Monday, September 14, 2015

What Does the Bernie Sanders Visit Mean for Liberty University?

Today a political commentator on CNN praised Bernie Sanders for going to Liberty University for the purpose of trying to win as many votes as possible--even votes in a conservative hotbed like Liberty.

This commentator missed the boat. Very few Liberty University students are going to vote for Sanders, even if they do embrace his attempts to find "common ground" on moral issues with evangelicals.  I am guessing that very few Liberty students will be voting in the primaries as registered Democrats.  And those who did find common moral ground with Sanders, and believe that childhood poverty and income inequality are moral issues that biblically-minded Christians should be concerned about, will not vote for a candidate who is pro-choice.

Sanders was not in Lynchburg today to win votes.  He was there to show that he is a man of deep conviction.  Sanders showed no fear at Liberty.  He did not soften his message.  He came across as an economic populist with a powerful moral message who was not willing to back down. In the process, Sanders strengthened his base today and probably even took a few more votes from Hillary Clinton.  

But I am more intrigued about how Sanders may or may not have influenced the students at Liberty University.  Again, few of these students will vote for the Vermont senator.  Most of the applause came from the group of Sanders supporters were invited to attend the speech.  Liberty students seemed to clap politely and whenever the camera turned on the crowd I saw more students sitting there with their arms crossed than cheering or nodding in support of what Sanders was saying.

Whether Liberty students applauded or not, I do hope that Sanders made them think more deeply about their faith and how that faith might translate into politics.  Most students that I know who do or have attended Liberty come from families that equate our capitalist system with the will of God or else see no real reason to offer Biblical criticism of the way capitalism works today in the United States.  Perhaps God used an atheist like Bernie Sanders today to remind the Liberty community of an important dimension of the Christian faith that needs to be emphasized more on the Lynchburg campus.  

As I did in my recent USA Today op-ed (which I understand was circulated widely on the Liberty campus), I want to applaud Jerry Falwell Jr. for inviting Bernie Sanders to come to Liberty.  I have long viewed Liberty as a Christian university that has been more about indoctrination than education. Perhaps Liberty is still in the business of indoctrinating students in conservative values, but today was a step in the right direction.  Sanders challenged students and professors to think about economic justice, let's hope that his ideas will be taken seriously in Liberty classes tomorrow.