My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse
Liberty University presents itself as a temple of virtue. But its founding family’s secret Miami hostel is a cesspool of vice.
Jack ShaferAugust 25, 2017
Politico Illustration: Getty; Brandon Ambrosino
“It’s actually that one,” our Uber driver said, pointing with one hand and shifting into reverse with the other. “Right here?” I asked, thinking he must have gotten the address wrong. All I saw was a liquor store.
“That’s it,” he said, crawling to a stop. Miami Hostel, 810 Alton Road, a dilapidated boarding house quietly hidden behind non-descript storefronts.
The trunk opened, and as my partner, Andy, pulled out our luggage, I took a deep breath and surveyed my temporary home away from home. This building in front of me, nestled quietly in a relatively rundown stretch of South Beach, contained three different businesses: an Italian restaurant, a liquor store and a hostel.
As the Uber pulled away, Andy stood, slowly shaking his head. What had I gotten him into? “It’s probably not as terrible as it looks,” I told him. “Let’s go.”
The first thing I noticed was the almost eye-level gray gate with an odd, oval sign declaring that the hostel was—for lack of a better term—a safe space.
The “no religion” sign on the hostel’s front gate.
The “no religion” sign on the hostel’s front gate. | Brandon Ambrosino
“That’s weird, right?” Andy chuckled and opened the door. By then, he and I already knew, thanks to a tipster that the owner of the Miami Hostel was none other than Jerry Falwell III, better known as Trey, who purchased the property with financial help from his father, Jerry Falwell Jr., a man who pretty much embodies everything on that sign: the fusion of religion with politics, aggressive fundraising and a slick, salesman-like approach to public faith. It was Falwell Jr. whose early endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries—he hailed him for living “a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment”—was seen as pivotal in helping Trump secure the evangelical vote.
At Liberty University, the Christian private school at which Falwell Jr. is the president and Trey is the vice president for university operations—and from which I graduated in 2011—all manner of vice is prohibited. Students, whether on campus or off, and whether school is in session or not—cannot consume alcohol or tobacco. Co-ed sleeping arrangements are verboten. And, in the words of “The Liberty Way,” the school’s student handbook, “homosexual conduct or the encouragement or advocacy of any form of sexual behavior that would undermine the Christian identity or faith mission of the University” are strictly prohibited. Any one of these transgressions could get you saddled with reprimands, financial repercussions, and even expulsion. And yet, here we were, in perhaps the gayest 6 square miles in the United States—South Beach, Miami—staying in Falwell’s gay-friendly flophouse with an on-site liquor store.
At least that’s the story I thought I was there to report. The more I dug into it, the larger and more byzantine the story became—and the more questions it raised. Though Liberty University officials declined to comment on the record for this story, senior-level sources at the university agreed to answer many of my questions. But rather than settling the matter, the answers they provided begat new and more serious inquiries that go beyond mere charges of hypocrisy over owning a hostel, and point to dubious behavior by Liberty University—actions which, according to several tax-law experts I consulted, could violate IRS rules.
Last fall, I set out to write a story for POLITICO Magazine about the internal disagreements at Liberty University over Falwell Jr.’s enthusiastic public support for Trump. When I interviewed the university chancellor for the piece, Trey tagged along. It seemed clear that he was being groomed to carry the torch after his father hands it off to him—just as Falwell Jr., inherited his post from Falwell Sr.
As I reported the piece, it became apparent that at the core of what initially appeared to be a simple political divide over Trump was instead a more consequential dynamic: frustration over real or perceived double standards.
At Liberty, any faculty member who wishes to speak to a journalist must involve President Falwell’s office either before any contact takes place or within three hours of it ending. The reason for this policy, Liberty’s lead counsel, David Corry, told me, has to do with the school’s closely guarded nonprofit status: To keep its tax exemption, Liberty is prohibited from taking a political position or endorsing a particular candidate.
The only person who can speak on record without having to ask for approval is Falwell himself, who in 2016 endorsed Trump during the Republican primary, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Falwell has maintained that his endorsement was as a private citizen and is no reflection of his relationship with the school. But it’s tough to square that with the fact that Falwell was introduced at the 2016 Republican National Convention as the president of Liberty University, or that he touted his experiences running Liberty in explaining his support for Trump. As one Liberty faculty member put it to me, Falwell “would not have the public platform to speak as he does without the university.”
Falwell voices his political opinions freely, while faculty members—all of whom work without the protections of tenure—are unable to do so. Far from protecting Liberty’s reputation as a nonpartisan institution, the lack of public dissenting voices from faculty members means that when Falwell makes a political comment, he is seen to be speaking on behalf of the university, as if the two are one and the same.
A few months after my first POLITICO story published, an anonymous reader emailed me with a tip about the hostel, angry over what they viewed as Falwell’s hypocrisy. “Why does Falwell need to own an LGBT-friendly hostel?” this person wrote.
For the university’s students, staff and faculty, “The Liberty Way” is the law of the land—outlining in granular detail how they are expected to behave, act, speak and dress. (Faculty have their own handbook, but it says in boldface type that they are to conduct themselves in a manner “compatible with the Mission of the University and ‘The Liberty Way.’”) Its premise is that every person associated with the university “should avoid any activity, on or off campus, which would contradict the university’s mission or purpose, compromise the testimony or reputation of the university.”
If caught in violation of the Liberty Way, you face dire consequences, including expulsion for students or termination for faculty and staff. Unless, it seems, your last name is Falwell.
The Falwell-owned hostel encourages behavior that would get Liberty students expelled—the drinking, the smoking, the advertising for strip clubs, the free shuttles to local bars, the possibility of co-ed sleeping arrangements, and so on. And they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to buy anything from the adjoining liquor store on Falwell’s property—an amenity the hostel touts in the self-description it provides to travel sites like TripAdvisor: “There is a liquor store connected to the hostel with almost anything you need for partying!”
For most people, this probably seems like no big deal. But there’s a more substantive concern here than simple hypocrisy: For two years, the Falwell-controlled LLC that owned the hostel (as well as the land containing the liquor store and neighboring Italian restaurant) was based on property in Virginia owned by Liberty University.
At left, a gate to Miami Hostel, located behind M.B. Liquors and Macchialina, an Italian restaurant.
At left, a gate to Miami Hostel, located behind M.B. Liquors and Macchialina, an Italian restaurant. | Brandon Ambrosino
The hostel is at 810 Alton Road in Miami Beach, on the same parcel of land housing Miami Beach Liquors and Macchialina, a better-than-average Italian restaurant. Documents with the Miami-Dade County Recorder show that on February 21, 2013, that parcel was purchased by Alton Hostel LLC for $4.65 million. At the time, the LLC—which had formed just two weeks earlier, on February 7, 2013—listed Trey Falwell, then 23, as the sole manager of the company. A high-ranking Liberty University source with extensive knowledge of the deal confirmed to POLITICO Magazine that Jerry Falwell gave his son money for the $4.65 million purchase. The same source maintains that the elder Falwell has no business dealings with the property—which may be true, but a May 21 Facebook post shows that Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, dined at Macchialina with Giancarlo Granda, Trey’s business partner in the hostel’s LLC.
In its February 2013 articles of organization in Florida, Alton Hostel LLC listed 3200 Sunnymeade Road in Rustburg, Virginia, as its mailing address. According to records filed with the county of Campbell, Virginia, the Sunnymeade property, which is 21 acres in size and includes a three-bedroom house, is currently owned by Trey Falwell and his wife. But at the time of the LLC’s formation in 2013, the property was owned by Liberty University—Trey Falwell and his wife were renting the house from Liberty for $600 a month, according to a high-ranking source who works for the school. The university continued to own the property until it was sold to Trey Falwell in May 2015 for $225,000. Speaking on background, sources at Liberty University told POLITICO Magazine that this price was fair-market value, and was assessed as such by a neutral third party.
While it is possible for a nonprofit such as Liberty University to engage in financial transactions with a senior officer or close family member of a senior officer, a number of legal limitations and restrictions apply, according to Lloyd Mayer, a professor at University of Notre Dame Law School who specializes in taxation and nonprofit law. The most obvious regulation involves the nonprofit disclosing that the sale took place—which, in this case, did not happen.
Speaking on background with POLITICO Magazine, a senior Liberty University official claimed that the disclosure was unnecessary because it did not result in an “excess benefit transaction.” But instructions from IRS Form 990 say otherwise: Any “business transactions” that exceeded $100,000 during the tax year had to be reported if they were with an “interested person.” According to legal experts consulted by POLITICO Magazine, Trey Falwell—who is Liberty University’s vice president of university operations in addition to being the son of the school’s president and grandson of its founder—would surely count as an interested person.
Members of Liberty University’s legal team declined to speak on the record with POLITICO Magazine. In an email exchange made on the condition of anonymity, one senior university official familiar with the matter stated that the university does not find that the single sale of a home under these circumstances amounts to a business transaction. Instead, the university sees it as a “one-time personal transaction.” When asked to explain the difference, this official said that was “a fact-specific question dependent on many things.” Responding to repeated requests for clarification, Liberty University officials refused to answer this question on the record.
Several tax experts say the distinction Liberty has offered is not supported by IRS instructions.
“It’s bullshit,” says Eve Borenstein, an attorney and recognized expert on nonprofit tax law who is sometimes known as the “Queen of the 990,” as she was introduced before giving testimony at a congressional hearing in 2012. Borenstein says Liberty does not get to decide whether the sale of land to Trey Falwell constitutes a business transaction that needs to be disclosed: “That would moot the whole point of the schedule.”
According to the 2014 instructions for Schedule L, “business transactions,” which include “contracts for sale,” that exceeded $100,000 during the tax year have to be reported if they are with an “interested person.” Further, Mayer clarifies, “a transaction does not have to be part of operating a business or obtaining services for it to be reportable.”
Borenstein says that Liberty officials’ use of the word “personal” offends her, because the school is “suggesting that they could be doing something personally with their money that I don’t have a right to inquire about.” The point of these tax filings, she says, are to expose these kinds of insider transactions to the court of public opinion. “The whole reason for the disclosure is so that people have the opportunity to say, ‘Falwell sold something to his kid—did he do it right?’”
The university says it followed protocol by having its board of trustees vote to approve the sale—a vote ahead of which Jerry Falwell excused himself from the room, university officials tell POLITICO Magazine. But a brief look into the board’s history suggests that the board, not unlike the faculty, serves largely at the whims of Jerry Falwell. For example, last year, Mark DeMoss, a Liberty alum, longtime board member and chair of its executive committee—a man whose dedication to Evangelical Christianity is beyond reproach, as evinced by his years of service to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom he likened to a “second father” and for whom he served as chief of staff—was pushed off Liberty’s board after he voiced his disagreement with Falwell’s endorsement of Trump to the Washington Post. Trump, said DeMoss, does not represent the “Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.” Falwell quickly accused DeMoss—the son of the Liberty benefactor whose name graces DeMoss hall, the main building on campus—of being, in DeMoss’ words, the disloyal “political pawn of a rival campaign.” He was gone about a month later.
Perhaps DeMoss is an exception, but his ordeal does suggest that board members, like faculty members who wish to give media interviews, don’t enjoy complete freedom to disagree with Falwell. And in such an environment, the interests of the Falwells and those of Liberty University cannot help but to blur.
“This scenario just feels wrong,” says Kimberly Reeve, an associate professor of business at King’s College and an expert in nonprofit management. She notes that Liberty is in a unique situation: It’s a huge nonprofit organization with significant real estate holdings. For Reeve, the primary question “should be whether or not the sale of this property was in the best interest of the university and helped it fulfill its mission. If questioned, the university should be able to indicate exactly how this sale did that.” Otherwise, such a land sale would suggest that the university was not acting primarily in its own best interests, but instead, acting to the benefit of other parties.
There’s smoke,” says Borenstein. “The logical next question is, what else has the school left out of its tax filings?”
Asked by POLITICO Magazine how specifically this sale of land to Trey Falwell was in the best interests of Liberty University, senior university officials again refused to speak on the record. In a statement given to POLITICO Magazine with the condition that it not be attributed, one top Liberty official explained that “the small house that Trey bought is located on the outer fringes of about 7,500 acres owned by the university” and is located “several miles from campus.” According to the university official, “the board decided that [the property] had no use to the university in the fulfillment of its mission.” (As a matter of public record, the Campbell County Assessor’s office shows that the university still owns the land abutting three of the four sides of Trey Falwell’s Sunnymeade property, part of a sprawling Liberty-owned lot that stretches further away from campus for nearly another half-mile.)
Someone could argue that a $225,000 sale is a drop in the bucket for an institution with assets valued in the billions. But that justification misses the point, says Borenstein. “Liberty says they did this transaction correctly, but [POLITICO Magazine] had to uncover it—so there’s smoke. And you don’t know if there are other transactions to ask about. The logical next question is, 'What else has the school left out of its tax filings?'”
Inside the Falwells’ hostel, the stench of general decay and cigarette smoke is overpowering. Walking to the lobby, Andy and I passed down narrow hallways as spatterings of people milled about, smoking, talking to each other, playing billiards, staring into their phones. There’s an ashtray on every table—two at the red bar, above which shone a Miller Lite sign.
As we approached the reception desk, the older of the two men behind the counter cocked his eyebrow, as if to ask us what the hell we wanted. “We’re checking in,” Andy explained. “Oh,” said the younger one, his burly biceps bulging out from his tank top. “Give us five minutes. You can go into the kitchen.”
The kitchen was also what you might call the business center: Two computers lined a wall, next to which stood a bookcase with a Bible hidden on the second-to-bottom shelf, buried amid the kind of fiction your fourth-grade teacher might read at the beach. Across from the books was a wall display of Minicards advertising local entertainment and other venues for tourists and offering coupons for their business. One of them caught my eye: a closeup of a redhead with entirely too much eyeshadow, sporting a wide choker around her neck. Tootsie’s Cabaret: 74,000 square feet of adult entertainment and FULL NUDITY.
I took a seat at a hightop, and tried to figure out the situation at the only other occupied table in the kitchen. A guy and girl were seated across from each other. The girl stared blankly at the guy, who was very angry at whomever he was on the phone with. I couldn’t understand anything he said except a few shouted fucks.
Andy grimaced at the stench of the room. “I have to breathe through my mouth,” he said quietly, before heading back to the lobby to check in. Minutes later, he returned holding two frayed towels and a folded pile of formerly white bedding. The employees had advised him that we should go to CVS and buy locks to keep our belongings secure while we slept. There’d been thefts, and management took pains to remind us that they weren’t responsible for what happened to our stuff. “Seriously, Brandon, there’s a Hyatt just up the street,” Andy said.
We made the way to our room, climbing up a narrow green staircase and passing through a hallway straight out of a slasher film—long and narrow, with a dim light flickering at the end of it.
As soon as we unlocked the door, I smelled incense, which masked the unmistakable scent of marijuana. Two guys were conversing in Spanish, while another sat on a lower bunk fidgeting with his fishing rod. Everyone quickly, almost imperceptibly acknowledged us, and we returned the greeting. There were six bunks, two of which were reserved for us. Andy took one top bunk and I threw my stuff on the only other open top bunk, in the opposite corner of the room.
I introduced myself to the stranger who’d be sleeping 3 feet below me. “Hi, I’m Brandon.”
“Alejandro.” He extended a hand. He said he’d been here for a few days and usually stays here when he’s in the area—he travels a lot, picking up one-off construction jobs. “My home is everywhere and nowhere.” Last week he was in Cuba, which he guaranteed I’d love.
“Just go now,” he said, “before your … Trump.” He rolled his eyes as he said the name, with more derision than scorn. Alejandro took a quick peek around and then pulled his suitcase out from underneath his bunk. “I want to show you something.”
He pulled out a T-shirt featuring a caricature of the president, surrounded by the words Fuck El Payaso.
“Do you know what it means?” he asked, wearing a huge grin. “Means clown! Your president! I got it in Mexico—it’s how they call him there.”
So much for the NO POLITICS rule.
In January 2016, when Falwell hosted a speech in Iowa by then-candidate Trump, he engaged in a bit of Trumpian self-aggrandizement, crediting his own wizardry with saving the once troubled Liberty University. “We spent the ’80s and ’90s struggling to survive,” Falwell told the audience in Davenport, referring to the school’s past near bankruptcy and $100 million debt. “One of the things that attracted me to Donald Trump is that I see our country at a stage now where we’re approaching $20 trillion in debt, and it reminds me of where Liberty University was in the 1990s,” he said before endorsing the candidate for president.
When Trump came onstage, he returned the favor. “The job Jerry’s done at Liberty University is amazing,” Trump said. “One of the things I noticed the other day looking over numbers … looking at different colleges, and you’re one of the most financially solid, financially sound universities in the entire United States, with a tremendous endowment and tremendous amounts of money,” Trump proclaimed. “You don’t have debt.” (Falwell responded to Trump’s flattery with a caveat: “That’s why I have to make it clear that it’s not Liberty’s endorsement, it’s my personal endorsement—because the IRS would love to get their hands on that, too.”)
President Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell on stage during Liberty University’s commencement ceremony on May 13, 2017.
President Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell on stage during Liberty University’s commencement ceremony on May 13, 2017. | Getty Images
Liberty University may not have debt, but its students and graduates do. A lot of it. And that’s how the school—and the Falwells—made their money.
Liberty bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university—and that’s true. But once you start breaking down its numbers, as Kevin Carey recently did for the New York Times, a much more complicated picture emerges of a place that sells itself as an educational Eden.
“Liberty is essentially a medium-size nonprofit college that owns a huge for-profit college,” Carey wrote. Although Falwell boasts that his school has tens of thousands of students, his residential program has only 14,000, a small fraction of the overall figure. Liberty’s online program has about 64,000, nearly four times as many, making it second only to the University of Phoenix in terms of the size of its online student body. On paper, the only difference between the two online schools is that Liberty’s is tax-exempt. In 2015, it received $345 million from federal undergraduate grant and loan programs—more than twice the amount received by the largest public university in the country. “Liberty’s considerable financial success—it has built a $1 billion cash reserve, and Mr. Falwell is paid more than $900,000 a year,” Carey wrote, “was underwritten largely by the federal taxpayer.” That money has blessed the Falwells with a life of considerable plenty, giving them the financial means to, among other things, purchase a $4.65 million property in Miami Beach. (A university spokesperson disputes that characterization but repeatedly refused to speak on the record about the matter.)
Liberty University may not have debt, but its students and graduates do. A lot of it. And that’s how the school—and the Falwells—made their money.
Some of the federal funds Liberty students receive pay for an education that is not only explicitly religious, but which requires proselytizing. At Liberty, perhaps the two most controversial examples of this are the school’s Creation Studies 290 and Evangelism 101 courses.
According to Liberty’s website, the purpose of the university’s Center for Creation Studies is to “research, promote, and communicate a robust young-Earth creationist view of Earth history. Beginning with sound biblical interpretation, we seek to understand how science can inform us about God's magnificent creation.” The Center operates Creation Hall, which boasts fossilized bones from an Allosaurus, which according to young-Earth science, are 6,000 to 10,000 years old—as old as literally everything else in the universe.
At the 2010 dedication of Creation Hall, Rev. Jonathan Falwell, Jerry, Jr.’s brother and the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, hailed the exhibit as an opportunity for Christians to “stand up for the truth.” Liberty University, he promised, “will always hold to the truth accounted in Genesis.” That probably explains why the course was a graduation requirement from at least 2004, when I began as a student there, until the 2016-2017 school year, when it was no longer required for certain degree programs.
Evangelism 101, on the other hand, continues to be a graduation requirement for residential Liberty students. The very first line of the course syllabus describes it as “an in-depth study of how to lead people to Christ.” The course rationale is even more clear: “This course was designed in obedience to the biblical mandate supported by Liberty University to evangelize the lost. Its purpose is to train the student to evangelize and to equip others for evangelism in today’s culture.” To pass the course, students are required to write a “witness report,” a two-page paper that documents a “face-to-face encounter” they have with one “unbeliever” to whom they evangelize. (I imagine the Miami Hostel would provide ample opportunity for this kind of proselytization, if only its owners allowed it on property.) If you’re a non-believer, you’re still required to take the course, but can opt for a slightly different path: “If not a Christian, the student will instead write a paper of the same length for equal grading consideration explaining why he or she is not a Christian and elaborating on the teachings presented in the course.”
There’s little doubt that Liberty’s intent in requiring these courses is idealistic, as I well know from attending the university for my undergraduate degree. The school is, after all, premised on the fervent shared beliefs of all those in its orbit. But some employers seem to not think much of it—which may be why so many students have a hard time landing decent salaried jobs and paying back their loans. Within three years of graduating from Liberty University, almost 10 percent of students default on their loans, well above the national average of 6.5 percent among recent graduates of private nonprofit four-year colleges (its default rate is nonetheless slightly lower than the national average graduates of all colleges, profit and nonprofit). While most don’t default, many make almost no effort to reduce their balances, says Carey, who notes that “only 38 percent of Liberty borrowers manage to pay down as little as one dollar on their student loan principal within three years of leaving school.”
Were Liberty a for-profit school, it would have to note its lousy loan repayment rates on its promotional material, thanks to borrower protections put into place during the Obama administration. It’s not unlike a lung cancer warning on cigarette packaging, says Carey: “U.S. Department of Education Warning: A majority of recent student loan borrowers at this school are not paying down their loans.”
The rationale was that the requirement would protect students from taking on a lifetime of debt from fraudulent schools. In a March 2016 news release announcing debt relief for students defrauded by 91 campuses of Corinthian College, the Department of Education said it was committed to “aggressive and comprehensive action to address fraudulent, illegal and abusive practices in higher education.”
Last January, Falwell told the Chronicle of Higher Education that Trump assigned him to a task force to identify changes that should be made in the Department of Education. Among those items on his list, said Falwell, were “overreaching regulation” and “borrower defense” rules. “I’ve got notebooks full of issues,” Falwell told the Chronicle.
Students and guests sing songs of praise ahead of Donald Trump’s appearance any Liberty’s January 18, 2016 convocation.
Students and guests sing songs of praise ahead of Donald Trump’s appearance any Liberty’s January 18, 2016 convocation. | Getty Images
Undoubtedly some of these issues are ones whose repeal could help Liberty continue raking in dough. According to its tax documents, Liberty’s “primary mission” is to provide “quality collegiate education” (language that no doubt satisfies federal requirements). While plenty of its residential programs fulfill this mission, some might question if the school’s insanely profitable online programs provide the same educational quality. One online graduate-level religion course, for example, Strategic Prayer and Spiritual Warfare (Evangelism 670), requires students to write a 7- to 10-page final paper outlining “a plan for growth in various aspects of his/her prayer life.” For full-time non-divinity students pursuing a master’s degree online, the cost of this three-credit course is $1,695. (Divinity students, however, can take advantage of special block rate pricing of $2,750 per semester.) The core of most of Liberty’s online classes is the group discussion board, in which students are expected to discuss class content. Each discussion board assignment consists of an initial 200 to 400 word thread and two 150-300 word replies to two other threads; many do not require students to use sources. These discussions constitute a large portion of a student’s final grade. (In Torts Law (JURI 560), for example, students of Liberty’s online law school can earn three times as many points for their discussion board participation than their semester-capping “Biblical Torts Research Paper.”)
With this in mind, it’s not a stretch to view Liberty’s online business model—which saved the school from ruin and brings in most of its profit—as something of a slumlord scenario: Keep costs low, bring in struggling customers looking for a bargain, and give them a low-quality product. Not unlike the Falwells’ Miami hostel.
When questioned about the quality of Liberty’s online education offerings, university officials declined to speak on the record with POLITICO Magazine. In an email sent on the condition of anonymity, a Liberty spokesperson said that the school had just received a 10-year accreditation renewal “after an exhaustive review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools[,] … a tough regional accreditor that requires Liberty to meet the same academic standards regardless of the method of course delivery.” The official also said that educational outcomes are best measured by Liberty’s students, and as evidence, referred POLITICO Magazine to a page on the school’s website titled “What Alumni Say,” featuring positive testimonials by select alumni.
Other graduates have a decidedly different view of not only the quality of a Liberty education, but the moral character of the school’s leadership.
For some alumni, displeasure with Liberty University has been growing for a while, but Chancellor Falwell’s recent defense of President Trump’s remarks about the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—there were “very fine people on both sides,” Trump said; “he’s not politically correct … and that’s one of the reasons I supported him,” Falwell told Martha Raddatz on ABC News’ “This Week”—led them to organize a more public expression of their disapproval of Falwell.
On September 5, dozens of Liberty graduates are planning to return their diplomas to Falwell “to protest the university’s departure from its core mission and values and to communicate our strong disgust with both the chancellor, and the university that continues to employ him,” according to a letter penned by the group. The signatories allege that by failing to disavow Trump’s “open disrespect for ostensible Christian ideals,” Falwell has “degraded [Liberty’s] core mission and defiled its core beliefs, substituting the worship of power and influence for the worship of God. Ten years after [Rev.] Jerry Falwell’s death, the decades-long criticisms of the concept of a Religious Right have been proven true.”
Calling the mail-back a “joke” and “publicity stunt,” Falwell told the Independent Journal Review, a conservative news website, that the graduates are merely “grandstanding to gain five minutes of fame.” “Shame on the media for even reporting,” he said.
But for many alumni—and, based on my previous reporting, quite a few current faculty and students—Liberty University has come to represent what happens when religion commingles with soliciting, fundraising, politics and salesmen.
Maybe that’s why those activities aren’t welcome at the Miami Hostel. From experience, the Falwells know what strange bedfellows those pursuits often prove to be.
Brandon Ambrosino is a writer living in Delaware. His pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, The Atlantic and the BBC, among other outlets.https://www.politico.com/magazine/story ... ell-215528