Jerry Prevo
The Rev. Jerry Prevo gives a sermon before retiring as pastor of Anchorage Baptist Temple after more than 47 years of service. Prevo was just named as the acting president of Liberty University while Jerry Falwell, Jr. is on leave.(Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)

Liberty University Names Acting President with Falwell on Leave

By Sarah Rankin and Elana Schor

Liberty University in Virginia announced Monday that its board had chosen an interim president to lead the school days after Jerry Falwell Jr. began an indefinite leave of absence after one of his posts on social media created an uproar.

Jerry Prevo, who has served as chairman of the school’s board of trustees since 2003 and recently retired as the senior pastor of a Baptist church in Alaska, will assume the role of acting president immediately, Liberty said in a news release.

Prevo expects to work from the Lynchburg campus starting Aug. 17 and will step aside from his position on the board for the duration of the new role, according to the news release. The board’s executive committee appointed Prevo, Liberty said.

Prevo, who spent 47 years as the pastor of Anchorage Baptist Temple before stepping down last year, was known for his opposition to LGBT rights and his influence in Alaska politics. He also partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian relief charity run by the Rev. Franklin Graham, a prominent conservative evangelical allied with Falwell and President Donald Trump.

“Please pray for us as well as the Falwell family as we embark on our academic year and so we may continue to be united in our common purpose and our faith in Christ,” Prevo said in the news release.

Jerry Falwell Jr
Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks before a convocation. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Falwell, who is also a high-profile Trump supporter and ally, has led the private evangelical university founded by his evangelist father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, for 13 years.

The university announced in a one-sentence statement Friday that Falwell was taking a leave of absence. The statement didn’t elaborate. But Falwell’s departure came after he posted a photo showing him posing with his pants unbuttoned, stomach exposed and his arm around a young woman who was not his wife.

Falwell apologized for the photo, which he said was taken during a costume party while he was on vacation.

He said in an interview with Lynchburg radio station WLNI that the woman, whom he identified as his wife’s assistant, was pregnant and couldn’t get her pants zipped, and that he was imitating her. He said it was all in “good fun.”

“I’ve apologized to everybody, and I’ve promised my kids … I’m going to try to be a good boy from here on out,” he told the interviewer.

Falwell was holding a glass filled with a dark liquid in the photo, which he said in the caption was “just black water … a prop only.”

The photo, which was deleted but not before it spread widely online, sparked criticism from liberals, conservatives and evangelicals alike. Many said the behavior was unbecoming and possibly hypocritical from the leader of a university that requires its students to follow a strict code of conduct that includes no alcohol.

Prevo said in a statement last week that Liberty has experienced “unprecedented success” academically and financially under Falwell’s leadership.

“Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure,” his statement said.

Falwell has not responded to a text message from The Associated Press seeking comment. The AP was unable to leave a voicemail on his cellphone.

Liberty alumni who have been critical of Falwell and increasingly vocal about wanting new leadership, stepped up their organizing in the days after his leave of absence was announced. Four alumni on Monday unveiled a new nonprofit called “Save 71,” a reference to the year of Liberty’s founding, designed to mobilize alumni, students and faculty behind reform at the university.

Liberty “needs to repent of its sins before seeking redemption,” the group posted on its website, urging the board to name an independent committee to seek a longer-term replacement for Falwell. “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.”

Whether Liberty is prepared to chart a future course without the influence of Falwell and his backers, however, remains unclear.

Among the alumni calling for a permanent change in leadership is Colby Garman, pastor at Virginia-based Pillar Church, who said the university would be “best served” by a president who is not trying to amass political power and is “able to thoughtfully convey the (school’s) mission from a deeply Christian perspective.”

Falwell was among the earliest Christian conservatives to endorse Trump’s first presidential campaign and has routinely been in the spotlight since then for a series of controversies in both his role at Liberty and his personal life.

Falwell has most recently faced pushback for the university’s decision to welcome students back to campus amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for a social media post invoking the blackface scandal that Virginia’s Democratic governor faced last year. Liberty said in June that it is planning “to be fully open with in-person instruction for on-campus students” in the fall, while adhering to public health guidelines and allowing students to finish the semester online after November.

Sarah Rankin & Elana Schor are reporters with the Associated Press.

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13 thoughts on “Liberty University Names Acting President with Falwell on Leave”

  1. Prevo is also a director/elder of Bob Larson’s church in Arizona.

    https://opencorporates.com/companies/us_az/11025182

    Anyone over 40 remember Bob Larson? He spent much of the 80s and 90s on the radio (after spending the 70s as an anti-rock pastor) casting “Demons” of out people over the phone. asking for tons of money, being involved in scandal, divorcing/remarrying, and entering the 00s with a tarnished record after ghostwriting accusations. He was one of the main people behind the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s, implying that there were massive Satanic conspiracies involving local police and judges all across America. Larson was routinely in Alaska pulling thousands out of people during his crusades, usually at Anchorage Baptist Temple.

    And now one of his long-time allies is running Liberty. This is a lateral move, at best.

  2. MH:

    I am sorry, but I have been on vacation and have NOT had access to Internet.

    Thank you for your earlier comments on challenging me to really consider the origins and content of the Constitution of the Confederacy.

    Earlier, I was mistaken. My belief has always been that the Confederate Constitution was “word for word” and “line by line” copied Exactly from the USA Constitution.

    However, I read your earlier post, and I now agree that the Confederate Constitution in and of itself does subscribe to and encourage the wicked and un-biblical view of white supremacy and the suppression of blacks.

    From now on:

    whenever I see somebody with a Confederate flag, I am going to ask them,

    “have you read the origin and Content of the Confederate Constitution? If you have, and you still insist on flying the Confederate flag, then explain how you are Not in direct opposition to Biblical principles?”

    Thank you for challenging me to study the details of the Confederate Constitution. I never knew that before.

  3. oops…….wrong thread.

    Just trying to reach out to commentator MH and communicate that I did take their comment seriously about reading the Confederate Constitution in detail.

    I agree with MH.

    sorry for wrong thread posting….

    1. Oh – haha – I just saw this. Thanks for the post.
      I think there is so much lack of awareness on the constitution of the Confederacy (despite the fact we study the civil war in school, which baffles me), and further proves why we should have plaques posted near its memorials, flags, and statues.
      I believe most would be appalled.
      As a native southerner, I really believe there MUST be a better symbol of southern culture. Maybe a peach cobbler? (My grandma’s is the BEST, and apparently the recipe has been around for generations, so I can’t WAIT until I’m trusted with it). I don’t know. SOMETHING. ANYTHING.

  4. “He also partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian relief charity run by the Rev. Franklin Graham, a prominent conservative evangelical allied with Falwell and President Donald Trump.”

    “Falwell was among the earliest Christian conservatives to endorse Trump’s first presidential campaign and has routinely been in the spotlight since then for a series of controversies in both his role at Liberty and his personal life.”

    “Falwell, who is also a high-profile Trump supporter and ally, has led the private evangelical university founded by his evangelist father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell…”

    These types of statements seem like an out of place political statement..just my opinion, of course. But when I read statements such as this, it seems the intention is to lump people together in a category..and in this case in a negative light. Maybe that’s not the intention, but that is the end result. I just don’t see the relevance of it here.

    I am definitely not looking for a political argument in any way, and I also question the wisdom of a Christian institution fervently supporting any political candidate or party, as if a person or a party can save us! Jesus is the only Savior, and our nation needs repentance and revival-but that is another issue. However, I am wondering about this, as I have seen these kind of comments frequently, so I am wondering.

    Thank you,
    Julie

    1. Julie, thanks for your comments. I concur with your sentiments that these statements “seem like an out of place political statement.” I also don’t see the relevance in these statements. Maybe the author or someone from Julieroys.com can explain them. I appreciate Julie Roy’s reporting, however, in previous articles, again unrelated to Trump, she managed to make it clear that she is no fan of Trump. I wish Julie Roys would adhere to the standards of transparency that she applies to those whom she investigates.

      1. I checked out the reporters who wrote this article. They are Sarah Rankin & Elana Schor who are reporters with the Associated Press. Judging from their many other articles, they are political liberals who are no fans of Trump, This reporter make no mention of Christianity, Jesus, the Bible or the Church except in criticism. It seems Rankin and Schor are not even Christians.
        The title of this article is misleading: “Liberty University Names Acting President with Falwell on Leave.”
        While I thought the article would focus on information about Jerry Prevo, the acting president of Liberty, there is little about him but lots about Falwell’s apparent bad decision to support Trump.

        If I wanted to read secular AP news by right-leaning reporters like Sarah Rankin & Elana Schor, any liberal newspaper, magazine or news show would work. So goes “Christian” reporting I guess.

  5. It is nearly impossible to write or report about Jerry Prevo without talking about politics. I was born in Alaska and raised in the Anchorage evangelical world. I am very familiar with Jerry Prevo; met him a couple times and went to his church for various “event” services, e.g. political-candidate Sundays. He is a friendly man, an extraordinary pastor, a decent preacher, and an extremely talented political operative. Morally, I’ve never known Jerry Prevo to be anything more than “what you see is what you get.” In other words, I doubt you’ll ever find compromising pictures of him.

    Jerry Prevo does not shrink from mixing the gospel of Jesus Christ together with the Republican Party’s power, platforms, and priorities. Since his arrival on the scene in Anchorage in the 1970s, Jerry Prevo has been a MAJOR FORCE in Alaska’s religiously based conservative politics, particularly leading on social issues such as opposing fair housing or fair employment initiatives for LGBTQ residents and advocating anti-abortion laws wherever possible in a state whose constitution explicitly guarantees its citizens the right to privacy. He is connected to, and often part of, the leadership of virtually every religiously based conservative political movement since the 1970s when he teamed with Jerry Falwell (Sr.) to create the Moral Majority. National Day of Prayer? Check. Right to Life? Check. David Barton’s Wallbuilders? Check. American evangelicals for Trump? Check.

    Jerry Prevo is an Alaskan version of Jerry Falwell Sr. So, Liberty University didn’t reach too far afield in appointing him as its interim head.

    1. I’m with you on most of what you write, but you don’t honestly believe abortion is a matter of privacy, do you?

      1. Hi John –
        Can you elaborate on what is meant by “matter of privacy”? As in, is it between a woman and her doctor? Or is it something meant for the public to know about?

        1. This is what Brent wrote as, ostensibly, as means of criticizing Prevo: “advocating anti-abortion laws wherever possible in a state whose constitution explicitly guarantees its citizens the right to privacy.”

          Perhaps I am misinterpreting, but he appears to be saying that abortion is a guaranteed constitutional right because of privacy protections it offers.

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