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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Liberty University In The News, and The Sad Story of The Episcopal Church

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be. 

Liberty University In The News Again. Jerry Falwell Jr. claims his former employer has withheld $8.5 million in retirement benefits that were previously promised to him.

The son of the school’s founder and conservative activist Jerry Falwell Sr., Falwell has been credited with bringing Liberty University back from the brink of financial collapse while serving as its president from 2007 to 2020.

However, Falwell’s tenure at the school ended amid scandal and controversy in 2020.

When Falwell resigned from Liberty University, it was announced that the two parties had settled on a $10 million severance package. But the school later said the agreement was invalid because Falwell had withheld information from the school that would have influenced the decision. Some of that information included Falwell’s alleged problems with alcohol and the details of Becki’s affair with Giancarlo Granda.

Now Falwell is suing the school for not having paid the $8.5 million they had previously agreed to.

I have no idea what the legal merits of Falwell’s case are. If the board made a promise, it should honor that promise. Whether the board should have made that promise in the first place is something that donors to Liberty should consider.  As I wrote in August of 2020, Jerry Falwell’s behavior was enabled by the board of trustees.  Since I wrote that article, now nearly three years ago, there have been few changes to the board make-up.  (You can see a list of board members on the college’s Form 990 here.)

Liberty’s board needs a housecleaning. Until that happens, expect Liberty and its scandals to stay in the news.

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A Bitter Legacy. Bishop Frank Tracy Griswold III, who led the Episcopal Church in the late 1990s and early 2000s, died March 5 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at age 85.

Griswold was, by all reports, a nice guy. But he will be remembered as the Neville Chamberlain of the Episcopal Church. His attempts to appease progressives resulted in the collapse of the denomination.  Under Griswold, the mainline denomination consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003, a move that violated the historic norms of this historic church, and it resulted in a rush to the exit among faithful Christians still in the church at that time.  The result: a precipitous decline in membership.

When Griswold took the reins of the Episcopal Church in 1997, it claimed membership of more than 2-million people. Today, though the church officially claims about 1.5-million members, average Sunday attendance is less than a half-million – some reports say less than 400,000. As we have reported recently, the attendance at a typical Episcopal Church today is less than 50 people.

The Episcopal Church will likely continue for a few more decades. It has money and property to sustain its infrastructure even after all of its members have died or fled. But it is in its sad and final chapter, and men like Frank Griswold are its author.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.