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Jerry Falwell Jr resigns Liberty University post amid sex scandal

Jerry Falwell Jr in May 2019 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jerry Falwell Jr took a leave of absence from Liberty University after posting a photo of himself on Instagram with his trousers unzipped

The influential head of a major US evangelical college has resigned amid allegations about his private life.

Jerry Falwell Jr took a leave of absence earlier this month after posting a photo of himself with trousers unzipped on Instagram.

Further scandals have since emerged, including someone who claimed to have had a sexual relationship involving Mr Falwell Jr and his wife.

Mr Falwell Jr has now resigned as president of Liberty University.

No official reason has yet been given for his departure.

A prominent supporter of US President Donald Trump, he took over at the college after the death of his father, Jerry Falwell.

Mr Falwell Sr founded the university in the 1970s as well as the conservative Moral Majority movement.

What are the allegations?

Mr Falwell Jr was already under scrutiny for a photograph he posted online earlier this month. He appeared in the image with his trousers unzipped and his arm around a woman.

The image provoked outrage and charges of hypocrisy from the political right and left, and calls for Mr Falwell to resign.

Liberty University asked Mr Falwell to take an “indefinite leave of absence” soon after.

Image copyright Alex Wong
Image caption Donald Trump attended the Liberty University commencement in 2017

Further allegations have emerged. Giancarlo Granda, a business partner of Falwell Jr’s, told Reuters news agency on Monday that he had a six-year sexual relationship with the evangelical leader and his wife, Becki Falwell.

“Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Mr Granda reportedly said in an interview.

A lawyer for Mr Falwell Jr told Reuters before their article came out that his client “categorically denies everything you indicated you intend to publish about him.”

On Sunday, Mr Falwell Jr released a statement to the Washington Examiner saying his wife had had an affair and that the man involved had threatened to “deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University”.

He also spoke of the “emotional toll” the affair had had on him.

Before Mr Granda’s allegations and Mr Falwell Jr’s statement became public, Liberty University issued a statement on Friday saying it had not yet decided his future as president.

The college’s honour code states that “Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University”.

Four years ago Jerry Falwell Jr stunned Christian conservatives by endorsing Donald Trump for president. The religious leader’s backing, given before the Republican primaries even began, was the first step in the unlikely alliance between the thrice-married New York businessman and the religious right.

In the ensuing months, Mr Falwell Jr served as one of Mr Trump’s most outspoken defenders, advocating on his behalf at debates and on television.

Now, on the eve of the Republican convention, Mr Falwell Jr is out as president of Liberty University, following a series of controversies culminating in allegations that he and his wife had an affair with much younger man.

It will be an unwanted distraction for Republicans and fuel suggestions that there may have been more to Mr Falwell Jr’s endorsement than first met the eye. As the New York Times reported, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, helped Mr Falwell Jr smother earlier allegations about this relationship.

The Falwell episode recalls sex scandals that sank past prominent evangelical leaders such a Jim Bakker, who in 1987 quit over allegations of hush money payments for an alleged rape.

It was Mr Falwell Jr’s father who took over Bakker’s ministry, calling him a liar, a sexual deviant and “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity”.

Jerry Fallwell Jr’s current predicament makes for an ironic twist of fate.