RICHMOND, VA. – Jerry Falwell Jr. took an indefinite leave of absence Friday as the leader of Liberty University, one of the nation's top evangelical Christian colleges, days after apologizing for a social media post that caused an uproar even among fellow conservatives.
The private university in Lynchburg, Va., gave no reason for Falwell's departure in a one-sentence announcement Friday afternoon. But it came after Falwell's apology this week for a since-deleted photo he posted online showing him with his pants unzipped, stomach exposed and his arm around a young woman in a similar pose.
The statement said the executive committee of Liberty's board of trustees, acting on behalf of the full board, met Friday and requested Falwell take leave as president and chancellor, "to which he has agreed, effective immediately."
A high-profile supporter of President Donald Trump, Falwell has served since 2007 as president of the university founded by his evangelist father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.
He did not immediately return a call seeking comment. University spokesman Scott Lamb said he had no further comment.
In an interview this week with Lynchburg radio station WLNI, Falwell said the woman in the photo was his wife's assistant and that the picture was taken during a "costume party" while on vacation.
"Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht," the caption of the photo said, in part. "I promise that's just black water in my glass. It was a prop only."
He said the woman — who also had her midriff exposed — was pregnant, couldn't get her pants zipped and he imitated her, saying it was all in "good fun."
"I've apologized to everybody, and I've promised my kids … I'm going to try to be a good boy from here on out," he told the interviewer.
On Thursday, Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a pastor who previously taught at Liberty, called Falwell's behavior "appalling" and said he should resign.
Besides Walker, some pastors who graduated from Liberty spoke out this week calling for a change in leadership at the school.
Falwell was among the earliest Christian conservatives to endorse Trump's previous election campaign. In late 2016 he told the Associated Press that Trump had offered him the job of education secretary but that he turned it down for personal reasons.