a net criminal search, Are you nuts? What is ypur point?

  8. This just in from The Daily Progress:

    “Liberty’s Falwell says he’s target of ‘attempted coup’

    Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said Tuesday that he is asking the FBI to investigate what he called a “criminal” smear campaign orchestrated against him by several disgruntled former board members and employees …”

  9. Hey Reed. How’d the FBI go for the Donald?

  10. Steve, with all due respect, i was a reporter in virginia from 1975 to 1982. I did not pay much attention but i do not recall that you “owned” the Falwell story. I never saw your bylines but that might be my fault. I do remember the work of the Pilot’s Margaret Edds and Bill McKelway of the Rtd. Sorry

    • Well, it was me and Ed Briggs at the RTD, not McKelway. Hey, I don’t remember any of your bylines, either, but several of my stories about Falwell, Old Time Gospel Hour and the Moral Majority made the national wire and I had at least one NYT byline. I was a stringer for Time, lucky to get an “also contributing” tag, and had several stories distributed nationally by Religion News Service. But for me, that’s ancient history.

      I just actually read the Politico story and it’s great, done by somebody who attended the school and who is NOT snarky and condescending. You should read it again….

  11. What you guys in RoVa find fascinating just bounces off those of us in NoVa. All I can recall is the crying. Some guy with a wife named Tammy Lynn or Tammie Fae started the water works … crying like a baby before he went to jail. Then there was some guy named Swaggert who did something. He cried too as I recall. Maybe he went to jail as well. Who can remember such trivia? Then I seem to remember Falwell crying on TV. The era of crying preachers. Who cares? The other day I saw convicted con man Peter Popoff (perfect name) pitching free miracle water on TV. Testimonials were given that $5,000 miraculously appeared in the mail after the testimonial giver did something with the free miracle water. Maybe she drank it. Maybe that should be Popoff’s new play – sell miracle water to Richmonders to mix with their bourbon instead of branch water as they sit on their verandas discussing the Lost Cause.

    There are two Virginias – a sensible Virginia where people get up everyday, go to work and think about where the country is headed and the other Virginia where Jerry Falwell’s kids matter. Glad I live in the former.

  12. Jerry Junior says there’s a coup underway against him.

    • I wrote the National Football League inquiring about my eligibility for the 2019 draft. Since I graduated from UVA in 1981 I felt that I should qualify as a free agent rather than be forced into the draft. The NFL agreed, sending me a nice letter confirming that I was a free agent and that my agent or I could open negotiations with any NFL team. I sent a letter to Dan Snyder with suggested contract terms. I wrote it in purple crayon so he would be comfortable reading it. I have not heard back. Stranger still – none of the major sports media outlets are covering the story. You’d think that a 60 year old strong safety in the NFL would be newsworthy. I guess not. I need Jerry Jr’s PR man (or woman). He can get noticed yammering about a coup but I can’t get any attention as I work my way into the NFL. Weird.

  13. My memory of the time when Sr was building his empire is sending buses out into the countryside, luring people to create a crowd, feeding them lunch and taking them home. By the time the transportation ended, local churches that had been central to communities were long gone and the people were left with nothing. I’m not sure many outside those communities even realized it happened.

  14. @vaconsumeradvocate, I find that very interesting. It’s not something I’ve heard about in connection with Sr before, and it turns the focus in an interesting way from religious/cultural divides to geographic/economic ones. Can you (or anyone else here) turn me to any reporting or other writing from the time about that phenomenon?

  15. Apple News is jumping all over this story. Now high tech monopolies are gaining control of our private data and information, and what we can research, read, and publish, and now these same moguls are trying to spin, manipulate and control American elections, American news (along with MSM) and American culture, using their biases and vast power to merge American society into a totalitarian regime that they alone can manipulate and control for their advantage. 1984 has arrived on steroids.

  16. “My memory of the time when Sr was building his empire is sending buses out into the countryside, luring people to create a crowd, feeding them lunch and taking them home. ”

    My G-d!!, the audacity!

    What is the proper “lure” for a crowd in Central Virginia, BBQ,
    fried chicken, green bean salad . . . ?

  17. Sounds like he was trying to help—and recruit

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