233) Promising Liberty, Themselves Enslaved To Sin

“There shall be false teachers among you…And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not…they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (II Peter 2:

in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3)

Jerry Falwell Sr. was raised in Lynchburg by a Christian mother and a nonbelieving father, whose knack for business gained him a small empire…into bootlegging. Falwell cast this dual inheritance in the terms of a clash between God and the Enemy, but it was hard not to see his career as a successful fusing of his parents’ influences, salesmanship wrapped in Christian cloth.

He founded Thomas Road Baptist Church…in 1956 and soon began broadcasting recordings of his sermons on regional radio and television. In 1971 he founded Lynchburg Baptist College, subsidizing it with revenues from the show…by 1977 it had been renamed Liberty Baptist College and moved up to an initial 2,000-acre swath of land on the mountain.

By 1984, nearly 400 local broadcasters around the nation were carrying “The Old Time Gospel Hour”…helped bring in more than $72 million per year in donations. Some $10 million of those funds flowed to the college, which at that point numbered about 4,500 students. Another of Falwell’s enterprises pulled in about $12 million a year — the Moral Majority, an attempt to build a cross-denominational political coalition…

Liberty University, as it has been named since 1985, grew steadily.

In 1987, [Liberty University] secured tax-exempt status, which Falwell described in his autobiography as an existential necessity…

That March, Jim Bakker resigned as head of the televangelist PTL ministry amid revelations of a sexual encounter with a former church secretary…In 1988, the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart declared, “I have sinned,” following reports of his consorting with a prostitute in New Orleans…

Amid what Falwell later referred to as the “credibility crunch” caused by the televangelist scandals…annual contributions dropped by $25 million; the college’s debt swelled to more than $100 million…

One educational novelty that Falwell dabbled in, starting in the mid-’70s, was an early form of distance learning. Liberty would mail lecture videotapes and course packets to paying customers around the country…

By the early 2000s…Access to the internet was spreading, and…Falwell…in 2004 began expanding the family’s primitive distance-learning programs into what would become known as Liberty University Online…

Jerry Jr. succeeded his father as head of Liberty University in 2007…

recruiters…said they were told not to mention Liberty’s Christian orientation until people agree to apply, when this fact is made clear in the user agreement they sign online. It also becomes clear at the moment that the recruiters sign up students for their first classes, typically an orientation class and three required Bible-studies classes. Students often can’t transfer credits for these courses to other colleges, which deters many from dropping out: Leaving L.U.O. without signing up for more courses would mean wasting the money spent on the first four…

By 2010 [Liberty] had more than 50,000 students enrolled and was pulling in more than $420 million annually. But because Liberty was technically not for-profit, it was spared many of the administration’s new regulations, including its requirement that a certain threshold of graduates be able to attain “gainful employment”… It was also spared from the pre-existing rule that for-profit colleges could get no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources.

 By 2012, the once-ailing Liberty University had more than $1 billion in net assets…GOP presidential candidates sought to win his favor.

In March 2012, the Falwells…met Giancarlo Granda, a 21-year-old pool attendant. Granda told Politicothat during this first encounter, Becki Falwell asked him to come back to her room and have sex with her while Jerry watched. The Falwells began flying Granda around in their private jet…also put up $1.8 million to buy and renovate a Miami Beach hostel that would be owned by Granda and Falwell’s son Trey…Enter Michael Cohen…famous as Trump’s lawyer and “fixer”… One of Cohen’s most important duties for Trump had long been to make embarrassing or potentially damaging problems go away. Sometimes that involved making threats to reporters, sometimes that involved arranging payments to women in exchange for their silence. (Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law in arranging hush payments for two women in 2016.) The Falwells now faced such a problem: Someone…had obtained sexually compromising photos. So they asked Cohen for help.

By January 2016, the leading candidates in the Republican presidential race were Donald Trump and Ted Cruz…Falwell lavishly praised Trump during…Liberty appearance (“Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others, as Jesus taught”)…He told one of his own associates, meanwhile, that he was coming “under heavy pressure” (in theTimes’s words) to endorse Trump.

Rostom later reported that Cohen “helped arrange” the endorsement…Other evangelical leaders condemned Falwell, with one saying his father “would be rolling over in his grave” if he knew Jerry Jr. had endorsed “the most immoral and ungodly man to ever run for President of the United States.”…Cohen knew about “secrets that can destroy Falwell’s whole world.” Even if the topic never explicitly came up in relation to the endorsement, that’s something Falwell couldn’t possibly have forgotten when he was making up his mind…Over the next two years, one damaging story after another came out about the Falwells…and made broader claims of corruption and mismanagement of the university on Falwell’s part.

Ambrosino reported on how Falwell frequently awarded Liberty loans and contracts to his friends and son, and quoted a source complaining he was running the university like a “dictatorship.”

Roston and Joshua Schneyer revealed that Falwell had given another young man, his and his wife’s personal trainer, ownership of Liberty University’s sports facility.

Liberty’s ability to distance itself from for-profit colleges was especially notable given that…The rate of Liberty graduates who default on their loans within three years of graduating is 9.9 percent, several points higher than the average for nonprofit colleges…Most striking, though, is how little the university spends on actual instruction…according to its most recent figures, from 2016, the university reports spending only $2,609 on instruction per full-time equivalent student across both [in-class and on-line] categories. That is a fraction of what traditional private universities spend (Notre Dame’s equivalent figure is $27,391) but also well behind even University of Phoenix, which spends more than $4,000 per student in many states. It is also behind other hybrid online-traditional nonprofit religious colleges like Ohio Christian University, which spends about $4,500. In 2013, according to an audited financial statement I obtained, Liberty received $749 million in tuition and fees but spent only $260 million on instruction, academic support and student services.

By 2016, Liberty’s net assets had crossed the $1.6 billion mark, up more than tenfold from a decade earlier. Thanks to its low spending on instruction, its net income was an astonishing $215 million on nearly $1 billion in revenue, according to its tax filing — making it one of the most lucrative nonprofits in the country, based simply on the difference between its operating revenue and expenses, in a league with some of the largest nonprofit hospital systems…

Yet despite its ambitions to become the “evangelical Notre Dame” that Falwell envisioned, Liberty is still ranked well behind that university and other religious-based institutions like Brigham Young and Pepperdine; U.S. News and World Report clumps Liberty in the lowest quartile of institutions in its “national universities” category.

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