Falwell to take indefinite leave of absence from Liberty

Updated Sept. 1, 2020:

Liberty University announced Friday, Aug. 7, that Jerry Falwell Jr. will take “an indefinite leave of absence” from his leadership role at the school.

Falwell had come under criticism after he posted a photo, since deleted, Sunday night, Aug. 2, of him on his yacht with his pants unzipped and his arm around Kathleen Stone, a Liberty employee. He told the Morningline show on WLNI 105.9FM, a Lynchburg, Va., radio station, that “it was a costume party … on vacation,” and “it was just in good fun. That’s it.”

The initial photo drew widespread criticism from media and political commentators as well as from within the Liberty community. The university had not responded to the criticism or the events of the past week until they released the trustees’ statement. The statement reads:

“The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately.”

On Friday evening, the university issued another statement, which came from Jerry Prevo, chairman of the board of trustees:

“In the 13 years that Jerry Falwell Jr. has served as president of Liberty University, Liberty has experienced unprecedented success, not only academically and financially, with a world-class campus, but also spiritually. As we enter our 50th Anniversary year, we have been blessed to grow to a record 120,000 students, both residential and online, and continue to fulfill our founder’s mission to ‘Train Champions for Christ’ across the world.

“Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure. Today, my colleagues and I on the Liberty University Board of Trustees and Jerry mutually agreed that it would be good for him to take an indefinite leave of absence. This was a decision that was not made lightly, and which factored the interests and concerns of everyone in the LU community, including students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, leaders of the Church, as well as the Falwell family.

“To support Jerry through this period, we ask that our entire community lift him up in prayer so he may be able to fulfill God’s purpose for him and for Liberty University.”

Falwell has presided over an era of tremendous growth for the university. Enrollment has grown from 38,000 to 100,000 under his leadership, and the school’s athletics program has moved to the top level of NCAA competition. The football team, coached by Hugh Freeze, earned its first-ever bowl berth last season.

The school has also seen its endowment grow to more than $1.7 billion under Falwell’s direction, and he has overseen a billion dollars of ongoing or planned construction on the 7,000-acre campus, which now is home to more than 350 buildings.

Prevo will serve as acting president. Prevo has served on the school’s board of trustees since 1996, and as board chairman since 2003. He recently retired as the senior pastor of Anchorage Baptist Temple in Anchorage, Alaska, after 47 years. During his stewardship, Anchorage Baptist Temple became one of Alaska’s largest churches and had the state’s largest school, as well. The church’s ministry also included three radio stations and one television station.

The executive committee of the board is chaired by Harvey Gainey and includes Falwell, Prevo, Carroll Hudson, David Rhodenhizer and Bud Tinney. Other members of the board of trustees include prominent Southern Baptists Brian Autry, Tim Lee, Gene Mims, Ike Reighard and Jerry Vines.

— Jonathan Howe is vice president for communications at the SBC Executive Committee.