The Moral Collapse of America’s Largest Christian University

The light goes out of Liberty.

The story of Elizabeth Axley, as told in this comprehensive ProPublica report alleging that Liberty University mishandled reports of sexual abuse, is difficult to read. At an off-campus party, she drank too much, her memory got hazy, she apparently passed out, and then when she woke up, she said a man was on top of her. She said he was covering her mouth, raping her.

But at the same time that young women were alleging that the school was deterring them from reporting dreadful sexual misconduct because they’d been drinking, their own school president was an open and notorious drunk. His wife was accused of affairs with younger men, and one of those men claimed that Falwell liked to watch.

Rarely in my life have I ever seen a single significant American institution face such a staggering run of scandal and controversy as Liberty University, and Liberty happens to be America’s largest Christian college, the place that prides itself of education “champions for Christ.”

At the beginning of the Trump presidency, Liberty was a juggernaut. Its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., had rescued the school from financial peril, built the endowment to more than $1 billion, and presided over its growth into an educational enterprise that enrolled almost 100,000 students (the vast majority are online). To put that number in perspective, Liberty’s enrollment placed it close to the enrollment of the entire Ivy League. 

Arguably no other university president in America spent more time in the Oval Office than Falwell. The school started a “think tank” called the Falkirk Center (named after Falwell and Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk) and named as “fellows” a number of pop culture celebrities of the Trumpist right. Liberty was rich. It was powerful. It was influential.

Correction: It is rich. It is powerful. It is influential. It’s also in a state of moral collapse.

And what of the POTUS who granted Liberty’s president so much access and whom so many members of the Liberty community adored? He was of course just emerging from a presidential race in which he’d paid a porn star for silence about their affair and had his own extraordinarily checkered past, including appearing in a soft-core Playboy porn movie called Playmate 2000: Bernaola Twins.

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