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Falwell on Leave From Liberty University in Wake of Racy Photo

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell Jr., the infamously anti-LGBTQ+ president of Liberty University, is taking an indefinite leave of absence after sharing a racy photo on Instagram and engaging in other eyebrow-raising behavior.

"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," said a statement posted on the evangelical Christian university's website.

The announcement came shortly after Republican Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina said Falwell Jr. should step down because of the picture and a generally “appalling” pattern of behavior.

Falwell, who heads the Lynchburg, Va., school his notoriously homophobic father founded, has apologized for the photo, now deleted, which showed him with his pants unzipped and stomach pushed out, with his arm around a woman in a similar pose. He was holding a glass with a dark liquid in it, which he claimed was not alcohol. His apology came during a radio interview Wednesday.

Liberty’s code of conduct requires modest dress and forbids alcohol consumption (the school is also notoriously anti-LGBTQ+; it bans any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage). The photo has gotten Falwell, a prominent far-right activist and supporter of Donald Trump, called out for hypocrisy.

His rationalization of the picture as “good fun” with his wife’s pregnant assistant while on vacation and his promise to “be a good boy” going forward didn’t sit well with Walker, a former Baptist minister who has taught at Liberty and is on one of its advisory boards. He tweeted Thursday that Falwell should step down because of his “appalling” behavior and spoke to Brianna Keilar about the matter Friday on CNN Newsroom.

“This pattern of behavior has become troubling,” Walker told Keilar, and he suggested a leave of absence or resignation for Falwell. He expressed dissatisfaction with the “smug” apology, saying Falwell apologized “for embarrassing the young lady” but did not apologize to Liberty students, staff, or alums. Walker added that he didn’t think the matter would interfere with evangelical support for Trump.

The "pattern of behavior" also includes other "racy" photographs that reportedly tie him to Trump. Michael Cohen — formerly the president's personal attorney — said he helped keep "a bunch of photographs, personal photographs" of Falwell and his wife from becoming public in a taped conversation obtained by Reuters in 2019.

Falwell routinely demeans LGBTQ+ people. In 2019, he also had a number of curious real estate dealings with young men, including a former pool boy and a personal trainer. Additionally, he came in for criticism this year for allowing some students back on the Liberty campus during the COVID-19 crisis.

There’s no record so far of a response by Falwell to Walker’s statements, nor any comment by Falwell on the leave of absence.

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