Can Bernie Make Headway In The Solid South? How About At Liberty University Today?
The imitation "college," later "university," that Jerry Falwell founded in Lynchburg, VA, in 1971 as Lynchburg Baptist College, from 1984 "Liberty University," has long had politicians come by as part of its brainwashing program, with the expected fare being sociopaths like Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Clarence Thomas, Trey Gowdy, Rick Perry, Ollie North, Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Trumpy... you see the thread tying this together, I'm sure. But in 1983 they had Ted Kennedy speak, and today their guest will be... Bernie Sanders.
When asked why he was going to speak there, Bernie said:
When asked why he was going to speak there, Bernie said:
It goes without saying that my views on many issues-- women’s rights, gay rights, education and many other issues-- are very different from the opinions of some in the Liberty University community" but he still felt it might be possible to "reach consensus regarding the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country, about the collapse of the middle class, about the high level of childhood poverty, about climate change and other issues... It is very easy for a candidate to speak to people who hold the same views. It’s harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently. I look forward to meeting with the students and faculty of Liberty University.Erin Kotlan, a student at Liberty University, wrote a piece for The Atlantic that goes well beyond just being open to hearing the enemy speak.
As a student at Liberty University, I have learned from my professors how to apply my conservative theology to all areas of my life. And that’s why I’m drawn to support Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.Watch the incredible video of Bernie and Liberty University. The students certainly more more than just polite:
Jerry Falwell, the founder of the university, strongly believed that teaching students how to integrate their Christian worldview into all sectors of their lives, especially politics, is an essential part of providing a Christian education. I agree with the Liberty University Doctrinal Statement, which says that the Bible is “true revelation” that is “inspired by God” to create a standard of truth, there is one God “who exists eternally in three persons,” and Jesus Christ “offered himself as a sacrifice” for humanity’s sin. However, I find myself in the minority on campus politically.
Two years ago, I started my college journey at a similar point to most college freshmen, politically ignorant. Many of my southern friends and relatives hoped that I would develop a firm foundation of conservative Christianity, politically and theologically. However, after joining the debate team my freshman year, I realized that I was much more politically liberal. On the debate team, I was able to research and explore political ideas that I never would have discovered on my own. At first this led to a massive amount of tension with the rest of my studies. I struggled to reconcile the secular politics I learned in debate, and the Christian principles leaders in my faith were teaching. With help from my coaches, teammates, and even some of my professors I began to learn to craft my own means of integrating what I believe about politics and what I believe about God.
Many of my conservative Christian peers are baffled by the idea that my political beliefs could be grounded in my faith in Jesus Christ; but I believe the best way to find any sort of concrete truth among the shifting cultures of Christianity is to go directly to the Bible. From my studies, I have concluded that the Bible clearly indicates all life is valuable. Jesus calls his followers to care for those on the fringes of society: the poor, orphans, immigrants, and other disenfranchised groups. His calling leads me to a strong passion for social justice and an interest in hearing Senator Sanders speak.
Some readers may question what a conservative Christian would define as social justice. The National Association of Social Workers defines social justice as “the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.” The policies that the government creates shape people’s access to these rights and shape the way that citizens, under the power of the government, view each other’s legitimacy. For example, when the government gave women the right to vote, it led the rest of the nation to acknowledge the personhood of women outside of their relationships to men. This gave women more power politically but also began a movement towards an increased acceptance of women in the workforce. If it is true that the Bible states that all life is valuable, than these types of policies should be important to Christians.
Jesus spent the majority of his time on earth ministering to people seen as outcasts or invaluable to his community. He healed people with diseases and disabilities, reached out to those facing judgment from religious and political authority, and continually gave of himself to those in need. A favorite biblical story of mine is commonly referred to as “The Woman at the Well.” While traveling throughout Israel, Jesus met a woman at a well in Samaria. At this time in history, Jews disliked Samaritans and would go completely out of their way to avoid the area. If they happened to come across a Samaritan woman, most Jewish men at this time would have refused to interact with her because of her faith and gender. Jesus crosses these cultural barriers to reach out and share his love with this woman. Jesus’s conversation with the woman indicates that she felt ashamed of her life and disconnected from her community. Jesus makes it clear that he knows the woman completely. He knows the worst parts of her life and the reasons that her community has rejected her; but regardless of these facts he cares for her. The woman was overwhelmed by this encounter. She immediately went back to everyone she knew and encouraged many of her friends to follow Jesus. Because of her peculiar story many Samaritans were drawn to Jesus’s radical ministry.
Jesus chose to continually take people situated on the outside of society and bring them into community with him. Christians are directed to do the same. The Gospel of Matthew states that what we do for “the least of these” we are doing for Jesus. It even says that Jesus will not recognize those who refuse to care for the impoverished people in their communities.
For me, applying these truths to my political life puts me somewhere in between the two political parties. There is not a candidate for the upcoming election with whom I fully agree; but the majority of Sanders’s political ideas seem to fit well with my faith. According to his campaign site, Sanders’s political focus is on issues such as strengthening the middle class, racial justice, women’s rights, and a better immigration policy. These types of policies help more people gain equal access to political, economic, and social rights. Sander’s economic policies have the potential to shift our countries’ mindset from profit motive to a focus on communal well-being and equality. A governmental focus on these policies could help America to create a more inclusive community; a community that would allow us to decrease the number of people left on the margins of society.
September 14th will be a big day for Liberty University. Hosting Sanders at convocation is a big step towards becoming more accepting of the variety of political beliefs that each student may support. Sanders’s visit will give the students of Liberty the opportunity to learn what motivates his various political stances. Hopefully this will lead more students to begin to contemplate how different political ideas can fit within the Christian worldview.
And, like Bernie today, Jesus was a Jew. Bernie certainly needs the help in the South, which the Clinton camp considers her firewall. Polling released by CBS News yesterday showed Bernie barreling ahead in Iowa-- now 43% to Hillary's 33% and Biden's 10%-- and increasing his lead in New Hampshire-- beating her among likely Democratic primary voters 52-30%. But in the only Southern state polled, South Carolina, while Bernie had certainly increased his name recognition and support, from 9% to 23%, but Hillary was still way ahead, at 46%. But by the next set of polls he should be in the 30s. There is enthusiasm for his candidacy everywhere-- 63% in Iowa versus just 49% for Clinton there and 78% in New Hampshire against her sad, grudging 39%.
It's funny that Bernie's core message-- going back several decades-- is now getting exposure in the Old Confederacy from a most unlikely source: Trump. Bernie rails about income inequality and inequality of opportunity and about a system rigged to make the rich richer and to pulverize the middle class and drive working families into penury. Billionaire Trump of all people is making that message easier for Republicans to take seriously. On Face the Nation yesterday he was, once again, less than worshipful toward the so-called "job creators," fuming about grotesquely overpaid CEOs-- "a total and complete joke"-- and about the rigged system: "You know the boards of companies are supposed to do it, but I know companies very well, and the CEO puts in all his friends... and they get whatever they want, you know, because their friends love sitting on the board... That's the system that we have, and it's a shame and its disgraceful." He rattled his saber towards tax-cheat hedge-fund managers again.
And it doesn't stop there. Republicans in Congress are pretty much all in the bag in favor the job-destroying TPP trade agreement, which Bernie aggressively and consistently opposes. You don't hear Hillary Clinton bringing it up any more than you hear Kasich, Bush, Walker or Rubio bringing it up. But Trump has figured out that blue-collar Republican primary voters are starting to catch on-- and he's ready to exploit their confusion and anger. Saturday Greg Sargent said it rises to the seriousness of another Trumpish schism inside the GOP.
Virtually all of the major GOP presidential candidates, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio, all support the TPP, as do Republican Congressional leaders.
But, in a little noticed move a few days ago, Trump signaled that he might be headed in a very different direction on the TPP soon enough. After his terrific and wonderful rally outside the Capitol the other day, Trump met with Senator Jeff Sessions, and both men enthusiastically recounted that they had had a good conversation about immigration and …. trade. Said Trump: “The meeting was great!”
Sessions is a leading opponent of the TPP. He has warned that the TPP could harm American workers and allow China to join the deal later without the approval of the U.S. Congress; he has also said that it won’t do anything to counter Chinese currency manipulation and could facilitate the flow of “foreign workers” into the United States.
Trump himself railed against the TPP last June, also warning that Obama would later let China get onto the deal through the back door (because he’s weak) and more generally arguing that the TPP would make it easier for China to continue feasting out of American workers’ lunch buckets.
In other words, the coming debate over the TPP gives Trump the perfect opportunity to do what he’s already been doing to great effect: test the true nature of opinion among rank-and-file Republican voters, by forcing real debates out into the open on issues that had previously remained deliberately vague or walled off from real discussion by GOP orthodoxy.