“Do as I say, not as I do”: the ugly fall of the evangelical pariah Jerry Falwell Jr | Documentary films

“Do as I say, not as I do”: the ugly fall of the evangelical pariah Jerry Falwell Jr | Documentary films

Jerry Falwell Jr. once said there was nothing President Donald Trump could do that would jeopardize the support of him or other Christian evangelical leaders. “When Jesus said we are all sinners, He really meant all of us, all of us,” he told the Washington Post in January 2019.

Falwell knew who he was talking about. A year and a half later, he would resigned in disgrace from Liberty University, the evangelical college that his father founded in Lynchburg, Virginia, after a series of personal scandals that would have made even Trump blush.

Among them was the allegation that Giancarlo Granda, a Miami pool boy, had a seven-year affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki, sometimes with Falwell watching and masturbating during their sexual encounters. Granda is also entangled with the couple’s business affairs in a web that ultimately led them all to Trump.

The sad and tawdry saga is told God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought a Dynasty, streaming on Hulu starting Tuesday. It’s a “dynasty” because Falwell’s father, Jerry Falwell Sr., was a homophobic televangelist whose endorsement helped Ronald Reagan (a divorced former Hollywood actor) beat Jimmy Carter (a Baptist Sunday school teacher) in the race presidential of 1980 and launch a conservative project. which culminated in the death of the constitutional right to abortion.

“This documentary at its heart is the story of a 50-year-old multigenerational evangelical dynasty and its excessive power in politics and presidential politics,” the director. Billy Corben he says by phone from New York. “You have the man who is now the black sheep of the Falwell family – and excommunicated – who was able to uphold the political promise of the heart of his father and Reagan when evangelicals were involved in politics.

Or as one contributor to the film puts it: “The Falwells are the Gatsby of the South. They’re rich and they’re sloppy as hell.”

The star witness of God Forbid is Granda, who is of Cuban descent and worked as a pool attendant at the luxury Fontainebleau hotel in Miami, Florida, an old man. the place of the singer Frank Sinatra.

He recounts the day in 2012 when, at the age of 20, he saw a beautiful forty-year-old woman lying by the pool, drinking a drink and taking pictures of him. She told him: “Don’t waste your time with the younger ones. They don’t know what they’re doing.” She asked if he wanted to come to her room, then added, “One thing, though. My husband wants to watch.”

Granda was surprised but agreed. When he and the woman began to make love, he says: “the husband gets up … he goes to the corner of the room. He takes off his jeans, and he begins to hit her. (Falwell refused to participate in the film, but has previously denied being present at such intimate moments.)

Now 31, Granda says sadly at the beginning of the film: “If I had known that accepting this woman’s invitation to return to her hotel room would have led to a scandal involving the president of the largest university Christian in the world president of the United States, I would have stayed away and just enjoy my private life.”

But first, Granda did not consider himself a victim. He didn’t know who Jerry and Becki Falwell were until his sister told him. Corben, 44, who is based in Miami, says: “He told me that he did not consider them particularly hypocritical at first because he did not know them as religious leaders. They did not proselytize for him. seen as a fun couple in Miami Beach.

“Los Angeles is where you go when you want to be somebody, New York is where you go when you’re somebody and Miami is where you go when you want to be somebody else. It’s always been a sunny place for shady people and Jerry and Becki certainly tapped Miami into that way. They lived their best life in Miami. They had a great time and that’s what Miami is for: go down, spend some money, party, have safe consensual sex with adults. Perfect! Fa la.”

But when Granda visited Liberty University, it opened his eyes. The institution had an austere code of conduct, known as “the Way of Freedom”, which prohibited students from drinking alcohol, gambling, attending dances and being alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex. Former students have accused that Liberty has renounced and discouraged reports of violence and threatened to punish the accusers.

Corben continues: “At first he was mesmerized by the power and the privilege and the money and being brought into that inner circle with the most powerful people in the world. Suddenly he was a part of it. But then he started to feel bad for the students and faculty at Liberty and the disconnect between its values ​​and the values ​​of its leadership at the university.

“There weren’t many of the Ten Commandments that the Falwells seem to hold particularly dear. While they were out violating those commandments, they were proactively disrupting and destroying the lives of the people who were entrusted to their care.

“Whereas Jerry Jr. seemed to enjoy the power and privilege that come from being the president of the largest Christian university in the world, he did not necessarily have the life that he demanded from his students and faculty. He was “Fate cum ‘and I say, not like me”, and that kind of hypocrisy that Giancarlo will later find dangerous not only in Liberty, but for the country”.

Giancarlo Granda in 2020
Giancarlo Granda in 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The relationship between Granda and Becki continued for years. They texted each other obsessively and she told him she loved him. Sometimes they would meet without Falwell, which Falwell would tolerate as long as Becki recorded the encounter on his camera. Granda attended the wedding of Jerry and Becki’s eldest son, Trey, in 2014.

The Falwells also went into business with Granda, backing a $4.7 million youth hostel in Miami that he co-owned and helped manage. But then an old school friend of Granda’s, Jesus Fernandez Jr, and his father, Jesus Fernandez Sr, complained that Falwell had promised them a cut of the deal. They sued and allegedly threatened to release the sexually explicit photos of Granda and Becki.

Panicked, Falwell turned to his acquaintance Michael Cohen, who, as Trump’s lawyer and fixer, had a knack for making problems disappear as Tom Hagen, consigliere and chief lawyer of the Corleone family in The Godfather. Of course, the photos were never published and the case has been resolved. Cohen later wrote in his memoirs: “In good time, I called in this favor, not for myself, but for [Trump]at a crucial moment in his journey to the presidency.”

Corben reflects, “We wouldn’t know any of this if it weren’t for this weird real estate dispute and what Giancarlo and even Jerry described as a shakedown.

“In an effort to resolve this real estate dispute, this father and son team from Miami, who were originally recruited to help find a property to buy, claim to know the true nature of the relationship between Giancarlo and Becki. and Jerry and that they will be exposed, including the photographs that they claim prove the nature of the relationship, if Jerry and Giancarlo have not resolved this claim.

Granda describes how the Falwells introduced him to Trump and says Falwell told him in 2015 that Cohen had asked him to endorse Trump for president. In January of the following year, with the Republican primary elections underway, Falwell duly delivered – an instrumental move to give the Christian right (including Trump’s partner, Mike Pence) allowed to hug a man married three times, accused of sexual misconduct by a dozen women and less intimate knowledge of the Bible.

Falwell would he later remarks: “God called King David a man after God’s heart, even though he was an adulterer and a murderer. You have to choose the leader who would make the best king or president and not necessarily someone who would be a good shepherd. let’s vote no for the head pastor.”

Jerry Falwell Jr and Donald Trump in 2017
Jerry Falwell Jr and Donald Trump in 2017. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

In Falwell’s eyes, Trump could do no wrong. With religious fire and brimstone he defended Trump for every mistake and outrage and lie of his presidency, while Becki served on the advisory board of the group Women for Trump. Granda admits: “I feel guilty. I’m like, I know the truth about Jerry. He tries to appear like this strong man, but I know him as the cuck in the corner of the room.”

In 2019, an audio recording of Cohen explaining how he made the “racy” photos disappear emerged in the public domain. Granda contemplated suicide. He texted Becki: “My life is absolutely ruined. When you find my lifeless body hanging in the woods, make sure Logan [his dog] he returned to my family. Goodbye.”

He says his relationship with the Falwells is strained because of his desire to break free and a business dispute. Granda texted Falwell: “Since you agree to ruin my life, I’m going to take the kamikaze route. It’s really a shame because I wanted to reach a peaceful resolution and just move on with our lives, but if the conflict that’s what you want, so be it.”

He also decided that he had to prevent Falwell from helping Trump – whom he had come to see as a would-be dictator – consolidate power in 2020. Granda gave an interview with the Reuters news agency to tell his story. In a biblical fall from grace, Falwell was forced to resign as president of Liberty University, which sued him for $40 million for breach of contract.

Trump lost his re-election bid to Joe Biden, but evangelicals had already made theirs deal with the devil. His reward came in June of this year, when the Supreme Court, with three Trump appointees, did something that even Reagan could not accomplish: overturning Roe v. Wade, his 1973 ruling that enshrined the right to the woman having an abortion.

Corben opines: “I hope people see how potentially dangerous this level of hypocrisy is. There’s no consistency. There’s no ideology. It’s power and profit. Morality is a cudgel. I’m not quoting the Bible or anything , but we used to live and teach our children the golden rule: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Now it is done as I say, not as I do. This is the power and privilege and those are the types of people we as a country are elevating to office now. It’s not going to end well.”

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