I sometimes joke that Liberty University and I grew up together. My childhood home was about a mile from campus. While Liberty was getting on its feet, so was I. I started kindergarten at a Baptist school and stayed through 9th grade. I had Bible class every day and chapel every Thursday. I knew evolution was wrong and my parents were supposed to vote for Ronald Reagan.
Since I can remember, Liberty University has been run by a Falwell—first, Jerry Falwell Sr., then his elder son, Jerry Jr. The former co-founded Liberty in 1971. The latter left it in disgrace in 2020, amid revelations that Fallwell Jr. drank excessively, talked about his sex life at work, and admitted to an intimate relationship outside his marriage. It wasn’t the first scandal of its kind in evangelical circles, but it stood out in one important way: The culture of silence that normally governs evangelical scandal management didn’t take hold this time.
As the scandal broke, a group of alumni, students, and faculty created a Twitter account—@Save71LU, a tribute to the university’s founding date—to demand Falwell’s termination and changes in university governance. The group’s activism also created space for others to protest university misdeeds under Falwell’s tenure. The podcast Gangster Capitalism devoted a full season to the scandal, interviewing over 80 former and current students and staff about their experiences, many on the record. In a final episode, the podcast also covered the stories of women sexually assaulted at the school, some of whom later filed a lawsuit, Jane Does 1-12 vs Liberty University, Inc., alleging the university violated federal Title IX requirements by mishandling their claims.
Liberty is a microcosm of the Christian Right, so its response to Falwell’s scandal may indicate where political evangelism is headed after Trump’s loss in 2020 and the failed insurrection that followed. By this measure, the future is bleak. The university doesn’t seem interested in a transparent accounting of Falwell’s tenure, so its problems are likely to persist. But opposition to the university’s approach also illuminates divides inside the Christian Right. The question is whether these divides will lead to change.
In the Beginning
To understand the Faustian bargain that underpins contemporary evangelism, and Liberty’s place within it, you have to understand its co-founder, Jerry Falwell Sr. Falwell’s religious sojourn began in 1956 when he founded Thomas Road Baptist Church, where he served as pastor until his death in 2007. Thomas Road called itself an independent Baptist church and was part of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI), a loose network of independent fundamentalist churches.
Protestant fundamentalism first emerged in the U.S. during the late 1800s in response to two perceived threats to biblical authority: historicism, which treated the Bible as an historical rather than sacred document, and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which laid the groundwork for a theory of human evolution over millennia rather than the biblical seven days. Several additional phases of fundamentalist resurgence have occurred since, argues evangelical historian John Fea, each coinciding with “cultural, intellectual, and ecclesiastical change” in broader society.
Falwell became a minister in the most recent wave, from 1960 through the present, when fundamentalism became a vehicle for resisting the Civil Rights movement and evangelical denominations that supported or were insufficiently opposed to it. Fundamentalists’ strident opposition to Civil Rights splintered evangelism into two camps—those who continued to call themselves evangelicals and those who defined themselves as fundamentalists. This didn’t mean evangelicals ardently supported Civil Rights; both camps tended to support the status quo, which in Lynchburg meant accepting White dominance as natural and morally legitimate. The distinction was instead mostly stylistic. For fundamentalists, there could be no room for silence, accommodation or equivocation. Civil Rights was wrong and separation from the secular world was in order. Until then, “evangelical” had been a catchall term for Protestant groups that formed during the Great Awakening and emphasized conversion and “fervent expression[s]” of worship. After the split, many fundamentalists rejected the label.
In his church’s early years, Falwell aligned himself with fundamentalists and set about building a self-contained world for his flock that included a church, a school, and a college. In practice, however, his efforts often echoed and affirmed the backlash politics of segregationists like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. When Falwell opened Lynchburg Christian Academy in 1967, for example, he billed it as a place where fundamentalists could keep their children safe from liberal influences. But it was also clearly a segregation academy—Falwell opened it after Lynchburg agreed to comply with court-ordered desegregation of its public schools.
Falwell’s comments about Martin Luther King, Jr. also resonated with the politics of White backlash. In his now infamous 1965 sermon “Ministers and Marches,” Falwell justified opposition to Civil Rights in terms of the fundamentalist imperative to separate from the world, saying, “We are not told to wage wars against bootleggers, liquor stores, gamblers, murderers, prostitutes, racketeers, prejudiced persons or institutions, or any other existing evil as such.” But like other segregationists, Falwell simultaneously smeared the movement by suggesting it was working with, or had been infiltrated by, Communists.
When Falwell co-founded Liberty in 1971, he was still committed to separatism, and envisioned the school as a place where young fundamentalists could earn degrees without encountering secular temptations like drinking, dancing, and pre-marital sex. But from the beginning, he also seemed to refute the principle of separatism, encouraging students to seek jobs beyond the church and mission field and win their way into elite professions. In The Unlikely Disciple, journalist Kevin Roose, who spent a semester undercover at Liberty in 2007, recounts Falwell’s description of Liberty’s early days at convocation. Liberty didn’t have dorms, a gym, or even a formal curriculum, but it had a vision: that “through producing doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, pastors, evangelists, and athletes, we wanted to take the gospel of Christ to the World.”
Building Power and Reclaiming Secular Territory
Although Jimmy Carter was the country’s first Baptist president, his politics diverged from those of ascendant fundamentalists. He supported Civil Rights, rejected a federal ban on abortion, and allowed the IRS to eliminate automatic tax-exemption for Christian schools.
Falwell began to worry that separatism amounted to ceding territory to secular interests and that fundamentalist enclaves would be swallowed whole if they didn’t fight back. Falwell chose politics as his primary battlefield, and began to publicly judge politicians against a fundamentalist yardstick. He used a 1976 episode of his TV show The Old-Time Gospel Hour, for example, to call Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter’s Christian bona fides into question. And in 1979, he created a political action committee, The Moral Majority, to formally support Ronald Reagan.
Reckoning there was political strength in numbers, Falwell also sought to mend the split between evangelicals and fundamentalists. In 1981, he edited a book, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon, reiterating fundamentalist principles but appealing to evangelicals to join forces because secular permissiveness was a threat to all Protestants. It was a marked shift for a man who had once claimed, “I used to like the word ‘evangelical’ but it too has been corrupted…every breed of religious animal hides under that tent today.”
Falwell started using the term “Conservative Christianity” to refer to his big tent. It was an open admission that his new movement would marry politics and religion and that he’d serve as broker between them. Indeed, by the late 1980s, Falwell was just as likely to call himself an evangelical as a fundamentalist—in part because he’d brought the factions together again, on his terms.
Walking Back Separatism
After Reagan’s victory, Falwell became the face of a movement. In 1985, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine alongside the headline, “Thunder on the Right.” Liberty became a required stop for Republican political candidates for decades to come. Ron Paul, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz all visited the campus, as did two sitting Republican presidents—George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump—and conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. (Appearances by Ted Kennedy, Bernie Sanders, and Jimmy Carter were exceptions that proved the rule.)
Although Falwell’s strident views didn’t change, his view of separatism had. He believed Christians could only control society by succeeding in secular professions where U.S. values and norms were developed and maintained. And to do that, his students needed to be conversant in middle class culture.
To that end, Falwell launched a trial run in 1982, announcing that Liberty’s on-campus theatre could screen the then-five-year-old blockbuster Star Wars. It was a daring first act given that Liberty had traditionally prohibited students from seeing movies, going so far as to occasionally station lookouts at the 4-plex in the local mall when I was growing up. Falwell’s decision was so discordant that some students picketed the campus theatre.
In her 2001 history, The Book of Jerry Falwell, anthropologist Susan Harding argues that the screening was part of a larger process of reframing what fundamentalists viewed as prestige. Families who sent their children to Liberty often saw being a pastor or missionary as an apex job, and Falwell wanted to change that. By diminishing the importance of separatist behaviors championed by fundamentalist preachers (such as eschewing movies), Falwell was telling young Christians they could engage with the wider culture and still be conservative Christians.
Liberty’s campus also became part of Falwell’s opportunistic overture to secular norms of success. In the mid-1980s, Falwell decided Liberty needed a more traditional university appearance, with brick-and-mortar buildings replacing the mostly temporary structures that made up the campus. He also wanted world-class sports arenas so Liberty could compete in the NCAA.
Falwell borrowed heavily to finance his vision. By the time he was done, the university was deep in debt. To refinance the debt, Falwell applied to the Lynchburg Industrial Authority to issue tax-free bonds. But the fallout from a subsequent legal fight over the bonds’ tax-free status meant that by mid-1994, Liberty’s largest bond holder, Household Finance, was threatening foreclosure. Students went home for Thanksgiving unsure if their university would reopen. At the last minute, two supporters saved the university by purchasing the debt owed to Household. Smaller bondholders—including businesses in Lynchburg and viewers of The Old-Time Gospel Hour—had to wait years for repayment.
When Falwell Jr. succeeded his father in 2007, he embarked on a second building spree. At the time, the university occupied a narrow slice of land on a small ridge called Candler’s Mountain, between a rail line at its base and a highway bypass midway up the slope. Falwell Jr. extended the university’s footprint up the mountain, building multiple dorms and a year-round ski center. In a provocative move, he also rebranded the slope as “Liberty Mountain,” and created a giant monogram of the university’s initials near the top of the ridge.
Liberty’s embrace of secular norms—which is how fundamentalists saw watching movies, joining worldly professions, and entering politics—was also a matter of survival. Although the elder Falwell had long decried evolution, he eventually lifted Liberty’s ban on teaching the subject in 1982, after the Virginia State Board of Education ruled that Liberty’s biology majors couldn’t be certified to teach in public schools because their curriculum omitted evolution. Biology majors began taking evolution courses, but as Kevin Roose discovered during his 2007 semester at Liberty, everyone else took classes in “Creation Studies.”
There were also limits to Falwell Sr.’s accommodations of “secular” influences on campus. While he encouraged students to aspire to upper-middle class trappings of success, he rejected associated mores regarding gender and sexuality and enshrined fundamentalist views in the university’s honor code, “the Liberty Way.” Like most honor codes, the Liberty Way governs issues like academic integrity and bullying, but also includes detailed rules on dancing, drinking, and sexual intimacy.
Since its founding, for example, Liberty has banned sex outside of marriage. At the time of Falwell’s death, any physical contact beyond holding hands could get you a $10 fine and four demerits. It remains common for campus pastors to lead informal discussions with student groups about where to draw the line on physical contact before marriage. And women who break the rules face greater social consequences than men who do the same. In The Unlikely Disciple, Roose recounts what one female student told him: “If you’re a guy, you can have sex and repent for it, and everything’s okay. But, for girls, if it gets out that you’re not a virgin, you’re pretty much a leper.”
In Jane Does vs Liberty, one plaintiff alleges that she was expelled after administrators discovered she was pregnant. When she protested, the university explained that she was “a liability to the University as a bad example to other students,” but offered to let her back if she immediately married the father.
The university’s approach to sexual orientation has also remained consistent. Falwell Sr. was an early and vociferous opponent of the gay rights movement. In Moral Majority fundraising pitches Falwell often described his group as at war against homosexuality. And after 9/11, he notoriously declared, “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
Under his son, the Liberty Way continued its zero-tolerance approach to same-sex relationships, barring not just sex but also any “romantic displays of affection with a member of the same sex (e.g., hand-holding, kissing, dating, etc.).” The university also offers conversion therapy for LGBQT students and prohibits transgender and nonbinary students from “asking to be referred to by pronouns inconsistent with one’s birth sex” or “using restrooms and changing facilities reserved for persons other than one’s birth sex.” Some former LGBTQ students allege they were psychologically traumatized by the university’s use of conversion therapy.
The one area in which the university has ceded significant ground is its dress code. For its first 30 years, students were required to wear professional attire to classes: dress jackets and ties for men, and blouses and long skirts for women. Over time, the code was relaxed, first by allowing jeans and flip flops in class in 2005, then permitting shorter hemlines for women’s skirts in 2015 (although the permitted distance above the knee was still specified in inches).
Policing the Border Between Pure and Profane
Under the Falwells’ opportunistic compromise, students could take well-paying professional jobs and engage in bare-knuckled politics with Democrats, but they couldn’t disturb fundamentalism’s social hierarchies and social mores. Indeed, the political alliance Falwell Sr. made with Republicans was premised on the GOP protecting and maintaining these hierarchies. If students tried to challenge fundamentalism’s rigid pecking order, the university used the Liberty Way or direct edicts to stop them.
The women represented in Jane Does vs Liberty allege, for example, that the university weaponized the code of conduct to discourage them from making formal complaints about sexual assaults and punish them if they persisted. One plaintiff says she was raped off-campus by a Liberty alumnus who slipped a date-rape drug into her wine. After she reported the rape to Liberty’s Title IX office, she was told she’d be fined $500 for drinking.
The university also policed students who challenged its alliance with the Republican Party. For nearly 40 years, Liberty didn’t have a chapter of College Democrats. But in 2008, some students formed one to campaign for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. The following spring, university administrators told the club they would no longer recognize it on the grounds that the Democratic platform “is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian Doctrine,” leaving the group ineligible for university funds. After Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump in January 2016, he pulled several critical articles about the presidential candidate from the student newspaper.
Scandal and Response
The scandal that ended Falwell Jr.’s career at the university took years to reach a boiling point. Unflattering information about Falwell amassed slowly, with mounting revelations about shady real estate dealings, compromising photos, and bizarre behavior. The cumulative picture suggested that, at a bare minimum, Falwell’s personal life was inconsistent with the behavior Liberty demanded of students.
In 2017, a Politico expose, “My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse,” revealed that Falwell’s son Trey had purchased a gay-friendly hostel with a loan from his father. The story also made the first public mention of Trey’s business partner, Giancarlo Granda, who would prove central to Falwell’s downfall.
In 2018, Buzzfeed published details of a lawsuit filed in 2017 against the family and Granda. The plaintiffs argued they had helped Granda find the hostel property as a joint investment opportunity but were later sidelined from the purchase. The article also provided head-scratching details about the Falwells’ life outside of Lynchburg, including that they had met Granda when he was a 20-year-old pool attendant at a Miami Beach hotel and had loaned him money to start a business. The article also reported that Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, was central in securing Falwell’s endorsement of Trump’s candidacy.
A year later, several news outlets pulled some of these disparate facts together, reporting that before Falwell endorsed Trump, he’d requested Cohen’s help destroying compromising photos held by an unnamed third party. Although the outlets cautioned that there was no direct evidence of a quid pro quo, the relationship between the Falwells and Trump’s fixer seemed questionable.
Later in 2019, Politico reported on Liberty employees’ revelations that Falwell had hired family members for top university posts, directed school resources into family businesses, and “graphically discuss[ed] his sex life with employees.”
In 2020, Falwell courted more controversy when he tweeted complaints about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s mask mandate, writing in a now-deleted tweet, “If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!” An accompanying picture showed a mask superimposed with an image of two men at a Halloween party in the early 1980s, one in a KKK robe and the other in blackface. The picture was part of Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page and surfaced in the press in early 2019. The governor initially acknowledging he was likely one of the men in the picture, but later recanted his remarks.
The reaction from Liberty’s Black students, staff, and alumni was immediate—that the image was traumatizing and Falwell never should have reproduced it. Several Black athletes announced they were leaving the university; four Black staff members resigned; and 35 Black alumni sent a letter, signed by thousands more, demanding Falwell delete the tweet and apologize for behavior that was politically “divisive” and “not fitting” for the leader of an evangelical university. The writers also suggested Falwell leave the school if he preferred politics to “discipleship of students,” but agreed to help him chart a path forward if he chose to stay. For many, the tweet was the culmination of years of racial insensitivity on a campus founded by a defender of segregation.
Initially Falwell doubled down, tweeting that he’d posted the image “to shine a spotlight on the fact that Democrats are and always have been the real racists in this country.” Two weeks later, he apologized, but the damage was done.
That summer, while most of the country remained in pandemic lockdown, the Falwells took a vacation on a yacht belonging to NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick (one of whose drivers the university was sponsoring). Falwell posted photos from the trip on Instagram, including one where he stands next to a woman with his pants unzipped. The university responded by announcing that Falwell would be taking a leave of absence.
The final coup de grace, however, came on August 24, 2020, when Giancarlo Granda told Reuters that he’d had a years-long sexual relationship with the Falwells and offered titillating details, including that he had sex with Becki Falwell while her husband watched. The next day, Falwell resigned.
After his resignation, media outlets reported that Falwell was receiving a $10.5 million severance package from the university. The news shocked many, but Falwell offered a pugnacious reply—he was entitled to the money because the university hadn’t accused him of violating his contract.
Eight months later the university did just that, filing a breach-of-contract lawsuit arguing that Falwell had renegotiated his 2019 contract in bad faith because he failed to disclose he was being extorted at the time. As evidence, the university pointed to an interview Falwell gave the Washington Examiner two days before he resigned where he claimed Granda had threatened to make the affair public “unless we agreed to pay him.” The university is seeking $10 million in damages—roughly equivalent to Falwell’s severance package.
Save 71—Style and Substance
Just days after Falwell Jr. posted his racy vacation pictures, a new Twitter account was established: @Save71LU, which describes itself as “a group of Liberty alumni, students and faculty calling for new leadership.” Its three leaders—Dustin Wahl, Calum Best, and Justin Winter—are all former students who graduated between 2010 and 2020.
In the rough-and-tumble world of Twitter, Save 71 stands out for its professional tone. It doesn’t make personal attacks or argue with commenters. Moreover, although the scandal that engulfed Falwell is full of salacious details, Save 71 neither dwells on them nor mocks the school’s former first family. In one retweet, Wahl even took liberal pundit Jonathan Chait to task for mocking a 911 call Falwell Jr.’s wife made after he fell down the stairs at their home.
Save 71 also doesn’t focus on hot-button political issues like abortion, nor use religious language in every tweet. In the sample of the 420 tweets and retweets I reviewed, the Bible is only mentioned once, and the word Christian appears in just 19 tweets. Instead, the group’s defining feature is a dogged focus on Falwell Jr. and his misdeeds, with nearly 40 percent of posts mentioning Falwell by name, almost always negatively.
Save 71’s professional tone is paired with a detailed focus on complaints about the university’s day-to-day management, frequently mentioning Liberty administrators by name. When Liberty announced in August 2020 that board member Jerry Prevo would serve as interim president while Falwell was on leave, Save 71 tweeted:
Jerry Prevo is not the solution Liberty needs—he is part of the problem. We want Falwell to be permanently removed because of the toxic culture he is responsible for, and Prevo is one of his greatest enablers.
A few days later, Save 71 retweeted a Liberty alumni who, in a now private tweet, @replied all of Liberty’s Board of Trustees to ask how they planned to respond to news reports that Falwell had “liked” pictures of scantily clad Liberty students on social media.
The day after Granda’s Reuters interview was published, Save 71 offered a play-by-play of the revelations and their fallout, as Falwell tendered his resignation, walked it back, then resubmitted it.
In the days that followed, the group’s feed was part requiem, part to-do list. The morning after Falwell resigned, for example, the group took a mournful tone:
We are reminded every day that @LibertyU will not improve until its professors don’t have to fear retribution for saying what they believe. There is no academic liberty at Liberty. Falwell was just one of the reasons why.
By the afternoon, the group was looking ahead:
Liberty’s Board of Trustees is not a legitimate governing body. They have abdicated their moral and fiduciary duties for years. They should surrender their authority one more time and appoint third parties to investigate LU’s leadership and to serve on a search committee.
In subsequent months, Save 71 focused primarily on calling out bad governance at the university, including nepotism and questionable spending. The group also kept tabs on Trey Falwell, a senior vice president at the university, ultimately breaking the news of his firing in April 2021.
After Falwell posted inappropriate pictures from his August vacation, Save 71 tweeted a link to a Politico story that questioned Falwell’s claim that he only used the yacht for university business:
Save 71 has occasionally weighed in on politics as well, albeit within a Never-Trump Republican framework. On December 14, 2020, for example, it took a strong stand against a “think tank” Falwell created in 2019 with Turning Point USA’s founder Charlie Kirk:
@falkirk_center’s political agenda is inconsistent with basic Christian ethics. But beyond that, it is wrong and dangerous for Falkirk to engage in any political activity at all—and it jeopardizes @LibertyU’s legal status as a non-profit.
In January 2021, Save 71 also linked to an article written by its co-founder Calum Best, who described the center as “just another right-wing slime factory that undermines any good-faith conservative movement.” Save 71 kept the heat on Kirk too, retweeting a story alleging he had paid “teenagers to make fake accounts to support Trump.”
Save 71 has also supported the women who comprise the Jane Does lawsuit. On the day news of the case broke, Save 71 shared a link to the lawsuit and retweeted a clip of the plaintiffs’ lead attorney saying Liberty had “weaponized” its code of conduct to prevent women from reporting their assaults. In late September, Save 71 announced it was partnering with Justice for Janes, a student group supporting reforms in the university’s handling of sexual assault, and shared a petition “calling for an independent audit of LU’s HR and Title IX offices.”
Other Ways to Be Evangelical?
The fact that Save 71 exists is remarkable. Evangelical institutions often rely on a tacit code of silence to protect leaders accused of wrongdoing. Church problems are to be handled in-house, and those who air grievances publicly are often ostracized and condemned.
That all of this happened at Liberty is even more extraordinary. The cult of personality around the Falwells is alive and well at the university. When Jerry Prevo spoke to students after Falwell’s leave of absence in mid-2020, he credited Falwell with enhancing the school’s financial and spiritual footing. After Falwell’s resignation, the university signaled that the Falwell name will remain central to its brand. This April, Prevo announced that Falwell’s younger brother, Jonathan, would take over as campus pastor. News reports suggest he is also being considered as chancellor.
However, there are important limits to Save 71’s good governance approach. Bad policies can be enacted consistently and transparently, and still be wrong. Save 71’s approach to the Liberty Way is instructive here. While Save 71 opposes the weaponization of the honor code, it hadn’t, at the time of my analysis, questioned the code itself. Nor has it called on Liberty to rethink its mission, even though that mission has been used to label political dissent (usually by Democrats) as spiritual failing. Craven governance, in this perspective, is less a root problem than the manifestation of one. Politicized fundamentalism wrapped in middle-class respectability is the actual root, and its ethos is baked into the university’s DNA.
Falwell Sr.’s efforts to marry Protestant fundamentalism with conservative Republican politics was based on a Faustian bargain. He would fight hard for the GOP if Republicans in turn agreed to protect fundamentalist views on social issues. Both parties to the deal learned to defend practices they hadn’t supported before, like opposition to abortion for the GOP and free trade for evangelicals. But over time, the alliance became an end in itself. Principles were set aside for power, which both Falwells clung to with full Manichean gusto. This logic is now so strong that even though the New Right’s core constituencies—big business, neoconservatives, and evangelicals—have been drifting apart for some time, they largely coalesced behind Trump in 2016 and 2020. Among evangelicals, this logic was reason enough to fall in line behind a twice-divorced businessman with questionable business and personal ethics: The other side would always be worse.
Falwell Jr.’s behavior may be a particularly noxious manifestation of his father’s bargain, but replacing him with a kinder, gentler conservative Christian won’t fix what Falwell Sr. wrought. Trump is not an aberration in today’s GOP so much as a reflection of the changes that have occurred within it. In many ways Trump is a garish, over-the-top successor to Falwell Sr. himself. Falwell’s willingness to subsidize and publicize The Clinton Chronicles, a right-wing documentary rife with conspiracism, foreshadowed in miniature Trump’s amplification of countless conspiracy theories against his political opponents. Moreover, even if the university abandoned politics altogether—a considerable long shot—its students would still contend with a fundamentalist worldview that is grossly unfair to women, LGBTQ folks, and anyone who isn’t Republican.
Save 71 is asking important questions about what Liberty should look like going forward, but its answers are narrow and do not, at least yet, disturb the original sin of Liberty’s internal social contract. To be fair, a new future may be hard to imagine, but there are options. A vocal, if minority, segment of evangelicals in the late 19th Century supported abolitionism and suffrage for women and Black Americans, proving that biblical principles can be marshaled for emancipatory politics.
Today’s evangelicals could also join Protestant churches where adherence to conservative politics isn’t an acid test for entry. Others can take the exvangelical route, leaving the fold and disrupting the passage of fundamentalist norms from one generation to the next. But, for those not willing to break with their faith, having a movement of people inside places like Liberty who are willing to reject fundamentalism in Christian terms remains an important means for blunting the toxic politics of places like Liberty.
Save 71’s millennial and Generation Z members have made it clear they aren’t happy with their forefathers approach. Now, they need to decide if they will do anything substantial to change it.
 When Liberty was founded in 1971 it was called Lynchburg Baptist College. In 1976, Falwell Sr. changed the name to Liberty Baptist College. In 1985, Liberty became Liberty University. See: https://www.liberty.edu/aboutliberty/index.cfm?PID=33803
 Eliza Griswold, “Silence Is Not Spiritual: The Evangelical #MeToo Movement,” The New Yorker, June 15, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/silence-is-not-spiritual-the-evangelical-metoo-movement
 Anne Ashley, “Save71: Alumni-led group forms to demand leadership reform at Liberty University,” WDBJ-7 News, August 10, 2020, https://www.wdbj7.com/2020/08/10/save71-alumi-led-group-forms-to-demand-leadership-reform-at-liberty-university/
 Meagan Clark and Paul Glader, “Liberty University Alums Demand Change after Falwell’s Exit,” Religion Unplugged, August 26, 2020, https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/8/26/liberty-university-alumni-demand-changes-after-falwells-departure
 Gangster Capitalism, Season 3: Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University, “Bonus: Jane Does v. Liberty,” available through Apple Podcasts at: https://podcasts.apple.com/no/podcast/s3-jerry-falwell-jr-and-liberty-university-bonus-jane/id1460320573?i=1000533064407
 United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Jane Does 1-12 v. Liberty University, INC,. filed July 20, 2021, available at: https://www.justiceforjanes.com/.
 Adelle M. Banks,. “Falwell Realigns: Long an Independent, Jerry Falwell joins South Baptist Fold.” Religion News Service, January 1, 1996. https://religionnews.com/1996/01/01/top-story-falwell-realigns-long-an-… . See also Frances FitzGerald, “A Disciplined, Charing Army.” The New Yorker, May 16, 2007. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1981/05/18/a-disciplined-charging-army
 Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Homepage. https://www.bbfi.org/
 George Houghton, Th.D., “Are Conservative Southern Baptists Fundamentalists?” Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary. January-February, 2004. https://faith.edu/faith-news/are-conservative-southern-baptists-fundamentalists/
 There isn’t an exact start date to fundamentalism. Many scholars argue that fundamentalist thinking began to emerge in the mid- to late-1800s, but most acknowledge that fundamentalism was only formally codified in the years from 1910 to 1915 with the publication of The Fundamentals, a collection of ninety essays that lay out a theological case for fundamentalism. See: Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger, Righting America at the Creation Museum. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).
 John Fea, “Understanding the Changing Facade of Twentieth-Century American Protestant Fundamentalism: Toward a Historical Definition,” in Trinity Journal 15(2) (2009): 181–99. (as reprinted at The Gospel Coalition blog: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/the-four-phases-of-protestant-fundamentalism-in-america/ )
 Susan Friend Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics. (Princeton University Press, 2001. Reprint).
 Anthea Butler, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. (University of North Carolina Press, 2021).
 According to religious historian Randall Balmer the term “the Great Awakening” refers to two periods of rapid change within evangelicalism—the first in the early to mid-1700s and the second in the early 1800s. In both periods, evangelicals revised their view on salvation to include more human agency on earth. This shift centered spreading the gospel and winning converts. See: Randall Balmer, The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond. (Baylor University Press, 2010).
 Jonathan Merritt, “Defining Evangelical.” The Atlantic, December 7, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/evangelical-christian/418236/
 Fea, “Understanding the Changing Facade of Twentieth-Century American Protestant Fundamentalism: Toward a Historical Definition,” 181–99.)
 Henry Faulkner Heil, “No Matter How Long: The Struggle to Integrate the Public Schools in Lynchburg, 1954-1970.” in Lynch’s Ferry: A Journal of Local History (Spring 2006). https://www.lynchsferry.com/archives/spring-2006/no-matter-how-long-the-struggle-to-integrate-the-public-schools-in-lynchburg-1954-1970.htm
 Jerry Falwell, “Ministers and Marches.” Sermon delivered to the Thomas Road Baptist Church, March 21, 1965. https://liberty.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p17184coll4/id/4692
 Jeremy Gray, “George Wallace told Congress Civil Rights Movement Affiliated with Communists.” Birmingham News Stories (2019) (original date: 15th July, 1963). https://www.al.com/birmingham-news-stories/2013/07/george_wallace_told_congress_c.html
 Kevin Roose, The Unlikely Disciple: A sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. (Grand Central Publishing, 2009).
 Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, 19.
 Robert Freedman, “The Religious Right and the Carter Administration.” in The Historical Journal 48(1) (2005): 231-260
 “Old Time Gospel Hour.” IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1401837/.
 Jerry Falwell,“Degrees of Punishment in Hell.” Sermon Delivered for Old Time Gospel Hour, September 15, 1976. https://liberty.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p17184coll9/id/8514/rec/1
 Ed Dobson, Ed Hindson, and Jerry Falwell,The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: The Resurgence of Conservative Christianity. (The Baker Publishing Group,1986) (second edition).
 Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, p. 148
 Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, p. 148
 Fea, “Understanding the Changing Facade of Twentieth-Century American Protestant Fundamentalism: Toward a Historical Definition,”
 Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, 16-17.
 Ted Allen,“Jimmy Carter latest in long line of presidents, political leaders to visit LU.” Liberty University General News. May 17, 2018. https://www.liberty.edu/news/2018/05/17/jimmy-carter-latest-in-long-line-of-presidents-political-leaders-to-visit-lu/
 Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, 146-147
 Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, 146-147
 Carolyn Gallaher, “Identity Politics and the Religious Right: Hiding Hate in the Landscape.” in Antipode 29(3) (1997): 256-277.
 Laura Gregg, “Circuit Judge Approves Issue of Tax-Free Bonds.” The Liberty Champion, March 28, 1990. Available online at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=paper_89_90
 Mark DeMoss, “Liberty University Refinancing Becomes a Reality.” The Liberty Champion, December 18, 1992. Available online at: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1013&context=paper_92_93
 Cody Lowe, “Liberty Saved by the Faith—and Money—of 2 men.” Roanoke Times, February 6, 1995.
 Lowe, “Faith.”
 Liz Barry, “Five Years After Death of Jerry Falwell Sr., Growth Booming at Liberty.” Lynchburg News and Advance, May 16, 2012, https://newsadvance.com/news/local/five-years-after-death-of-jerry-falwell-sr-growth-booming-at-liberty/article_2e2ec945-e2fe-57ca-b3b3-9adcdae726da.html
 Liz Barry, “Snowflex: What to know if you go.” Lynchburg News and Advance, October 1, 2009, https://newsadvance.com/archives/snowflex-what-to-know-if-you-go/article_ea2711f0-27f7-52c9-a4dc-19cfaa01dbc0.html
 Sandy Wallace, “ The Two Letters Dividing Lynchburg.” Central Virginia Blogger, September 26, 2013, http://centralvirginiablogger.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-two-letters-dividing-lynchburg.html
 Philip Smith, “Falwell’s ‘Creation’ Sermon Rekindles a Controversy.” The Washington Post, May 9, 1984, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1984/05/09/falwells-creation-sermon-rekindles-a-controversy/9fbf27f2-10ba-4681-b685-89d43365dafb/
 Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, 33
 “The Liberty Way—Student Honor Code.” Liberty University, https://www.liberty.edu/students/honor-code/
 “The Liberty Way,” 11
 Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, 2. In 2015 the University relaxed its definition of improper physical contact. See: Alexandra Markovich, “The World’s Largest Christian University Relaxes some Rules for Students.” The Washington Post, October 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/30/the-worlds-largest-christian-university-relaxes-some-rules-for-students/
 Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, 202
 Jane Does 1-12 vs Liberty University, Inc. p. 21
 Southern Poverty Law Center, “History of the Anti-Gay Movement since 1977.” The Intelligence Report, April 28, 2005, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2005/history-anti-gay-movement-1977
 John F. Harris, “God Gave U.S. ‘What we Deserve,’ Falwell Says.” The Washington Post, September 14. 2001, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2001/09/14/god-gave-us-what-we-deserve-falwell-says/ef3e322e-03e0-453e-b8ea-b8bc592a6479/
 “The Liberty Way,” 11.
 Rachel Mahoney, “Lawsuit claims LU urges conversion therapy for LGBTQ students, seeks end to Title IX exemption.” Lynchburg News and Advance, April 1, 2021, https://newsadvance.com/news/local/liberty-university/lawsuit-claims-lu-urges-conversion-therapy-for-lgbtq-students-seeks-end-to-title-ix-exemption/article_234c948a-926f-11eb-8958-e7fd8f0f60bd.html
 Lucas Wilson, “A Gay Man Says He Was Tormented at Liberty University. Now He’s Suing.” The Advocate, May 13. 2021, https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2021/5/13/gay-man-says-he-was-tormented-liberty-university-now-hes-suing
 Karen Swallow Prior, “Liberty University’s Flip Flop Moment.” Christianity Today, October 11, 2012, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/october-web-only/liberty-universitys-flip-flop-moment.html
 Will Collier, “Liberty Dress Code Uncovered.” Medium, December 4, 2016, https://medium.com/@mighty_william/liberty-dress-code-uncovered-113883e28f8e
 Cynthia Beasley, “‘Weaponization of the Liberty Way:’ LU Punishes Women Reporting Sex Assaults, Lawsuit says.” WSET ABC 13 News, July 20, 2021, https://wset.com/news/abc13-investigates/liberty-university-enabled-on-campus-rapes-12-women-file-class-action-lawsuit-title-ix-lynchburg-virginia
 Jane Does 1-12 v Liberty, Inc, page 24.
 Roberty Shibley, “Liberty University Derecognizes College Democrats.” Fire Newsdesk, May 26 , 2009, https://www.thefire.org/liberty-university-derecognizes-college-democrats/
 Charissa Koh, “Papered Over.” World, August 16, 2018, https://wng.org/articles/papered-over-1617301444
 Brandon Ambrosino, “My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse.” Politico Magazine, August 25, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/25/jerry-falwell-miami-hostel-liberty-university-trey-falwell-215528/
 Aram Roston, “Jerry Falwell Jr. and a Young Pool Attendant Launched a Business that Sparked a Bitter Dispute.” Buzzfeed News, May 31, 2018, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/aramroston/jerry-falwell-jr-michael-cohen-pool-attendant-lawsuit
 France Robles and Jim Rutenberg, “The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Micahel Cohen.” The New York Times, June 18, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/18/us/trump-falwell-endorsement-michael-cohen.html
 Brandon Ambrosino, “‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence.” Politico, September, 9, 2019, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/09/09/jerry-falwell-liberty-university-loans-227914/
 Marina Pitofsky, “Jerry Falwell Jr. mocks Virginia governor with blackface mask design.” The Hill, May 27, 2020, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/499800-jerry-falwell-jr-mocks-virginia-governor-with-blackface-mask. An archived copy of the tweet is available online: https://archive.md/S3wo7
 Laura Vozzella , Jim Morrison, and Gregory S. Schneider, “Ralph Northam Admits He Was in 1984 Yearbook Photo Showing Figures in Blackface, KKK hood.”The Washington Post, February 1, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-gov-northams-medical-school-yearbook-page-shows-men-in-blackface-kkk-robe/2019/02/01/517a43ee-265f-11e9-90cd-dedb0c92dc17_story.html
 Gary Robertson, “Virginia Governor’s Role in Blackface Yearbook Photo Unclear, School Says.” Reuters, May 22, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-virginia-politics/virginia-governors-role-in-blackface-yearbook-photo-unclear-school-says-idUSKCN1SS202. An investigation of the photo by Northam’s medical school was unable to definitively identify who was in the photo.
 Aris Folly, “Black staff, athletes leave Liberty University after Falwell tweet.” The Hill, June 24, 2020, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/504317-black-staff-athletes-leave-liberty-university-after-falwell
 Elizabeth Redden, “Resignations at Liberty University After Falwell’s Blackface Tweet.” Inside Higher Ed, June 10, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/06/10/resignations-liberty-university-after-falwells-blackface-tweet
 L.U. Alumni for Biblical Diversity, “Alumni Letter to Jerry Falwell Jr #LUDeservesBetter.” Change.org, June 1, 2020, https://www.change.org/p/liberty-university-alumni-letter-to-jerry-falwell-jr-ludeservesbetter?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=6d0b9c00-a414-11ea-9c61-412b1884eb10
 Ruth Graham, “I Suppressed so Much of my Humanity in Being Here: What it’s like to be black at Liberty University.” Slate, June 16, 2020, https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/06/liberty-university-black-students-faculty.html
 Elizabeth Tyree, “’They should be glad that I’m calling out a racist’; Falwell defends new mask design.” WSET ABC 13 News, May 28, 2020, https://wset.com/news/local/they-should-be-glad-that-im-calling-out-a-racist-falwell-defends-new-mask-design
 Maggie Severns and Brandon Ambrosino, “Falwell’s Use of Yacht Colmes Under Scrutiny.” Politico, August 20, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/08/20/falwells-yacht-use-under-scrutiny-399424
 Jeff Williamson, “Photo posted, then deleted showing Jerry Falwell in unzipped pants.” WSLS 10 News, August 4, 2020, https://www.wsls.com/news/local/2020/08/04/photo-posted-then-deleted-showing-jerry-falwell-in-unzipped-pants/
 Aram Roston, “Business partner of Falwells says affair with evangelical power couple spanned seven years.” Reuters, August 24, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-falwell-relationship/
 Daniel Burke, “Jerry Falwell Jr. to Receive $10.5 million in Compensation for resigning from Liberty University.” CNN, August 26, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/26/us/jerry-falwell-jr-resignation-payment/index.html
 Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Susan Svrluga, and Michelle Boorstein, “Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns as head of Liberty University, will get $10.5 million in compensation.” The Washington Post, August 25, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/08/25/fallwell-resigns-confirmed/
 Paul Bedard, “Exclusive: Falwell says Fatal Attraction threat led to depression.” Washington Examiner, August 23, 2020, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/exclusive-falwell-says-fatal-attraction-threat-led-to-depression
 To understand how Save 71 is responding to the scandal, I looked at the group’s first 13 months of tweets (August 10, 2020 – October 1, 2021). During this period, Save 71 tweeted/retweeted 420 times and amassed 1,656 followers, more than double the number of the average twitter account (707). See Kit Smith, “60 Incredible and Interesting Twitter Stats and Statistics.” Brandwatch, January 2, 2020 https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/twitter-stats-and-statistics/
 Dustin Wahl. Twitter post. September 17, 2020, 6:23 PM. https://twitter.com/save71LU/status/1306769423726981122
 I analyzed Save 71’s twitter feed between August 10, 2020, when the group started, and October 1, 2021.
 I conducted a sentiment analysis of these tweets with NVIVO 13 software.
 Save71. Twitter post. August 10, 2020, 7:26 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1292965663657558018
 Save71. Twitter post. Aug 25, 2020, 1:51 PM. https://twitter.com/save71LU/status/1299496442051145729
 Save71. Twitter post. Aug 25, 2020, 2:34 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1298327796507389954
 Save71. Twitter post. Jun 14, 2021, 2:01 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1404499359857840128
 Save71. Twitter post. Nov 20, 2020, 2:51 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1329875097210003457
 Save71. Twitter post. Apr 12, 2021, 8:51 PM.https://twitter.com/save71/status/1381772090613846016
 Save71. Twitter post. Aug 20, 2020, 3:16 PM. https://twitter.com/save71LU/status/1296526609151938561
 Save 71. Twitter post. Dec 14, 2020, 11:07 AM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1338515937767649284
 Save71. Twitter post. Jan 15, 2021, 10:06 AM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1350096971856490497
 Andy Rowell. Twitter post. Oct 8, 2020, 12:31 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1314302307178291215
 Save71. Twitter post. Jul 21, 2021, 6:01 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1417967986388914178
 “Homepage”, Justice for Janes, https://www.justiceforjanes.com/
 Save71. Twitter post. Sep 28, 2021, 9:38 PM. https://twitter.com/save71/status/1443027428268466177
 Sara Grace Todd, “Jerry Prevo, Chairman of LU Board of Trustees comments on Falwell’s leave of absence.” WSET ABC13, August 7, 2020, https://wset.com/news/local/jerry-prevo-chairman-of-lu-board-of-trustee…
 Maggie Severns, “An Evangelical Battle of the Generations: to Embrace Trump or Not?” Politico Magazine, June 1, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/06/01/liberty-university-evangelical-jerry-falwell-donald-trump-491319
 The strength of this alliance also involved defections. As the GOP made common cause with Falwell Sr. and other evangelical power brokers, some fled the party. Likewise, when the GOP adopted its Southern Strategy, opponents of Civil Rights in the Democratic Party decamped for the GOP.
 Carolyn Gallaher, “Aberration or Reflection: How to Understand Changes on the Political Right.” The Public Eye, Spring 2019, 9-15.
 Gallaher, “Abberation.”
 Murray Waas, “The Falwell Connection.” Salon, March 11, 1998, https://www.salon.com/1998/03/11/cov_11news/
 Angelo Fichera and Saranac Hale Spencer, “Trump’s Long History with Conspiracy Theories.” Factcheck.org, October 20, 2020, https://www.factcheck.org/2020/10/trumps-long-history-with-conspiracy-theories/
 It is possible that the activism around Liberty’s Jane Does could ultimately push the envelope in more substantial ways than Save 71 has. However, at this moment, it’s not only difficult to disentangle the Does’ lawsuit from a potentially burgeoning social movement, it’s also not fair to encourage or expect them to take on this role. Right now, the Does should be afforded time to focus on their legal case and space to grapple with immense pressures sexual assault victims face when they speak up.