Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns as Liberty University president

Liberty University's board of trustees on Tuesday accepted the resignation of President Jerry Falwell Jr., following a daylong back-and-forth over the fate of the longtime evangelical Christian leader who spent 13 turbulent years at the school's helm.

Falwell, whom the board had placed on an indefinite leave of absence Aug. 7 after a series of scandals, offered his resignation Monday, on the first day of classes for the fall semester and after the publication of an explosive claim made by a former business associate.

The school said its board, which includes alumni, pastors and business executives, used the meeting "to focus forward on the university's future and steps that could be taken to ensure it remained true to its mission."

"Our students are ready to be world changers as Champions for Christ," Acting President Jerry Prevo said in a statement. "Their spirit is strong as they look to the future."

Falwell, 58, could not immediately be reached for comment, but confirmed his resignation to The Associated Press earlier Tuesday.

Jerry Falwell Jr.,Becki Falwell (Steve Helber / AP file)
Jerry Falwell Jr.,Becki Falwell (Steve Helber / AP file)

The school said in a news release on Monday that Falwell had initially agreed to resign as president and from its board of directors after "additional matters came to light that made it clear that it would not be in the best interest" for him to return, but he withdrew the offer following media reports.

Falwell then changed course again, telling The Wall Street Journal late Monday that he had indeed provided a resignation letter.

"The board put me on leave, took away my duties as prez, and that's not permitted by my contract," Falwell said, according to the paper. "And they put me on leave because of pressure from self-righteous people."

Falwell's fate appears to have been sealed after a former hotel pool attendant-turned-business partner, Giancarlo Granda, 29, told Reuters in an interview published Monday that he carried on an affair with Falwell's wife, Becki, beginning in 2012, when he was 20, and lasting until 2018.

Granda told Reuters that Falwell would watch as he had sex with his wife, and believes the couple preyed upon him.

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Falwell confirmed that his wife had an affair in a statementfirst published by the Washington Examiner. However, he denied participating in it and said that it led him to suffer from depression but that ultimately he forgave his wife and the man. He did not name him.

Reuters said Granda shared emails, text messages and other evidence to illustrate the nature of the relationship. Attorneys for Granda and Falwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and efforts to reach them and Becki Falwell directly were not immediately successful Monday.

Image: Giancarlo Granda poses for a portrait in Washington (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Image: Giancarlo Granda poses for a portrait in Washington (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Michael Bowe, Falwell's attorney, told Reuters last week when asked about its initial reporting that his client "categorically denies everything you indicated you intend to publish about him."

Falwell became president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, upon the death of his father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., in 2007. The elder Falwell, who founded the school in 1971 and was a leader in the Moral Majority, espoused a socially conservative, "pro-family" agenda that was continued by his son, who helped Donald Trump win the endorsement of evangelicals in 2016 and has become increasingly involved in political issues.

Falwell's problems mounted in recent months when he publicly apologized for a tweet showing a person in blackface and posted a photo to his Instagram account in which his shirt was up and he was holding a glass of dark liquid. The awkward image also showed him standing next to a woman, and his pants appeared to be unzipped.

Falwell apologized this month during an interview with WLNI talk radio of Lynchburg.