‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence
More than two dozen current and former Liberty University officials describe a culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.
By BRANDON AMBROSINO September 09, 2019
“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” said a current university employee who agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications. The fear is not limited to Liberty’s campus. Several people who lack any tie to Liberty but live in the school’s hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, refused to go on the record for this story, fearing Falwell would take revenge upon them and their families. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.
In speaking out, said one longtime current university employee with close ties to the school’s first family, “I feel like I’m betraying them in some way.
“We’re talking about the difference between right and wrong,” a current high-ranking university official said. “Not even ‘being a Christian,’ but being a good person, versus people who manipulate the system”
Liberty employees detailed other instances of Falwell’s behavior that they see as falling short of the standard of conduct they expect from conservative Christian leaders, from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering.
“Jerry’s daddy was a respectable, honest, decent, hardworking man,” said a longtime Liberty official who worked for both father and son. “Big Jerry hired people that were smart and capable and put them around himself. He made sure you knew you were appreciated. There was never an ego involved. You knew you were working for a higher calling. Jerry’s father was very generous and promoted all of us in an enlightening way.”
“With Falwell Sr., you could feel his passion and love for the Lord and others. He knew everyone’s names, their stories and struggles. He was genuine and loving. And that love bled from the campus,” a former longtime university official said. “It’s a cold place now.”
“With [Jerry’s] dad, there were never questions about his business dealings or whether he was profiting from a business deal,” said still another former longtime high-ranking Liberty official who worked closely with both men. “There was never a hint or suspicion of that because Falwell Sr. was only doing things that were for the benefit of the university or church—not for himself.”
One source pointed to a tweet Jerry Falwell Jr. sent out in June 2019 criticizing David Platt, an evangelical Virginia pastor who apologized for welcoming Trump to his church. “I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God,” Platt said. “Sorry to be crude,” wrote Falwell in a since-deleted tweet, “but pastors like [David Platt] need to grow a pair.”
After Falwell came under criticism for his tweet about Platt, he responded to critics with a two-part Twitter thread, which, in the words of one current high-ranking Liberty official, “a lot of people found troubling.”
“I have never been a minister,” Falwell tweeted. “UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 yrs. Univ president for last 12 years-student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6B new construction in those 12 years. The faculty, students and campus pastor @davidnasser of @LibertyU are the ones who keep LU strong spiritually as the best Christian univ in the world. While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”
To those who worked for Liberty under the late Rev. Falwell, the sentiment appeared to signal a serious departure from his father’s legacy. “Bragging about business success and washing his hands of any responsibility for spiritual life at the university—that was frankly a pretty Trumpian line of commentary,” said one former university official with longstanding ties to both Liberty and the Falwell family.
Under Falwell Jr., Liberty University is “a totally dysfunctional organization,” one board member wrote in an email reviewed for this article. “Very similar to Trump’s White House.”
By BRANDON AMBROSINO September 09, 2019