Some of my newer friends may not know I am a graduate of Liberty University (MRE 2012 / Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) so when I comment on the happenings there, it is through the biased lens of a proud alumnus. So, having said that, there are a number of things that strike me about Sen. Sanders' visit, the first of which is how surprised nearly all of the media reports have been with the polite reception the Senator from Vermont received. To his point, he was treated like our students would want to be treated themselves. The fact that he was received in a positive way speaks volumes about the culture of LU. It also says a great deal about other schools who have treated conservatives in quite the opposite way in recent years, canceling appearances rather than actually provide an opposing view to better inform their student bodies.
The second thing that jumps out at me is the notion that such an appearance is rare. It is not as common as Falwell and other administrators would like but that is not the fault of the school. Many liberal politicians and thought leaders have been and continue to be invited to LU but few accept. That says a lot more about those who decline to speak than it does about LU.
The third thing that strikes me is a quote from Sanders after his speech. “That’s the main point I was trying to make, that morality is more than just your view on abortions or gay rights,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview after the event. [i] Morality is absolutely more than just the view on abortion or gay rights but is never less. Any discussion about morality will eventually bear this out as evidenced by Sanders' own comment that immediately followed. “Moral issues are also hungry children.”
The students themselves probably spoke best about the event though Falwell made a couple of good points too. “Calling on us to help the neediest, that resonates with me as a Christian,” said Quincy Thompson, the student body president, who had a chance to briefly meet Mr. Sanders after the event. “But as a Christian, I think the responsibility to help them falls to the church, not the government.”
Others could not look past differences on social issues. “How can he be for family values but also for abortion?” said Adam Ochs, a sophomore political science major from California.
“I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview after the event, making the case that he thought working toward a limited government and lowering taxes would “create the tide that rises all ships.” But he still found areas on which he agreed with Mr. Sanders.
“We have the same goals, helping people in need, we just have different philosophies on how to get there,” he said.
And there's the rub in our politics that seems to have been lost folks. More often than not, we do indeed have the same goals but very, very different ideas about how to get there.
[i] Quotes from Sanders, Falwell, and LU students are taken from the New York Times article discussing his visit to the campus. http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/09/14/bernie-sanders-makes-rare-appeal-to-evangelicals-at-liberty-university/?_r=0