God Forbid: Hulu documentary explores sex scandal that brought down evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr

The man at the centre of this new show is largely credited with inspiring 81 per cent of white evangelical Christians to vote for Donald Trump in 2016

Tom Murray
Tuesday 01 November 2022 13:47 GMT
Close relationship between Trump and Liberty University leader Jerry Falwell Jr described in 2017 interview

In August 2020, Jerry Falwell Jr, one of Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters, resigned as president of Liberty University – a private, evangelical Christian institution in Lynchburg, Virginia. The university, founded by Falwell’s father – a prominent televangelist – is famed for its strict “moral code”, which includes the prohibition of alcohol, premarital sex and cohabitation. That moral code, as the university sees it, was not adhered to by its president, whose resignation came after he found himself embroiled in a sex scandal involving a pool boy from Miami, Florida.

In Hulu’s new documentary, God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty, that pool attendant, named Giancarlo Granda, describes how his involvement with Jerry Jr’s wife Becki led to the downfall of one of the most influential families in America. In an explosive 2020 interview, Granda revealed that he and Becki were engaged in a seven-year affair and alleged that Jerry Jr would often watch them having sex for his own pleasure. The couple admitted to the affair, but denied that Jerry Jr ever watched his wife and Granda engage in sexual activities.

Who are the Falwells?

Jerry Jr is the eldest son of Jerry Falwell Sr and Macel Falwell. His father, who died in 2007, was a charismatic American Baptist pastor and televangelist, infamous for his pro-segregation, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion views. Alongside Liberty University, Jerry Sr also founded an ultraconservative megachurch in Lynchburg and Moral Majority – a right-wing movement that supported Christian Republican politicians like Ronald Reagan. While Jerry Jr did not possess the on-stage powers of his father, he proved a savvy businessman and turned Liberty University into a financial behemoth, turning over more than $1bn a year.

In 2016, Jerry Jr announced his endorsement of Donald Trump and stuck by the then-presidential candidate’s side after the infamous Access Hollywood tape scandal, calling him “one of the greatest visionaries of our time”. Due to his influence, Jerry Jr is largely credited with inspiring 81 per cent of white evangelical Christians to vote for Trump. In 2016, he claimed that Trump asked him to be his education secretary.

The pool attendant enters the picture

In March 2012, Jerry Jr and Becki stayed at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel where Granda – then 20 years old – was working. It was here, Granda alleges, that Becki invited him to her hotel room, where her husband would watch them having sex. In the documentary, Granda claims that the Falwells would fly him around the country to meet them at hotels. They even introduced him to Trump during a visit to Liberty University in 2012. In 2013, the trio went into business together, purchasing a hostel in Miami for Granda to own a stake in and manage.

But two years later, Granda’s friend Jesus Fernandez Jr and his father Jesus Sr sued Granda and the Falwells, claiming that they had wrongfully been left out of the hostel deal after offering their real estate advice. Granda claims in the documentary that the Fernandez family had managed to obtain explicit photos of him and Becki. It was then that Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen got involved. According to Granda, Becki told him that Cohen was going to “take care of those guys that are suing us”.

Becki and Jerry Falwell Jr

While the lawsuit did indeed go away for a while, the father and son refiled in 2017, ultimately spelling the beginning of the end for the Falwells’ secret affair. Granda was named in the case, and his “friendly relationship” with the Falwells was alluded to, leading people to suspect that there was more to the trio than met the eye.

On 23 August 2020, one day before Reuters published an exclusive interview with Granda, Jerry Jr suddenly confirmed that his wife did have an “improper relationship” with the former pool attendant. On 25 August, Jerry Jr tendered his resignation as president of Liberty University, calling his exit “a relief”.

In a wide-ranging interview with Vanity Fair at the beginning of this year, Jerry Jr and Becki finally discussed the scandal. Jerry Jr again denied watching his wife and Granda having sex, but said he once walked in on them in the act, which he called “traumatising”. Becki also claimed that Granda pressured her into sex on one occasion in 201, although she “kept saying no”. Granda denied the accusation, promising answers in the Hulu documentary.

God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty is out now on Hulu in the US. A UK release date has not yet been set.

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