Religion News Service does more reporting on the Falwell Jr. story

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Liberty alumni want him removed permanently. Christian pastors want him out. And now his Instagram “likes” of scantily clad women on Instagram have become part of the story.

Yesterday Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service reported that a group of Liberty University alumni who are serving as Christian pastors have called for the permanent removal of Jerry Falwell Jr. from the presidency of Liberty University. At the moment, Falwell Jr. is on “indefinite leave” from the Christian university. Here is a taste:

Some pastors told Religion News Service Falwell has a right to his passionate support of President Trump. But they were appalled by his defense of Trump’s comments in the infamous Access Hollywood tape and in other cases, such as Trump’s defense of white supremacists.

“As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness and redemption,” said John Welborn, a 2004 Liberty graduate who is now pastor of Salem Church in New York’s Staten Island. “My prayer for him is that he finds true repentance and confession. But I do believe Liberty University would be well served by a fresh start with new leadership.”

Many of these pastors said it would be disingenuous to reinstate the 58-year-old Falwell after a three- or six-month separation without a full process of repentance and public confession — a process they said could take years.

“A three-month hiatus — people will see right through that,” said Dan Williams, pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship outside Redding, Pennsylvania, and a 2001 Liberty graduate.

Shimron also calls our attention to Save71, a Liberty University alumni organization whose members are calling for Falwell Jr.’s permanent removal. The website of the organization states, “This isn’t about one photo.” It also includes the following statement:

Over the past several years, President Jerry Falwell Jr. has damaged the spiritual vitality, academic quality, and national reputation of Liberty University. We are a group of Liberty alumni, students, and faculty calling on the Board of Trustees to permanently remove President Falwell and replace him with a responsible and virtuous Christian leader. 

To do this, the Board should appoint an independent committee of leaders from within the Liberty community, as well as leaders outside of it, to begin the search for a new president. We will put forth names of people we believe should be nominated to this committee in the coming days.

Liberty University, like any institution or person, needs to repent of its sins before seeking redemption. The Board of Trustees must acknowledge the damage President Falwell has done to Liberty and the hypocrisy and corruption that has soaked into parts of its culture.

There is much to admire about Liberty, its students, and its professors. But for too long, Liberty’s leaders have used the school’s virtues to shield its sins and used its power to cloak its failures. That must end now. 

We put no faith in riches or comfort, in status or power. We put our faith in Christ alone, and we want Liberty University to follow Him.

Read Shimron’s entire piece here.

Today, Emily McFarland Miller has a piece at RNS exploring two dimensions of this story. First, why was the Instagram photo, and not all the other stuff Falwell has said and done, the last straw for the former Liberty president? Second, it also appears that Falwell has a habit of “liking” the Instagram photos of scantily clad models and young women in swimsuits.

Here is a taste of Miller’s piece:

Now, some of the images Falwell has “liked” on Instagram are raising eyebrows.

Religion News Service has verified that Falwell has liked a handful of images posted on the social media platform that show young women in swimsuits in the past month.

One is a photo of model Stefanie Gurzanski, who has appeared on the covers of Cosmopolitan Mexico and Maxim Mexico, posed across the back of a couch in a black one-piece suit and leopard-print high-heeled boots.

Another is an ambassador for conservative student movement Turning Point USA who pairs photos of herself in swimsuits with political memes and patriotic or inspirational Christian captions.

While young women posting swimsuit selfies is an innocent Instagram activity, liking them is “certainly unbecoming for the president of, as he calls it, the largest Christian college in the United States,” Fea said.

That’s particularly true at a place like Liberty, whose founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., was head of the Moral Majority and whose rules stress values like sexual purity and abstaining from alcohol.

“Any kind of evangelical Christian would, I think, have an issue with that. It would raise eyebrows,” Fea said.

The historian, who had not viewed the Instagram photos in question, said he can’t imagine another evangelical leader liking photos of women in swimsuits on social media. He pointed to the so-called Billy Graham rule, named for the famed evangelist who wouldn’t even be alone in a room with a woman who was not his wife.

Read the entire piece here.