Head of US Christian college steps aside in flap over photo

© Agence France-Presse

President of Liberty University Jerry Falwell, Jr, shown here with US President Donald Trump during the shool's commencement ceremony in 2017, posted a controversial photo of himself with a woman on Instagram

Washington (AFP) - Jerry Falwell Jr. has taken an indefinite leave of absence as president of a prominent US evangelical university amid a furor over an Instagram picture of him and a young woman, both with pants partly unzipped.

The 58-year-old Falwell, whose father was one of the country's best-known televangelists and who founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is stepping aside at the request of the school's trustees.

He himself had posted the controversial picture showing him standing on a private yacht with one hand around the waist of a young woman -- later said to be his wife's assistant -- and the other holding an unidentified dark beverage.

Both sport broad smiles and have their zippers a few inches down, baring their midriffs.

A terse statement Friday from the Christian university said the trustees' executive committee had asked Falwell to "take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately."

It offered no explanation.

Falwell previously told radio station WLNI that he and the woman were at a costume party and "it was just in good fun."

He said he should never have posted the photo, adding, "I've apologized to everybody and I promised my kids I'm going to try to be a good boy from here on out."

The university has a strict code of conduct for students, who are told they must "dress modestly and appropriately at all times" while on campus and "avoid the appearance of impropriety."

One Republican member of Congress who is on a Liberty advisory board, Mark Walker of North Carolina, has called on Falwell to resign.

"I just think there's a code that leaders have to live by, especially when you're leading the largest Christian evangelical university in the country," he told CNN.

Falwell has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, who appeared on the campus twice before his 2016 election. 

In one appearance, Falwell introduced him as "one of the greatest visionaries of our time."