Nov 22, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Tim Alberta book rips open Falwell feuds

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Left: Liberty University campus in Lynchburg, Va., Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images. Cover: Harper

A forthcoming book about evangelicals by Tim Alberta — the acupuncturist-like reporter whose magazine profile doomed CNN's Chris Licht — includes detailed on-the-record allegations of drift and grift at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Why it matters: The university in Lynchburg, Virginia — founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell Sr., and formerly called Liberty Baptist College — once was an icon of New Right political power. It remains a popular backdrop for Republican presidential candidates.

Alberta's book, "The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory," is out Dec. 5.

  • Jerry Falwell Jr. — the founder's son, who once was Liberty's president and now has sued the university — tells Alberta the current regime is "choosing piety over competence": "It's exactly what my dad didn't want to see happen."

What we're hearing: "The true history of Liberty, as I document in the book — through the eyes of Falwell family lieutenants who span the ideological spectrum — has everything to do with electing Republicans and winning culture wars and almost nothing to do with spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ," Alberta, a minister's son, tells Axios.

Jerry Jr. repeatedly attacks his younger brother, Liberty Chancellor Jonathan Falwell, who's also the senior pastor at their dad's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg.

  • "I should have fired everybody in the top leadership the day I walked in — from vice presidents on down — and hired everyone new," Jerry Jr. tells Alberta.
  • "You see, my dad didn't have the money back then to hire people who were honest and competent. So, he typically had to choose, one or the other. And those are the people who were still around when the school became prosperous."

While talking to Alberta, Jerry Jr. mimicked his brother, "changing the inflection of his voice to ... uptight, performed, preacherlike."

  • Jerry Jr. — a non-preacher who's a right-wing businessman and culture warrior — argues that his dad's true vision was for a powerhouse cultural institution, not a fundamentalist Christian school .

Between the lines: Alberta tells Axios that Falwell Jr.'s statements "will rock the Liberty community to its core — not just because he's antagonizing his brother, but because he's speaking difficult truths about Jerry Sr. and America's leading Christian university that have long been strategically concealed."

  • "My account of Liberty's reckoning relies on named sources: from contemporaries of Jerry Sr., to executive committee members, to former professors (including one who refused an NDA — I have the document) to a current professor who will likely be fired as soon as the book publishes, to current and former student leaders, and more."

The other side: Neither Liberty University's communications team nor Chancellor Falwell responded to detailed emails from Axios inquiring about Alberta's reporting.

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