Jerry Falwell Jr. gets $10.5 million severance

The “Nuclear Option”: How the Church that Founded Liberty University Can Remove Trustees & Jerry Falwell Jr.

By Julie Roys

It’s known as the “nuclear option.” And it’s a way the church that founded Liberty University can remove any university trustee, including embattled trustee and president, Jerry Falwell, Jr.

I recently became aware of this “nuclear option” when an anonymous source reached out to me and encouraged me to research Liberty’s articles of incorporation and an official letter Jerry Falwell, Jr., sent to the U.S. Department of Education.

Sure enough, the “nuclear option” exists, according to these documents. And given Falwell’s recent behavior, and the trustee board’s historic reluctance to hold him accountable, this could be an option that Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC)—the church that founded Liberty University—may want to consider.

Currently, Falwell is on indefinite leave as president and chancellor of Liberty for posting, and then deleting, a racy photo of himself and his wife’s assistant.

The “Nuclear Option”

Liberty’s articles of incorporation clearly state that TRBC’s board has the power to remove trustees it believes are failing to protect Liberty’s mission.

This is what Jonathan Falwell—pastor of TRBC and the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded TRBC—referred to as the “nuclear option” in the 2016 book, Falwell Inc.

“Dad set it up so the church forever will be the rudder that guides the university,” Jonathan Falwell said. “He said that if Liberty ever turns to the left, members of the board should fire everyone and shut the place down. The nuclear option exists. They will use it if they have to.”

Specifically, Liberty’s articles of incorporation state:

(T)he Board of Trustees is obligated to act upon a determination by the Board of Directors of Thomas Road Baptist Church that any Trustee has affirmatively engaged in efforts that maliciously undermine or attempt to significantly alter the Christian mission of the Corporation insofar as that mission is reflected in the Liberty University Doctrinal Position . . . Such a determination shall be made only after the Trustee is given notice and the opportunity to appear before the Board of Directors of Thomas Road Baptist Church to address its concerns prior to its determination. If requested, the Trustee shall be given notice and the opportunity to appear before the Board of Trustees to address any determination of the Board of Directors of Thomas Road Baptist Church. The Board of Trustees may request that the Board of Directors of Thomas Road Baptist Church reconsider its determination and take into account the information submitted to it by the Board of Trustees. . . .

This oversight function of Thomas Road Baptist Church was also mentioned in a letter Jerry Falwell Jr. wrote to the U.S. Department of Education on January 16, 2014.

The letter states that the “University’s Articles of Incorporation provide the TRBC’s Board of Directors with the power to remove any University trustee the Board finds to be ‘undermining the mission of the university . . .’”

It further states:   

This ongoing oversight ensures that TRBC’s mission-oriented intentions in founding Liberty University continue to be implemented.  Thus, the TRBC Board of Directors maintains this continuing oversight of the University’s board of trustees and has the power to make its own interpretations on important issues related to the religious doctrine of the university.

I reached out to TRBC to ask if the church board is considering using its “nuclear option,” but no one responded. I also reached out to TRCB Pastor Jonathan Falwell, who also serves as a trustee at Liberty, but he did not respond either.

I contacted Scott Lamb, vice president of communications at Liberty University, by phone and email, specifically asking about TRBC’s ability to remove Liberty trustees. But Lamb did not respond.

Liberty’s Trustees Praise Falwell, While Others Call for His Removal

Currently, Liberty University’s Board of Trustees appear at odds with Liberty’s larger community of constituents. While many alumni, students, faculty, and staff are calling for Falwell’s removal, the trustees seem inclined to retain him.

Jerry Prevo, who served as chairman of Liberty’s Board of Trustees from 2003 until becoming Liberty’s interim president, said in a statement: “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.”

Prevo also attributed Falwell’s recent lapse in judgment to the “substantial pressure” that comes with leading “a large and growing organization.”

Similarly, Franklin Graham, whose son William Graham IV serves as a trustee at Liberty, said: “(Falwell) is a great leader and he has taken this school—it is one of the largest universities in the United States. He’s done an incredible job. He is a great leader and I certainly support him.”

About Falwell’s recent racy photograph, Franklin Graham added: “All of us in life have done things that we’ve regretted. I think he certainly has regretted that. It was a foolish thing.”

However, Save71—a group of more than 400 Liberty alumni, students and faculty—are calling on Liberty’s Board of Trustees to fire Falwell. The group says its actions are not based on just “one photo,” but “a pattern of behavior and toxic culture that trickled down from Liberty’s leadership into every part of the school.”

The group adds: “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.”

Similarly, U.S. Representative Mark Walker, a former instructor at Liberty, tweeted that Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling” and Falwell should “step down.”

And Liberty alumnus Colby Garman, who serves on the executive committee of the Virginia Southern Baptist denomination, tweeted: “In order to preserve the many great advances that have been made at @LibertyU and honor the ongoing work of the excellent faculty there he should step down and make way for new leadership.”

Time to Act?

It remains to be seen whether the directors of Thomas Road Baptist Church side more with Liberty’s Board of Trustees or with Falwell’s many detractors. And even if TRBC’s board wants Falwell out, does the board have the resolve necessary to use its “nuclear option”?

But the option is there should TRBC’s board choose to use it. And given the deep divide that appears to exist between Liberty’s trustees and the rest of Liberty’s community, it may be TRBC’s board that steps in to break the stalemate.

UPDATE: According to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, Jerry Falwell, Jr., sits on the board of Thomas Road Baptist Church. I have sent inquiries to TRBC, Jonathan Falwell, and Liberty University, seeking answers as to how Falwell ended up on the board of a church that’s supposed to hold the university accountable. So far, there has been no response.

 

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33 thoughts on “The “Nuclear Option”: How the Church that Founded Liberty University Can Remove Trustees & Jerry Falwell Jr.”

  1. It is highly unlikely that Jonathan Falwell will turn on his brother. Jr. will probably come back from his “vacation” somewhat repentant for generic shortcomings and continue in his position. And the name of Christ will again be tarnished by powerful “Christian” leaders who answer only to themselves.

  2. If the relationship with Thomas Road Baptist Church is incestuous, with one organization mutually dependent on the other, the nuclear option will never happen. What will happen if the Jerry Jr. question isn’t dealt with in a responsible way, is the continued deterioration of the university as it hemorrhages faculty and students to other schools. Unless Jerry Jr. has a true “come to Jesus” moment, the next stupid stunt is just around the corner.

  3. It’s strange to me that Jerry Falwell, Jr. being removed from his position is apparently seen by some as a death sentence. Can he not live an honorable life, making his living in some other vocation than as the president of a university?

  4. They’ve taken the right first step: suspend Falwell as President, pending investigation. Investigation seems easy here, so the suspension shouldn’t be for more than, say, a week— though it is indeed important to give him a hearing, in case he can somehow explain his behavior. Then he should be fired as President. He would still have his position as Trustee, and that is what today’s blogpost is about. The same reason that means he should be fired as President means he is unfit to be a Trustee. It is not so urgent to remove him from that position, since he is only one of several Trustees and a bad Trustee can be ignored and outvoted by the others, but it would be shameful for Liberty University to have someone like that as a Trustee. If he doesn’t resign and isn’t removed as Trustee, I would hope Christian parents wouldn’t send their kids to a school that has not just an immoral past president (that can happen anywhere), but a current Board that thinks Falwell is someone to whom to entrust a large organization’s money and its students’ souls.

  5. Actually, if Jerry Falwell Jr. doesn’t resign as Trustee, that in itself would be a sign he’s unfit to be a Trustee. Would Liberty University really want someone as Trustee who thinks trustees can behave as shamefully as he did?

  6. Jonathan Falwell would surely recuse himself from any voting if it were to take place. Jerry Jr. and his cousin Lewis developed a tremendous amount of commercial real estate throughout the Lynchburg area and surrounding Liberty University in the 90’s and early 2000’s. They made 10’s of millions of dollars or more and Jerry continues to own real estate through a vast network of LLC’s. He does not need the LU job financially but likes the power, prestige and contact with celebrities that comes with it . Hopefully he will go back to business. Ask members of the Thomas Road Baptist Church if Jerry is active there or even attends.

  7. Does anyone know of any online petitions to sign to ask for his permanent removal? I used to teach for Liberty and my daughter just graduated from there. Time for a serious come to Jesus meeting and changes at the top including with the board.

  8. Denise Archambault

    “Prevo also attributed Falwell’s recent lapse in judgment to the “substantial pressure” that comes with leading “a large and growing organization.”. So..let me understand this…”substantial pressure” is what led to a lapse in judgement in posting his ongoing immorality or “substantial pressure” caused his immorality? Either way, if the pressure is so much that it causes the leader of a large Christian university to completely lose his moral compass, does that sound like a good match going forward? Do these guys even listen to the nonsense rationalizations that come out of their mouths? And why is the fact that Liberty is “large and growing” (“Prevo), and “one of the largest universities in the United States” (William Graham IV) even relevant to this discussion? Is God’s standard enormity or humility?

    1. Had to laugh at the “substantial pressure”. He and his father didn’t seem to think President Clinton had any excuse and wanted him impeached. Can’t much more pressured position that President of the US! Just another flaming hypocrisy of the American church-and why it’s witness is gone-doesn’t exist-absent-mocked by the next generation.

  9. I don’t know enough to make a judgment, and I haven’t seen any evidence online or anywhere else. I have heard by rumor that he is MacDonaldesque in his dictatorial style and bullying. He made a stupid mistake in posting a picture that he thought was fun, probably with a very good friend with his wife nearby. If that’s his only goof, we should get off his back. Julie, do you know more?

    1. Save71.org has a timeline of negative events with links to news stories that all took place under his leadership at Liberty.

  10. Julie, I support your ministry financially. Still, when I post a reply, I never see it posted, and I am not included with the new posts by email. I am not making nasty comments, so what’s happening?

    1. Sorry Dave. I really value your input and it’s a mystery to me why any of your previous replies didn’t go through. Sometimes there’s a delay in the approval process. (I’ve been on vacation this week, so it’s taken a bit longer.) But I’ve never blocked or deleted a reply of yours, so I’m as baffled as you are. If it happens again, please reach out and I’ll try to resolve the issue.

      As for emails for the new posts… Did you sign up to receive them? If you did, you definitely should be receiving them. I can have someone look into it if that’s the case.

  11. No. Julie, look at https://mapviewer.lynchburgva.gov/ParcelViewer/ and put in the address for Thomas Road Baptist Church, which is 1 Mountain View Rd, Lynchburg, VA. You will notice that TRBC is owned by Liberty University.

    Also put in Thomas Road Baptist church and you will see it still owns a few pieces of property, some of which are homes and some of which are vacant. TRBC seems to have given everything that is substantial to Liberty U usually as a gift. I think this is what Ambrosino – I think it was him -was at least eluding to when he said that Jonathan had given up almost everything to Jerry Falwell.

    I would also do some more looking into who owns what in the TRBC and LU empire. I believe the 990-T is very helpful for this (e.g. that’s where the non profit pays taxes on its non-core businesses.) but only for the for profit parts of LU. I understand the list on the secretary of state of VA business search, is a subset of the current trustees of the church and includes Jerry Falwell (https://cis.scc.virginia.gov/EntitySearch/BusinessInformation?businessId=227899&source=FromEntityResult&isSeries=False ). I remember looking into the who owns what portion before but can’t remember what I found out if anything. Perhaps it’ll come to me tonight.

    When you search for LIberty University on the secretary of state’s website, apparently a change was made on 8/10/2020 – Monday – by David Corry, LU’s in-house counsel and registered agent. I’m not sure what the change is as I haven’t figured that out. All I can see is that it says Virginia Beach, VA now on the right – perhaps because the Acting Chair is in VA Beach? Perhaps someone else can explain this.

    So whoever said it is a mutual dependency is correct… I apologize if I’m not making enough sense, I’m exhausted.

    1. Sarah, Thank you for this information. No wonder TRBC wouldn’t tell me who its directors were. It didn’t occur to me that Jerry Falwell Jr. would be on the TRBC board. I’m told Jerry hasn’t attended there in years. How on earth did this happen? If I were a member of that church, I’d be demanding answers. And I’d like to know Jonathan Falwell’s role is in all this. This happened on his watch.

      I also noticed the change that was made on 8/10/2020. It’s very curious. David Corry was the agent before the change, yet seemingly, the change was to make him the agent? I’m sure it’s no accident that the change occurred on the same day that Jerry Prevo was made interim president.

      1. Julie, I’ve noticed in my emails with David Corry that he is very cagey. I believe that the list of trustees of TRBC is from 2012 so I guess it is possible that Jerry Falwell is no longer a trustee. I also do not know if a change in the officers has to be reported to the Sec of State in Virginia or not as it appears that LU did not report the new Acting Chair of the Board – but that could be because he is actinI’ve noticed is that g.

        In my non-educated opinion it seems Liberty University has an awful lot of lawsuits against it at this point. If you would like information on the one I’ve filed, let me know. I filed based on a lot of counts in court. I have a lot of I also have looked at some of the other ones in federal court. Suffice to say, I am not the only one who filed a complaint based on disability as one was just settled this year. I think David Corry ordered that no one answer my emails anymore, because the 4th time I tried to file a complaint under Title IX, no one even bothered to answer. As far as I understand from a lot of reading, they have to let me file a complaint. I’ve noticed there is also a Jonathan Falwell ministries, founded in 2002, with the application completed by Jerry Falwell Jr.

      2. Jr. and Jonathon are polar opposites. Jonathon is a great person and a genuine, caring, leader. He really doesn’t have any say so within LU. However, that might change pretty soon. I don’t think Jr. is going to be back. I also don’t think that Jonathon will succeed him, at least any time soon. He is too smart for that. I am pretty certain that we will see LU put much more emphasis on the spiritual life of the students and leadership.

    2. There are legit reasons for this.

      Liberty was started as a ministry of TRBC and was funded through gifts to TRBC and the Old Time Gospel Hour, also a ministry of TRBC. Liberty was in a lot of debt, much of which the church held. Falwell Sr, was the pastor of TRBC and the chancellor of Liberty. Upon his death, his life insurance policies paid off the debt of Liberty but the church still held debt. Over time, Liberty bought various assets the church owned. As a result, the church is now debt-free. That is possibly why Jr. is on the Executive Board at TRBC though he seldom attends.

  12. Also there is an LLC in the name of Jerry Falwell Ministries from 2018 – curious. Of course it’s agent is David Corry and his address is Liberty University’s address. I also noticed on the latest IRS 990 that Jonathan Falwell made 55k and no include in a related organization is mentioned – I would assume TRBC would be related but against I’m not an expert

  13. I have some inside knowledge. My father worked in the top levels of the school for 15 years and left fairly recently because of these issues. I know way more than I should.

    I’d just like to say I believe JR is gone for good. What you’re seeing play out is an attempt to be political and less abrupt about it. But I don’t think he’ll be back based on what I’m hearing.

    The school is run by about 3-5 people who were Jerry Jrs yes men. They all have to go. JR is only a problem to the extent he’s a drunk and has very poor awareness of his own public persona. The guys who are an even bigger problem are still there.

    Campus pastor David Nassar should probably be in jail for inappropriate sexual behavior with students. Look into the complaints against him that have magically gone away. (Amazing what a little money can accomplish)

    Jrs sons are just as bad or worse than he is. The apple fell far from the Jerry SR tree for sure.

    None of them hold true “Christian” values the way one would expect from an evangelical school.

    There are some other problems with provosts and deans and some in those places of leadership as well, but I’m not as sure of those details.

    The bottom line is they need a cleansing for sure.

    My understanding is Jonathan is fantastic with a heart of gold and he truly loves God and people. But he is opposed to conflict. So JR pushes everyone around. Jonathan would probably be a good chancellor, but LU needs a president who cares about the mission and the students in a big big way.

    My understanding is Prevo’s comments about JR were political and not representative of how he really feels. He’s loyal to the original mission and frankly a bit of a surprise he’s still on the board. JR got rid of most of the people who were not yes men.

    The people I’m talking to are very happy about this move and for the first time sense the school has a chance to turn back to it’s mission.

    My encouragement to all of you is to give it time. It will work itself out. Now that the secret is out about jr I think we will see the right path come back into view. But don’t expect it to be clear for a while. I’d guess it will be 6-12 months in the make. And also don’t be surprised to see it done quietly.

    1. 1. Where can the Nasser claims be looked into?
      2. Interesting thoughts on Prevo, most people seem to think he is a close friend of Falwell..

  14. J-Dub where they I find the complaints you mention

    Julie- I have looked at multiple TRBC related businesses in Sec State Virginia. All have almost same list of officers, almost all including Jerry Falwell

    1. I can’t tell you specifically. I think they may have buried it. I had two family members who worked at the school (both gone now) tell me they know there were title 9 complaints against nassar that magically disappeared, but that’s all I know. Honestly I don’t really care to spend my energy digging into that stuff.

      The more important issue is the reality that the upper echelon of the school is corrupt and needs to be reworked.

      If you really want the truth go ask people on campus who have to work with Nassar how he is. It’s bazaar the power he has. Almost like he had dirt on JR and was blackmailing him at times. This is how gossip and rumors start. You’ll have to find someone still there who’s willing to talk. But I’m just saying there’s a “there” there.

      1. Nassar is a waste of good air in my opinion. I think that he is a dead man walking right now. I will be surprised if he is still there in 30 days. His protection is gone now.

        1. I personally think Nasser is stronger than ever. Look at all the progressives he has had in convocation and the systematic racism that he is pushing. All this since school opened this Fall. There is a fight for the direction of LU right now….

  15. J-Dub, not really surprising. I tried to file FOUR times with Title IX and they never would let me. As far as Liberty paying off TRBC’s debt, wouldn’t it be easier to just give the money to TRBC?

    I thought you would be interested in this:

    I emailed Jerry Falwell on October 21, 2018, notifying him that I had been “ordered to return to an internship site where I was not safe,” and“…How is it okay that mentioning a safety issue means I went round and round with the university and no department at the University has authority to do anything?”

    Jerry Falwell responded on October 25, 2018, stating: “I have looked into this situation and understand that there are several trustworthy people at the University that have already been diligent in working with you. …” – that doesn’t seem possible!!!

    On October 26, 2018, David Corry, general counsel for Liberty University, responded to me via email, stating: “…I am also aware of your allegations regarding our faculty interactions with the Inspector General… We are satisfied that at this time all your concerns have been handled and addressed appropriately…. Under the circumstances, any future communications you send may not be responded to by the University. We wish you well.”

    So Jerry Falwell “looks” into safety allegations and DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. By the way, title IX, whistle blowing and the department didn’t do anything either.

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