After Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned in disgrace as president of Liberty University, rumors circulated that either Mike Pence or Mike Huckabee might replace him. But the frontrunner in the race for the next president of Liberty is Jonathan Falwell, Jerry Falwell Jr.’s brother and the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg.
Here is Maggie Severn at Politico:
As part of their discussions, the Liberty trustees are considering naming Jonathan Falwell as the university’s chancellor—an important and highly symbolic post—in order to maintain the Falwell family connection but not their political baggage, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
Donald Trump looms large over the university’s dilemma. Jerry Jr. shocked many in the religious right with his early endorsement of Trump over many Republicans with far greater evangelical ties; during Trump’s presidency, Jerry Jr. spent university funds on ads and programs that highlighted Trump and his followers. But Jonathan has been far cooler toward Trump. And in the wake of Jerry Jr.’s ouster, some in the Liberty community question whether the university would do better to concentrate on its religious values rather than casting its lot with the former president.
But Liberty’s board did not strip the Falwell family from Liberty altogether. Jonathan, the board had already announced, would take the role of campus pastor. Behind the scenes, there were also conversations about elevating Jonathan to the currently unfilled post of chancellor later this year, according to two people who have discussed the issue with Liberty board members.
Giving Jonathan a prominent position shows the university is still invested in the Falwell family’s legacy. And while his role of campus pastor is somewhat limited in scope, becoming chancellor would make Falwell one of the main stewards of the university and give him a role in hiring Liberty’s next president, too.
At 54, the red-haired Jonathan is younger than both Lee and interim president Jerry Prevo, who is 76, as well as many Liberty board members. Jonathan is telegenic and preaches at a quick clip, sometimes dressed in a chic plaid blazer or, as during a speech last fall at Liberty, while wearing black sneakers that appeared to be Allbirds, the favorite shoes of employees at Silicon Valley startups.
Most important for those who would like to see change at Liberty, Jonathan did not embrace Trump when his brother became an enthusiastic supporter in 2016. At the time, Jerry Jr. told POLITICO that Jonathan likely “isn’t crazy about [him] endorsing Trump,” but that his brother hadn’t said anything negative to him about it. Jonathan, declining to speak directly about the election, said at the time, “I’m less interested in that, and more interested in the Gospel.”
That’s not to say that Jonathan, who did not respond to interview requests, is not a conservative. He has spoken out on social issues including gay marriage, which he said would never be allowed at the family’s Thomas Roads Baptist Church. And he voted in the 2016 and 2020 elections, records show.
But Jonathan has not shared his brother and father’s affection for the rough-and-tumble of national politics, or in becoming a national figure at all. When he traveled with his father, Jonathan usually opted to bring a camera, staying behind the lens and shooting thousands of photos of the celebrities and political leaders who coalesced around his father.
Most significantly, Jonathan’s friends and supporters say they feel he would be content providing spiritual guidance to Liberty while letting others manage the university’s administration. If Jonathan were to become chancellor, Liberty would hire a separate president to administer the university, people familiar with the conversations say. It is not clear which post—president or chancellor—would be the top job, or if Jonathan would be Liberty’s sole public face, like his brother and father before him.
Jerry Sr. always wanted Jonathan to play a large role at Liberty, and making him chancellor would restore his father’s vision, many people in the Liberty community said. Back in 2006, after two stints at the hospital, Jerry Sr. embarked on succession planning at the university and ministry that had become his life’s biggest achievements. Falwell Sr. had known for years that he wanted Jonathan to lead his church and Jerry Jr. to lead Liberty after he died, and each son had taken a job at his biggest legacy institutions. But Falwell Sr. wanted additional structure, which included naming Jonathan as Liberty’s executive vice president of spiritual life.
“After my serious health challenges in early 2005, I determined that, at age 73, I must put in place an organizational structure which will assure business stability and spiritual perpetuity to a far larger and rapidly growing LU, even after I am gone,” Falwell wrote in explaining the changes in October 2006, according to an email that was later submitted to Liberty’s board by one of Falwell Sr.’s deputies, Ron Godwin, and subsequently posted online by Save71, a pro-reform alumni organization.
“Preserving the ‘Spiritual Life’ of Liberty is my foremost concern,” Falwell wrote, and “the defining of Jonathan’s post is pivotal to maintaining the doctrinal integrity of this institution and of my personal legacy.”
But Jonathan’s tenure at Liberty proved to be short-lived. Falwell Sr. died of a heart attack the following May. Jonathan took over Thomas Roads Baptist Church, and Jerry Jr. began leading Liberty. Jonathan helped direct the campus church and run Liberty’s convocation program, which invites high-profile outside religious leaders and politicians to speak on campus.
Read the entire piece here.
Here’s my question: Why isn’t Jeannie Falwell Savas being considered for the presidency of Liberty? 🙂