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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Religion

Jerry Falwell Jr.

Photo by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The transparent moral and religious hypocrisy of the evangelical movement in our country has never been better exemplified than in the ongoing salacious allegations, images, lawsuits, and claims going on between Liberty University and its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr. At issue is the scandal that broke out where once close family friend Giancarlo Granda began making allegations that the Falwells lived a lifestyle filled not only with standard business and political corruption, but one that was clearly the opposite of evangelical expectations.

Now, Talking Points Memo reports that on Thursday, Liberty University launched a lawsuit against Falwell, saying that this prodigal son of the university's founder conspired to conceal important business details and personal details from the school. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages, which the university says can be tripled under Virginia law to no less than $30 million, from Falwell, saying that in hiding the details of his wife's intimate affair—and his alleged appreciation of this affair—Falwell mislead Liberty officials down a dark road that has damaged the school's reputation and subsequently cost them financially. They want additional money for punitive damages as well as other damages. Thoughts and prayers.

The Liberty lawsuit claims that Falwell misled the school when renegotiating his 2019 employment agreement. It's also a clear opportunity for the school to create a legal wedge between future litigation that might target their connections with the Falwells and their corruption. Of course, Liberty University sat a long time with a man who has been publicly embarrassing and wrong at every turn. They have also been sued for taking advantage of their embarrassing leader's lies to the public and the student body. As Granda tweeted along with the TPM story:

Falwell parted ways with the school in August of 2020. This came with the publishing of a report by Reuters with Granda. Granda gave a very descriptive and long interview to Reuters. He provided emails and other pieces of evidence detailing how he met the Falwells as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in 2012, and he began having a sexual affair with Becki Falwell when he was 20 years old that went on for some time in various places around the country. The salacious aspect of the story was that Granda alleged that Jerry Falwell Jr. was a willing audience for his wife's affair with Granda, and the three continued this open lifestyle for quite a while all over the country.

Falwell has admitted that his wife had an affair with Granda, but he says that all of this was extortion on Granda's part and every other allegation made by Granda about Jerry's complicity was a lie. Liberty points to the existence of numerous images, posted to social media over the months leading up to the Granda revelations, that seem to confirm that the Falwells did not live a particularly Christian lifestyle—at least not the kind of "Christian lifestyle" Liberty is selling.

Liberty accuses Falwell in the lawsuit of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and of engaging in a "conspiracy of silence" over alleged extortion attempts from Granda while negotiating a higher payment package from the evangelical institution.
"Had Liberty's Executive Committee known in 2018 and 2019 that Granda was attempting to extort Falwell Jr. and thus planning to damage Liberty, and had it known the full circumstances of Granda's extortion of Falwell Jr., then the Executive Committee would have refrained from entering into the 2019 Employment Agreement," the suit states.

Let us all be clear here: This is not a story about shaming Jerry Falwell Jr. or his wife Becki for living an open sexual lifestyle. This is a story about shaming the Falwells for living a lifestyle that they're afforded by promoting shame against that lifestyle in others. They're being shamed because the loose boundaries of their relationship have been condemned in others by themselves and the powerful organizations they represent—and from which they make lots of money. The money they make, the homes they own, and the private chartered planes they fly are built on this morally bankrupt lie.

A day before the lawsuit was filed, Politico confirmed with the university that Falwell's son, Trey Falwell, was "no longer employed by the university." According to the source, this was brand new news to Trey. It also was in line with stories that school officials were trying to further distance themselves from the Falwell family. Politico reported that the university's president, Jerry Prevo, had sent out an email to the school's employees that "No Liberty University employee at any level is permitted to communicate with Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Becki Falwell about university matters."

According to The New York Times, the lawsuit directs the court to Falwell's redesign of his contract, saying he deceived the Liberty board's executive committee into adding "a higher severance payout if he resigned for 'good reason' or if Liberty terminated his contract without cause. Mr. Falwell claimed to the committee that this would serve as a 'safety valve' for both him and the university if his full-throated support of former President Donald J. Trump proved damaging to the school's reputation." The lawsuit says that this was a little look at this hand while my other hand picks your pocket, and that Falwell was insuring himself against the Granda allegations and subsequent fallout on the horizon. In so doing, Falwell's "infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty."

Will this change the minds of racist evangelicals who have blindly followed this corrupt leadership for years? The short answer is no, it won't. What Falwell has been peddling for many years now is evangelicalism based in anti-Christian morality of business and land ownership over people. The fact that he seems to be a hypocrite of the highest (or lowest) order might not matter to people who think Donald Trump is someone you should vote for.

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A man receiving Covid-19 vaccine

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm ever going to get over how some humans have behaved during this pandemic.

First, the good news: As of this week, more than 65 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Millions more are well on their way.

Now, the pull-out-your-hair news: A Pew Research study reports that, of the 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S., a whopping 45 percent of them said in late February they don't plan to get vaccinated.

From The New York Times: "'If we can't get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,' said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois."

See what I mean?

Humans.

Also from that Times story: "Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, 'It would be God's will if I am here or if I am not here.'"

See, this is where I stop and say out loud to our dogs, "I did not just read that."

I read it again to make sure I understand Lauri. She did not improve upon closer acquaintance.

I'm related to many evangelicals, and some of them I love, but we are at an impasse here. Listing all the reasons to get vaccinated is like reading a restaurant menu to a giraffe. They are smart and attentive, but we're not speaking the same language. If I hear one more person tell me, "It's in God's hands ... "

When did white preachers stop telling the helicopter story?

I grew up with various versions of this story, in our family and at church. Whenever our pastor was winding up to tell it, Mom would shoot that look at me from the choir that meant this was exactly the story I needed to be hearing, young lady.

My mom's version, sort of:

A town's river has overflowed. Floodwaters are headed for the home of a woman — let's call her Laurie, with an "e" — whose faith in God is unflappable, she'll have you know.

A police officer knocks on Laurie's door. "Ma'am," she says, "Your house will soon be underwater. Come with us, please."

"Oh, no, thank you," Laurie says. "God will save me."

An hour later, water is starting to seep into Laurie's second-floor hallway. Emergency workers paddle a boat up to her bedroom window and yell, "Ma'am, you're going to drown. Get in the boat, please."

Not our Laurie. "God will save me," she tells them, waving goodbye.

An hour later, Laurie is sitting on her roof. A helicopter hovers overhead, dangling a rope ladder within her reach. "Ma'am!" a man yells over the chuff-chuff-chuff of the helicopter blades. "This is your last chance! Climb. Up. The rope!"

Laurie cups her hands around her mouth and yells, "God. Will. Save. Me!"

Minutes later, our Laurie drowns.

She arrives at heaven's gate, and she is in a mood. "Why?" she yells at God. "Why did you let me drown?"

God looks as Laurie always thought he would look, with adjustments. Think Santa if he were on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Lean and bright-eyed, with great skin.

God pulls his hand out of the pocket of his robe and starts counting on his fingers as he answers Laurie. "I sent you a police car. I sent you a boat. I sent you a hel-i-cop-ter."

I learned about God from my mother, a devout Christian who insisted that we're called to love everybody because that's what God does, no exceptions. I once told Mom I was pretty sure God didn't expect me to love — and here I made air quotes with my fingers — "everybody."

"Think again," she said, marching me up to my bedroom to spend the next hour doing just that. God's soldier, that woman.

I've been trying to figure out how Mom, a nurse's aide and thus a believer in science, might have convinced the beloved evangelicals in her life to get this vaccine. She was so patient and kind — and always at the ready with examples from Jesus, her favorite activist.

Then again, even Mom had her limits. More than once, I heard her say, "If you want to die stupid, God will let you." (I may be paraphrasing.)

Get in that boat, my evangelical friends. Grab that rope ladder, and get yourselves vaccinated so that we can keep disagreeing for years to come.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Daughters of Erietown. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com