Jerry Falwell apologizes for racially insensitive tweet; Liberty U staffers resign

Jerry Falwell Jr. giving a speech at the Liberty University commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 11, 2019. | Facebook/Liberty University

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has apologized for a racially insensitive tweet he posted last month making fun of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's blackface controversy after some staffers resigned and African American alumni demanded an apology.

“I understand that by tweeting an image to remind all of the governor’s racist past … I actually refreshed the trauma that image had caused and offended some by using the image to make a political point,” he tweeted on Monday. 

“Based on our long relationships, they uniformly understood this was not my intent, but because it was the result … I have deleted the tweet and apologize for any hurt my effort caused, especially within the African American community.”

On May 27, the 57-year-old head of the Virginia-based evangelical institution posted a tweet joking that he created a face mask featuring a school photo of Northam in blackface.

The photo in question surfaced last year and caused major controversy for the governor and Falwell’s tweet was seemingly a jab at the Democrat politician for issuing a face mask requirement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Falwell initially refused to remove the tweet or apologize but has since deleted the controversial tweet.

His apology came after a group of 35 African American Liberty alumni signed an open letter to Falwell denouncing the tweet and his overall political rhetoric and activism. 

The June 1 letter accused Falwell of defending inappropriate statements and behaviors of politicians, belittling staff, students and parents as well as disrespecting people of other faiths. 

Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church, the lead signatory of the letter, sent a follow-up letter to Falwell commending him for the apology and expressing optimism that “healing and reconciliation” can occur.

“Liberty deserves leadership that is Christlike in its actions and rhetoric, for you and those under your leadership,” read the new letter, a copy of which was emailed to The Christian Post.

“The advice, counsel, and spiritual covering of pastors was important to your father [Liberty founder Jerry Falwell Sr.] and we believe it would also serve you and your leadership well.”

According to The Washington Post, at least three African American Liberty staffers resigned after Falwell’s tweet. But Falwell told the newspaper in an interview that he was unaware of the resignations. 

Among the resignations is the university’s former director of diversity retention, LeeQuan McLaurin. McLaurin told The Washington Post that Falwell’s tweet was tipping for larger racial issues he experienced at Liberty and has contributed to a drop in the university's residential African American enrollment from 2007 to 2018. 

Keyvon Scott, a former online admissions counselor, announced on Twitter Monday that he also resigned Liberty University. 

“I cannot in good faith encourage people to attend a school with racially insensitive leadership and culture,” Scott tweeted. “It is a poor reflection of what Jesus Christ requires of us.”

Falwell’s apology came after he met with African American members of Liberty's board of trustees and some alumni on Monday. 

Among them was Allen McFarland, a black pastor and vice-chair of the Liberty’s board of trustees. 

“I just wanted to get with him today with my heart,” McFarland told The News & Advance without going into too much detail about the conversation. 

Williamson told The Christian Post in an earlier interview before Falwell apologized that he was "disappointed" by Falwell’s actions.

"I am just disappointed, like many other graduates, about his rhetoric and statements over the last several years because I believe they're a poor representation of Jesus and the mission of Liberty University," said Williamson.

"This alumni letter is not about Gov. Northam, it's about Falwell using racist imagery like that as a joke and an opportunity to attack a political opponent. That is the behavior of a political candidate, not a Christian leader of one of the largest evangelical institutions in the world.”

Williamson’s follow-up letter after the apology implored Falwell to have more “ethnically diverse pastors and advisers” in leadership roles at Liberty and consider creating an advisory council that “meets with you frequently for prayer, spiritual exhortation, and accountability.”

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