In "God Forbid" the Falwells Epitomize Christian HypocrisyRoundup
tags: scandal, evangelicals, Jerry Falwell Jr.
Anthea Butler is a professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her most recent book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, was published in March.
Hulu’s new documentary “God Forbid” is a stark, steamy, seedy look at former Liberty University President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., his wife, Becki, and the reportedly coercive sexual relationship they had with a former "pool boy," Giancarlo Granda. This documentary about the downfall of the son and namesake of Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded Liberty University, the Moral Majority and obliterated the lines between white evangelicals and the Republican Party, shows how religion, sexuality and a corresponding lust for political power led to the younger Falwell choosing Donald Trump over other Republican candidates before the 2016 presidential election.
Falwell resigned from Liberty University in August 2020 shortly after Granda told Reuters he carried on an affair with Becki Falwell that began in 2012 (when he was 20 and Becki was 45) and lasted until 2018. Granda, who said he felt the couple had taken advantage of him, said Falwell would watch him have sex with Becki.
As he resigned, Falwell put the blame on his wife: “Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved,” he said. In an interview published this year, Becki admitted to a lengthy affair with Granda, and Falwell admitted that he knew Granda and Becki were having a sexual affair. He said he “let it go on” and even walked in on them once. But both the husband and wife denied Granda’s claim that Falwell was a participant in the affair.
People watching the documentary will likely be skeptical of that claim. But aside from the question of Falwell’s participation, documentarian Billy Corben has evangelicals dead to rights as he connects the dots between the Falwells’ sexual dalliances , Liberty University and the complicity of evangelicals desirous of political control. In other words, those evangelicals who have shown themselves willing to forgive every so-called “sin” committed by their own in order to gain power. Corben, in my opinion, deftly shows the machinations and greed of all of the parties involved, including Granda’s apparent desire to become a Cuban Trump. (Full disclosure: I am one of the experts who appears in the film. An expert on the history of the evangelical movement, I might add, not sex!)
Yet, “God Forbid” isn’t simply a story about sex. It’s about how the expressed morality concerns of evangelicals promoted by Falwell Sr. have shaped American politics. From civil rights, to the feminist movement, pornography, gay rights and abortion, Falwell Sr. and other evangelicals were trying, as historian Matt Sutton says in the documentary, to “roll back any progressive change that’s going to happen.”