Liberty University says that the former executive committee chairman of the school's board of trustees was not forced to resign because he publicly voiced opposition to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.'s endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
After Falwell Jr. endorsed the thrice-married billionaire real estate mogul for president in January, Mark DeMoss, a former Jerry Falwell Sr. confidant and chairman of the executive committee of the evangelical institution's board of trustees, criticized the endorsement in an interview with The Washington Post in March.
DeMoss, who was Falwell Sr.'s administrative services assistantfrom 1984 until 1991 and is the founder of the Atlanta-based DeMoss public relations firm, also said in The Washington Post interview that he had been concerned about the university for a couple of months but hadn't spoken out.
Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton reported earlier this month that DeMoss was asked to step down from his position on the executive committee by other members of the committee and offered his resignation on April 25. Not only did DeMoss resign from the committee that he chaired but he also resigned from the board of trustees altogether.
A statement DeMoss provided to Patheos claimed that after his opposition to Trump was published, "Jerry and a number of fellow Liberty University trustees expressed to me and to the other trustees their disapproval of my speaking publicly about the subject."
DeMoss also claimed that executive committee members voted on April 21 to ask him to resign from the committee. Liberty University, however, maintains that no vote was taken by the committee asking for DeMoss to resign but that individual members of the committee personally asked him to step down.
Additionally, the school explained that the committee expressed no interest in having DeMoss step down as a member of the board of trustees.
In another statement that was later provided to Patheos, the school also asserted that individual members of the executive committee had "varied reasons for their displeasure" with DeMoss, "most of which are not related to his disagreement with Jerry Falwell's personal endorsement of Donald Trump."
School believes DeMoss went public with 'university board business'
In a statement provided to The Christian Post earlier this week, Liberty University asserted that individual committee members' displeasure with DeMoss "arose out of his going to the press with university board business."
"The interview with The Washington Post went well beyond disagreeing about Donald Trump as the best candidate for president," the statement explained. "Mr. DeMoss publicly communicated his concerns about Liberty University as chairman of the board's executive committee."
"He shared a negative evaluation of Jerry Falwell, not as an individual, but concerning his presidential stewardship of the values and legacy of Liberty University," the statement continued. "It was an extraordinarily public way to deliver a message of disagreement, especially from one person in leadership at a university to another. It is simply not the way board members should discuss their concerns about the university or pronounce their evaluations of its president.
"As Executive Committee Chairman, Mr. DeMoss was a board member who could have single-handedly called a meeting to privately discuss his concerns with fellow board members and the president, which is the only appropriate way for such matters to be addressed by board leaders."
The Liberty statement went onto explain that "most universities would have immediately removed a board member who went to the media instead of the board with concerns about the university and with negative assessments." However, the statement argues that "Liberty's board extended Mr. DeMoss grace, voted unanimously to accept his apology and allowed him to stay on the board."
DeMoss denies going public with 'university board business'
The Christian Post asked DeMoss to respond to Liberty University's statement.
"I will just say that the university's explanation of the executive committee's decision to ask for my removal from that committee continues to evolve, while my explanation has remained the same," DeMoss wrote in an email. "I have written communication from the president and the board chairman that contradict subsequent statements about the reasons for asking for my resignation as chairman of the executive committee."
Although DeMoss told The Washington Post that he has been "concerned for Liberty University for a couple of months now" and reportedly spoke out to voice concerns from Liberty alumni, faculty and supporters, he stressed in his statement to CP that he in no way discussed "university board business."
"That is obviously a matter of public record. There is not one word in the Post article about Jerry Falwell Jr.'s leadership or 'presidential stewardship' of Liberty University — people can draw their own conclusions about that based on his own words and actions," DeMoss added.
Liberty University responded on Thursday with a statement to CP which explains that the institution's position has not evolved, but rather been "fleshed" out.
DeMoss was never forced to resign
"Certain members of the executive committee did ask that he leave that committee and serve on another committee. Each member had their own reasons for making this request," the Liberty University statement explained.
"But, the executive committee has no power to remove one of its members. Only the full board has that power. So, Mr. DeMoss' decision to resign that committee was his own. It is possible that he may not have known that the executive committee had no power to remove him under the by-laws but, either way, the full board voted unanimously the next day to accept Mr. DeMoss' apology and to allow him to remain on the board."
Although DeMoss argues that he did not discuss Liberty University board business with the media, Liberty University general counsel David Corry told the News & Advance earlier this month that the "very fact" that DeMoss expressed concern about the institution with The Washington Post interview was an issue.
"The university needed to point out the obvious problem with university leadership going to the media with complaints about the president. Evaluation of the president is board business and is the function of the executive committee which Mr. DeMoss chaired," Liberty's follow-up statement to CP reads.
"Further, Mr. DeMoss told The Washington Post he had been concerned about Liberty University for some time and was breaking his silence to share these concerns and give voice to university constituencies who were now queasy about it.
"The university stands by its earlier statements that most [but not all] board members' displeasure with Mr. DeMoss are not related to his disagreement with Mr. Falwell's personal endorsement of Mr. Trump or a belief that Mr. DeMoss' motivations were entirely political. But, again, the entire board forgave Mark and voted that he should remain on the board."