Jerry Falwell Jr. will get a $10.5 million payout in his severance package from Liberty University.
Amid a series of scandals, he resigned this week as president of the conservative Christian (and deeply anti-LGBTQ+) university founded by his late father. He had been on indefinite leave since August 7 after posting a picture of himself and a woman who works as his wife’s assistant, both with their pants unzipped, and more recently Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant who had a business deal with Falwell said he had had an affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki, and that the evangelical leader would watch them have sex.
The Falwells have now both said that Becki indeed had a relationship with a man identified by other sources as Granda, but they denied that it involved Jerry witnessing their liaisons. They have accused Granda of attempting to blackmail them, while he has denied doing so. Liberty University, by the way, has a code of conduct prohibiting sexual relations outside of marriage between a “natural-born” man and woman.
Jerry Falwell told The Washington Post he was entitled to the severance package because he had resigned in good standing, having not been formally accused of wrongdoing or admitting to any. “The board was gracious not to challenge that,” he said.
To CNN, he texted, “My contract did not allow the board to put me on leave for posting a picture of my belly and the board graciously accepted that fact and accepted my resignation.”
Under his contract with the Lynchburg, Va., university, he will receive $2.5 million over the next 24 months; that is “equivalent to two years’ salary,” the Post reports. He then will receive $8 million in retirement funds.
Some objected to those terms, including members of an alumni group, Save71, which has pushed for Liberty to get rid of Falwell. “If they’re going to bow down and let this happen, it’s going to be an obvious statement that they care less about the interests of the university than Falwell,” Dustin Wahl, a Save71 founder, told the Post. “It might be true that for whatever legal reason he’s owed that money. If that’s true, that shows the sheer lack of accountability.” The group’s name refers to 1971, the year Liberty was founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr.
The senior Falwell was a founder and leader of the Moral Majority, which mixed fundamentalist Christianity and right-wing politics, including opposition to LGBTQ+ equality. That group has dissolved, but Falwell Jr. has continued the association between the family’s ministries and conservative politicians; he has been a major supporter of Donald Trump.
Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, has been advising the Falwell family during this time, Falwell Jr. confirmed to the Post. It had been reported previously that Cohen was helping the Falwells keep “racy” pictures from becoming public. Falwell did not say who was threatening to circulate the pictures, but Cohen told the paper he had contacted Granda’s lawyer — something Granda denied.
Granda, who called Falwell a “predator,” also recently said Falwell had sent him a photo of a woman exposing herself. Falwell told the Post that he had indeed circulated a photo of a friend of the family lifting her skirt, but she had underwear on. He merely thought it was funny and couldn’t remember if the people he’d sent it to included Granda, he said. Granda is a “criminal” and a “liar,” he told the paper.
Falwell has also been under fire for sharing a photo of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood, and for allowing some students back on the Liberty campus early in the COVID-19 pandemic. He is known for his anti-Muslim comments as well as his anti-LGBTQ+ activism.
“In some ways, Jerry Falwell Jr. is living the consequences of the moral hierarchy that his dad helped to put into place,” Jonathan Merritt, a Liberty alum who has published books critical of the religious right, told the Post.
Falwell, meanwhile, told the paper he had a sense of relief at leaving the university, and he audaciously quoted Martin Luther King Jr. “The quote that keeps running through my mind is Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last,’” Falwell said.