Jerry Falwell Jr., the man with an evangelical pedigree, caused shockwaves among Christian conservatives when a series of scandals ousted him as Liberty University President.
He has said in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine that he was not a religious man.
It highlights how especially in religious leadership, faith is not a hand-me-down from the man who some people said showed more reverence to Donald Trump than the Lord.
In August 2020, Falwell resigned as Liberty University president after a sex scandal involving his wife and a swimming pool attendant.
In a long-ranging magazine interview, Falwell discussed his faith, family, and fall from the evangelical college, founded by Jerry Falwell Sr.
"Because of my last name, people think I'm a religious person. But I'm not. My goal was to make them realize I was not my dad," he said.
Vanity Fair reported that the day Falwell resigned from Liberty, he gave an interview to his local National Public Radio station and invoked part of the speech of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. "Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm free at last!"
For 49 of its years, a member of the Falwell family had run Liberty, Falwell senior dying in 2007.
Becki Falwell, married to Jerry Jr. since 1987, says in the interview, "We had to put on an act." The couple became "Christian celebrities overnight," as reporter Gabriel Sherman wrote when she told him that the loneliness that led to her affair was her "biggest regret."
The reporter says that Jerry Falwell Sr. was a "polarizing scold in public"—an "agent of intolerance," John McCain once said.
However, Jerry Jr. remembered his father as lenient at home.
"My dad wasn't one of those overbearing parents who tried to control their kids," he recalled.
The father didn't force the son to attend church and didn't care that his son collected Fleetwood Mac and Beatles records at a time when Baptists called rock and roll "devil's music."
Falwell Snr. also didn't object when Jerry stated that he didn't want to spread the good word at an early age.
"People would say to me, 'We know you're gonna be a preacher because your dad is one. I thought That's the last thing I want to be," Jerry said.
Looking back, Jerry said that his father's wandering lifestyle provided a reprieve from an oppressive marriage.
"My dad wanted to travel the world as an escape," Jerry said. He recalled that his mother's provincial worldview grated on his father. "She wanted to live a small-town preacher's life. She didn't let him mess around."
"My mother was the only reason my dad became puritanical," Jerry said.
Christian Headlines cited Russell Moore, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, saying in a newsletter. That Falwell Jr. wasn't a hypocrite since he "told us repeatedly how he saw the world."
Moore conceded that Falwell's actions were hypocritical in a sense. Still, he also shared that "we didn't hold Jerry Falwell Jr. accountable for all the vulnerable people who suffered because of his decisions."
"I do know that when a man tells us he was in such a desperate, self-destructive place for so long, we owe it to him—and to ourselves—to ask, 'Were we so deceived that we couldn't help him? Or did we turn our attention away as long as he was succeeding?'
"If the latter, the problem isn't Jerry Falwell Jr.'s hypocrisy. The problem is us."