Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the religiously conservative Liberty University, has a serious problem. He’s been involved in a tawdry relationship, both business and personal, with a guy named Giancarlo Granda who was having sex with his wife Becki. He released a statement. I take it apart and suggest a more honest approach.
Some context here. Granda gave an interview to Reuters in which he says that he and Becki have been having sex several times a year since 2012. He says that not only did Falwell know, but he actually watched. (Falwell denies this.) There’s no dispute about the fact that Granda is attempting to separate his business affairs from the Falwells, but Falwell describes Granda’s exit as having elements of extortion.
Just before this, Falwell posted on his Instagram feed a photo of himself, drinking, with his pants unzipped, next to a woman (not his wife) with her pants unzipped. He later deleted it.
Reports suggest that Falwell is resigning from the presidency of Liberty University, but he may have gone back on that.
Fallwell’s statement is strong on scripture, but light on explanation and apology
Before we get into Falwell’s statement, it’s helpful to do a ROAM analysis on what he could be trying to do right now.
- Readers: Conservatives, Trump voters (Falwell has endorsed Trump), and faculty, staff, students, and donors of Liberty University.
- Objective: Explain his behavior in terms that create sympathy; get ahead of the story.
- Action: Falwell wants people to forgive him, or consider forgiving him.
- iMpression: Falwell is honestly struggling with sin.
So let’s look at the statement, posted in the Washington Examiner, with this in mind. Commentary is mine.
Aug. 23, 2020
My family has been blessed with the opportunity to serve Christ and our community over the past 50 years — from when my father founded Liberty in the early 1970’s through today. When my father suddenly passed away in 2007, I quickly and unexpectedly went from being the lawyer working in the background on the business aspects of the school to becoming a very public person, having to overcome my fears of speaking in front of audiences of tens of thousands, with many more responsibilities to the Liberty community and to my own family.
My priority was to build on my father’s vision and to work hard. Thanks to the help of the Board and the extraordinary Liberty faculty, executives, staff and community, we have ensured the University’s sustained growth and financial health while providing the best and most modern on-campus and online educational and spiritual resources to a wider range of students both in person and through digital platforms.
The statement should start with an apology for what Falwell did wrong and the harm he did. It doesn’t.
Instead, we get a historical vignette on how Falwell was tapped to lead Liberty University, how hard it was, and how successful he was. This is laying the groundwork for excuses to come. It’s doesn’t belong at the start of the statement.
My commitment to Liberty became and has remained my primary focus — and while I am so grateful and thankful for our collective successes, I also realize in hindsight that there was a toll that this took on me, which extended to my family too. During this time of reflection for us and this especially challenging year, and even more so following the events of the past few weeks, my wife Becki and I agreed that this was the right time for me to share more of our story, because the Liberty community deserves to hear it directly from me and from us.
First off, people have little sympathy for successful leaders who complain about “the toll on me, which extended to my family.” This is even more problematic in this case, since family is supposed to be one of the central values of conservative Christianity — the very value that Falwell has disgraced.
Also, the reason “this was the right time for me to share more of our story” was obviously not because Becki and Jerry Falwell just felt like talking now; it’s because Granda was going public with his story. The timing is transparently self-serving; no reader will buy the reasons that Falwell gives.
During a vacation over eight years ago, Becki and I met an ambitious young man who was working at our hotel and was saving up his money to go to school. We encouraged him to pursue an education and a career and we were impressed by his initiative in suggesting a local real estate opportunity. My family members eventually made an investment in a local property, included him in the deal because he could play an active role in managing it, and became close with him and his family.
Shortly thereafter, Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved — it was nonetheless very upsetting to learn about. After I learned this, I lost 80 pounds and people who saw me regularly thought that I was physically unwell, when in reality I was just balancing how to be most supportive of Becki, who I love, while also reflecting and praying about whether there were ways I could have been more supportive of her and given her proper attention. I came to realize that while it may be easy to judge others on their behavior, the King James Bible reminds us — “Thou shalt not commit adultery, but I sayeth unto you, that whoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart.” In fact, there are ways we may all be sinning, but the Lord believes in this self-reflection.
This is problematic in several ways. It doesn’t address why Becki continued the relationship. It denies that Falwell was involved in it, but the Reuters reporters say they have seen proof that he was. It appropriately describes Falwell’s commitment to be more supportive of his wife, but I’m frankly mystified by the biblical quote, which appears to be about other people committing adultery, not about Falwell’s judgment of it. (Is he saying that since people commit adultery in their minds all the time, committing actual adultery is more forgivable? I thought it broke one of the Ten Commandments.)
I was and have always remained fully devoted to Becki and we have shared many private conversations to better understand and support each other and to strengthen our marriage. Thankfully, our love has never been stronger. Becki and I forgave each other, because while her indiscretion may have been more obvious and apparent, I realized that there were important smaller things I needed to do better too.
In Ephesians 4:32 we learn — “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving as God in Christ forgave you.”
We extended the spirit of forgiveness to this man with respect and kindness, both for spiritual and religious reasons, and in the hope that we could help him find his way and allow us to put this behind us, without any harm or embarrassment to our family or to the LU community to which we have dedicated our lives.
Falwell wants you to understand that he attempted to resolve the issue through love. Keeping it secret was to prevent damage to his marriage and the community of Liberty University. Got it.
During the years that followed, we got to know his family and other loved ones, good people who also really care about him. They shared and confirmed to us that he has periodically demonstrated emotionally unstable behaviors with some destructive tendencies, seemingly in response to his inability to achieve his professional goals. Based on information from other sources, we believe that he may have targeted other successful women in similar ways.
While we tried to distance ourselves from him over time, he unfortunately became increasingly angry and aggressive. Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies. While this was very upsetting, we had been advised by trusted legal counsel that it was best to maintain contact with this person, as we tried to manage his increasingly erratic behavior and unreasonable demands while extricating ourselves from him both on a personal level and from that real estate transaction.
It was like living on a roller coaster.
While completely dedicating ourselves to Liberty, we were also suffering in silence during our personal time together, while simultaneously trying to manage and deal with this increasingly threatening behavior, which only worsened over time. We were doing our best to respectfully unravel this ‘fatal attraction’ type situation to protect our family and the University.
Even years after the improper relationship had ended, this person continued to be aggressive with Becki and me in a variety of ways. We finally decided that we had to further withdraw completely from him, which resulted in him stepping up his threats to share more outrageous and fabricate claims about us (under the guise of that business entity). He clearly moved forward with this plan through a specific member of the media who has continued to badger us, as well as other members of the media, regarding the false claims about the nature of the relationship based on the individual’s misrepresentations. Over the course of the last few months this person’s behavior has reached a level that we have decided the only way to stop this predatory behavior is to go public.
This is a great deal of detail about how Granda became an extortionist (without using the word extortion). It’s here to explain why Falwell waited until now, and to undermine the credibility of Granda.
We have categorically rejected this person’s demands while dealing with him and this particular member of the media who seemed just as obsessed with the prurient, untrue aspects of this story, however fantastic.
Even though I continued successfully working with our entire Liberty team to achieve so many of our goals, I am now dealing with things in a way that I should have done before — including seeking to address the emotional toll this has taken. I shouldn’t have been afraid to admit my vulnerabilities and to reach out for assistance from the mental health professionals who could have alleviated this pain and stress. I am committed to speaking out and sharing with others at Liberty the importance of seeking counseling instead of thinking you need to be tough and try to bear these burdens on your own. I am in the early stages of addressing these issues.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on thine own understanding in all your ways acknowledge him and he will guide straight thy path.”
So Falwell is now doing the right thing, it just took a while. And he’s “coming clean” with Liberty.
The trauma of this experience has brought us to a very challenging point in our lives, but we are strong, our faith in Christ is greater than ever, and with His help and with those in the community who we love and who appreciate the impact of forgiveness, we will get through this. We ask for your prayers and support.
Falwell ends with a plea for prayers for himself.
What’s wrong with this statement
This long statement is a good example of what happens if you just “tell your story” in whatever order comes to you. Two things are notable:
- There is no apology to Liberty or the public. Search it. No “sorry,” nor the word “apology.” Falwell believes that, other than not paying attention sufficiently to his wife, he did nothing wrong.
- The statement is completely focused on Falwell’s experience and feelings. He wants you to forgive him for his natural failings. There’s no indication of the effect of his poor judgment on Liberty University or on his position as a Trump backer.
How could this statement have been better?
I’m going to write a version of this statement based on the facts and opinions that Falwell gives here. (I’m afraid, not being a biblical scholar, that I can’t supply bible quotes to go along with it.) Falwell’s situation is dire. Do you think this might have helped?
To the Liberty University community and my trusted friends and family:
I’ve made some errors in judgment which will reflect poorly on myself and on the university. I’d like to explain what happened and apologize for how it has affected the people and institution that I care so much about.
On a vacation eight years ago, my wife Becki and I met an ambitious young man working at hour hotel. We encouraged him and eventually entered some joint business opportunities with him.
However, I was unaware that my wife was becoming involved in an inappropriate personal relationship with him. After a while, we decided that it was necessary to end our business and personal relationship with him. He demanded money and threatened to reveal compromising pictures.
Other than the relationship with my wife, whatever you may read from this individual is false.
I regret not paying sufficient attention to my family, which led to this situation. I also regret not resolving it more more quickly. I’m sorry about the ill effects it will have on the reputation of Liberty University, and the faith you put in me as your leader. I apologize for allowing things to get to this point. I should have been stronger and more honest.
I humbly ask for your prayers my family and for the future leadership of Liberty.
“I was wrong” are hard words to write. So are “I hurt you.” But until you wrote them, everything else you write will fall on deaf ears.
Falwell has revealed a lot about himself and his poor judgment by his actions here. His statement reinforces that impression. It makes things worse.
Next time you’re in a crisis, remember this. You can do better than this. It would be hard to do worse.