Regardless of their political allegiances, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged the audience at Liberty University’sConvocation — the world’s largest regular gathering of Christian young people — Monday to fight for a moral and just society, where all are treated with equal dignity.
Sanders, who is vying for the democratic presidential nomination, has been drawing large crowds of late, garnering media buzz. His stop at Liberty was no exception, and he was warmly welcomed by the crowd of nearly 12,000 students in Liberty’s Vines Center, although many held different viewpoints on several issues. (Liberty has invited all of the 2016 presidential candidates, including republicans Scott Walker, visiting Oct. 16, and Ben Carson, visiting Nov. 11.)
Before the senator took the podium, Liberty’s Campus Band led the residential population of the world’s largest Christian university in worship, with singing from the crowd often overpowering the band.
David Nasser, Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development, thanked Liberty President Jerry Falwell for keeping Convocation a platform for ideas, where students can hear from influential speakers from across the professional spectrum and be challenged to know “not just what to think, but how to think.”
Nasser commended Falwell for his genuine care for the student body and his commitment to advocating for the quality of education at Liberty.
Falwell then took the stage and presented the senator with a Flames Football jersey, complete with his name on the back.
Falwell introduced Sanders as a longtime public servant. Before his stint as a senator (now in his second term), Sanders was the lone Congressional representative from Vermont for 16 years. Before beginning his political career as mayor of Burlington, Vt., in 1981, Sanders was a documentary filmmaker and carpenter.
“Under his leadership, he helped transform Burlington into one of the most exciting and livable cities in the nation,” Falwell said. “Under his administration, the city made major strides in affordable housing, environmental protection, childcare, youth programs, and the arts. In Congress, Bernie has fought tirelessly for working families, focusing on the shrinking middle class.”
Falwell noted that Sanders has been hailed as a “practical and successful legislator” for passing more amendments than anyone else in Congress.
As Sanders began his speech — his gruff voice hoarse from campaigning — he acknowledged that there are many issues about which he and conservative evangelicals disagree. But Sanders sought to find common ground by talking about building a better nation — a society where people do not discriminate against one another and where people can enjoy equal opportunity for freedom, education, self-betterment, and quality of life.
“I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse,” Sanders said, noting that it is easy to talk with those who agree with you. “It is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue. It is important to see where, if possible — and I do believe it is possible — we can find common ground.”
While people can — and should be free to — disagree on various topics, Sanders said, most desire to live in a just and moral society. In order to accomplish that goal, people must reach across the aisle and fight for what is right whenever justice and morality are suppressed.
Sanders pointed out the economic realities facing America, where wealth is disproportionately held, and poverty is much more rampant than many might think. This, he declared, is a moral issue. Sanders reminded the audience of the golden rule, found in Matthew 7:12, that states, “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”
“When we talk about morality,” Sanders said, “and when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.”
Throughout his speech, Sanders shared what he sees as violations of basic human rights — people, including many children, denied health care; disproportionate wealth distribution; unequal access to education; and an unnecessarily severe criminal justice system. When he said that the U.S. has failed to provide adequate paid maternity leave, Sanders received a loud, enthusiastic response.
Sanders said he believes the U.S. trails most of the developed world in addressing these issues, many of which stem from greed; the rich and powerful benefit from policies designed to advance their position at the expense of the poor.
“Money has to serve, not to rule,” Sanders said. “We are living in a nation … and in a world, which worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is the country we should be living in.”
Wrapping up his passionate call to action, Sanders challenged the crowd to stand up to the greedy, to those who advance their well-being at the expense of others.
“Throughout human history, there has been endless discussion and debate about the meaning of justice and about the meaning of morality,” he said, noting that at Liberty there are sure to be many discussions after his appearance. “I would hope very much that as part of that discussion, and part of that learning process, some of you will conclude that if we are honest in striving to be a moral and just society, it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor, to stand with working people, and, when necessary, take on very powerful and wealthy people whose greed, in my view, is doing this country enormous harm.”
Following Sanders’ speech, Nasser sat down with the senator to ask questions posed by the student body. The pair talked about overcoming racism, caring for refugees, and avoiding war. Sanders was asked to reconcile his views on abortion with his vocal pleas to care for the children of our nation. While the audience was eager to hear his response, they seemed unmoved by his answer: that while he respects families who choose to say “no” to abortion, others should respect a woman’s right to decide. Sanders asked the students to consider how their tax dollars are used to provide for the disadvantaged.
In closing, Nasser prayed for the senator and for unity and justice to thrive in the United States of America. And he asked the students to pray for the same.
Before heading north for another engagement, Sanders took time to meet with members of Liberty’s Student Government Association.
Stay tuned. I have one more post in me on this topic.