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.There are currently no comments highlighted.