What do these people have in common: Korie and Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, Christian music star David Crowder, Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, conservative pundit William Bennett, and presidential candidates Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders?
Yes, all will speaking this fall at Liberty University’s thrice-weekly convocations, “the world’s largest weekly gathering of Christian young people.”
One of these names is not like the others, acknowledged Liberty president Jerry Falwell, Jr. to the Lynchburg News-Advance: “We have a very conservative student body. I admire him for having the courage to come to Liberty and speak.” “Him,” of course, is Sanders, the lone socialist in the U.S. Senate, who is mounting a surprisingly robust campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Count local Sanders organizer Michael Brosmer among those picking their jaws off the floor:
It is kind of strange, not really an expected stop as far as we are concerned, but we are excited for the opportunity to get to have Bernie here in Lynchburg and hopefully do some meet and greet here with our group…. I’m not familiar with Liberty’s convocations. I’ve never attended one. … I’m hoping they will open up at least to some members of our organization to attend.
The conservative Baptist university has hosted eight other 2016 contenders, all Republican. And while the News-Advance noted that the would-be “Protestant Notre Dame” has had progressive politicians like Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy on campus before, this past spring Liberty canceled an address by Virginia’s Democratic governor in order to host Republican senator Ted Cruz’s announcement that he was running for president. That led Baptist writer Jonathan Merritt (himself disinvited, he reported being told, because Pres. Falwell was “just uncomfortable with some of the things you’ve been writing”) to conclude, “The message seems to be clear: All who kowtow to Liberty’s brand of political conservatism are welcome. Everyone else need not apply.”
But Falwell (again, according to the News-Advance story) believes that inviting all candidates (of both parties) is the best way to safeguard the university’s tax-exempt status.
Hilary Clinton turned down an invitation, so why would Bernie Sanders — running to her left — accept an invitation to speak at a university that six years ago revoked approval for its College Democrats chapter, since, in the words of Liberty’s then-VP for student affairs, “The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of LU and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the ‘LGBT’ agenda, Hate Crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc).”?
The Washington Post reported this explanation from Sanders’ camp:
“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,” Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is Jewish, said Wednesday night, in comments relayed by a spokesman.
But Sanders said he would like to see if “we can 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.”