As many of my regular readers know, I was born and raised in Virginia. I grew up in the Hampton Roads area, in the shadow of Pat Robertson’s Christian empire, and both of my parents are/were from the Shenandoah Valley, near where the late televangelist Jerry Falwell reigned before his death in 2007. Falwell was one of the mightiest pillars of the city of Lynchburg, where he based his ministry and Liberty University, the enormous evangelical school he co-founded in 1971 with Elmer L. Towns.
Not being a very religious person myself, I never gave a thought to attending Liberty University when it was time for me to choose a college. I did know people who went there, though, and I ended up going to school at Longwood College (now Longwood University), which is about a 45 minute drive east of Lynchburg. When I was in college, I remember passing Liberty University as I drove through Lynchburg, a city where I still have many distant relatives I’ve never met, on my way to Rockbridge County, where my grandmother lived. I remember feeling a bit creeped out by the place. Strict religions have always given me the willies.
Imagine how I felt, then, a few years ago, when it came out that Liberty University’s former president, Jerry Falwell Jr., was living a lifestyle that was, in every way, against “The Liberty Way”— the strict code of conduct that students were expected to live by at all times. Falwell Jr. was in the news, as photos of him on a private yacht with a woman, pants unbuttoned, bare stomachs sticking out, as they sipped a “black liquid” of some sort. Or… when Falwell Jr. donned a face mask with a picture of former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam as a medical student in the 1980s, wearing blackface. Then came the biggest bombshell of all. Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki, were involved in a sex scandal due to their activities with a so-called former “pool boy” from Miami.
The pool boy in question, Giancarlo Granda, has now written a lurid account of his experiences with the Falwells in a book, with help from ghost writer, Mark Ebner. Although I hadn’t been closely following the news of the scandal as it was happening, I did feel compelled to read Granda’s story in Off the Deep End: Jerry and Becki Falwell and the Collapse of an Evangelical Dynasty, which was published in October 2022. I just finished reading the book this morning. It’s definitely generated some thought and discussion, as well as a few conclusions.
The first thing I want to mention about this book is that it encpasses an amazing array of players. Everyone from comedian Tom Arnold, to televangelist Paula White and her husband, Jonathan Cain (keyboardist for the band, Journey), to Netflix, to Donald Trump are mentioned in this story. And yet, Giancarlo Granda’s descent down this hypocritical hellhole started kind of innocently.
In 2012, Granda was an ambitious almost 21 year old man, working at Fontainebleau, a famed Miami hotel frequented by the stars. Granda, who wanted to pursue a career in business and make a lot of money, had taken a job as a pool attendant. It was his job to cater to wealthy guests and make sure their needs were properly attended to as they lounged in the sun. Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife were frequent guests at the hotel, and one day, Becki spotted Giancarlo working a shift. She approached him and asked him if he’d like to get together with her for sex. Then she added that her husband would want to watch. When Giancarlo looked shocked at the suggestion, she reassured him that her husband would hide in the corner.
In that moment, Giancarlo Granda was conflicted. Becki was very alluring and charismatic, and she was stroking his ego with compliments. It was also clear they were wealthy, and it probably crossed his mind that they might reward him somehow with money or connections. But it was also a strange invitation to do something he’d never done before. Nevertheless, the intrigue won out, and the “pool boy” met the attractive middle aged woman and her husband at a nearby Days Inn, ostensibly so they wouldn’t run into trouble with hotel management, since Granda worked at the Fontainebleau. Then, it all began… about ten years worth of a sordid affair that included sex, power plays, religion, politics, and most of all, big money.
A few days ago, I wrote a post about this book. I felt compelled to write about Granda’s assertion that he and some of the other males who were roped into sex with Becki Falwell were akin to Monica Lewinsky. Personally, I don’t think he and other “fellas” have had it nearly as bad as Monica did. However, there are some similarities in their situations, as even before Giancarlo found out who Jerry Jr. and Becki were, there was an obvious imbalance of power. They were clearly a wealthy couple, staying at an expensive hotel, and he was a guy working hard for tips so that someday, he might hope to live a lifestyle like theirs. And he was a young man, in his sexual prime, being invited into bed with a fit, beautiful, cougar. So he said yes to Becki, and that was a terrible mistake… Or was it?
Granda’s story is extremely convoluted, but if you have any interest in learning about narcissism and power plays, Off the Deep End makes for fascinating reading. Because before long, after that first tryst at the Days Inn, Granda found himself stuck in a never ending emotional affair with the wife of the president of a hugely powerful and influential Christian university. The Falwells offered Granda money, jobs, and prestige in exchange for sexual favors, emotional stroking, loyalty, and silence. Meanwhile, thousands of students at the university Falwell was leading were being required to live their lives in a “Christian” way. No sex, no drinking, no foul language, or inappropriate dress… and they were expected to go to church and, apparently, vote for conservatives.
Liberty University is certainly not the strictest Christian college there is. I know of quite a few other schools that demand much more obedience of their students. And, thanks to Falwell Jr.’s expansion of the school’s online program, a lot of students don’t even attend Liberty in person, so they wouldn’t be expected to adhere to the school’s lifestyle codes.
Jerry Falwell Jr. clearly isn’t religious like his father was; he’s evidently more like his grandfather, Carey Falwell, who was a well known bootlegger and moonshine peddler in Lynchburg. Falwell Jr.’s brother, Jonathan Falwell, is the pastor of the family. I’m surprised he wasn’t made president, if they were going to engage in nepotism. Maybe if Jerry Falwell, Jr. had been encouraged to live life on his own terms, rather than get involved with the family business, none of this sordid stuff would have ever happened. But, honestly, I find it hard to take Liberty University seriously, especially in the wake of this scandal. For years, it was being led by a man and his wife who were evidently complete hypocrites.
As for Granda, I do have some empathy for him… however, I also think that he should take a harder look at his own responsibility in this situation. Yes, he was an ambitious and somewhat naive young man when this saga started, but he was also a legal adult, and he obviously knew better. He let his desire for sexual gratification and money get in the way of his own morality, and it led to his being “in bed with” the worst kinds of people. Of course, now he’s made a name for himself and written a book, and I did see some evidence that he learned some good lessons from this experience. But the sad thing is, I think he would have gone far, anyway, if he’d just done the right thing and not gotten involved with Becki Falwell and her husband.
As I was finishing Off the Deep End this morning, I came across a rather profound quote, pictured below…
Granted, at almost 21 years old, Giancarlo Granda might not have known that much about narcissists, but he did know enough not to get sexually involved with married people. Becki’s invitation gave him pause when she issued it. Like so many other people, he ignored his gut feeling and decided to go for instant gratification. And he’s been paying for that decision ever since– financially, romantically, and through a loss of self respect and personal dignity.
I do think the book is basically very well written, albeit with a number of fifty cent words that I had to look up. I’m sure that was Mark Ebner’s doing– kind of a way of showing off an advanced vocabulary. I’m all for developing one’s vocabulary, but I suspect that many people would not bother to look up some of the fancy words he uses, which will mean that they likely won’t get the full meaning of his writing.
I also thought the beginning of the book was a bit long winded and dull, although after the first few chapters, the tale does get very juicy and interesting… before it becomes disgusting and infuriating. As I was finishing reading, I looked at Bill with new gratitude and told him I was so glad to be with a man who is so normal and decent. Money and power are exciting things, but they are also craved by the worst kinds of people… some of whom claim to be followers of Jesus Christ as they do many distinctly unChristlike things.
Anyway… if you want to read the book, below is the link. I’m not sorry I read it, but it also makes me glad I never considered attending Liberty University. Yuck.
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