LYNCHBURG, Va. — The president of what is known as the largest evangelical university in the world welcomed admitted socialist Bernie Sanders to address the student body on politics and social issues on Monday, stating that they have the “same goals” of “helping people in need.”
Sanders, who spoke at Liberty University’s weekly convocation—which students are required to attend—began by admitting that he had differences with the university.
“I believe in a woman’s rights, and the right of a woman to control her own body. I believe gay rights and gay marriage,” he stated within seconds of opening of his speech. “Those are my views, and it is no secret. But I came here today because 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.”
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. had stated in his introduction that he hoped the university could find “common ground” with Sanders. The Democratic presidential candidate made similar statements during his speech.
“[I]t is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue,” Sanders said. “And it is important to see where if possible, and I do believe it is possible, we can find common ground.”
“I understand that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very strongly about. We disagree on those issues. I get that,” he reiterated. “But let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.”
Sanders, who is Jewish, cited several Scriptures during his talk, including Matthew 7:12, which reads, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.”
“I am far, far from being a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision, which exists in all of the great religions, in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam and Buddhism, and other religions. And that vision is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12,” he said. “That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated.”
Sanders’ speech mostly focused on poverty and income inequality—noting the differences between the rich and the working class.
“There is no justice, and I want you to hear this clearly, when the top one-tenth of 1 percent—not 1 percent, the top one-tenth of 1 percent—today in America owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. And in your hearts, you will have to determine the morality of that, and the justice of that,” he contended.
“I think that when we talk about morality, what we are talking about is all of God’s children. The poor, the wretched—they have a right to go to a doctor when they are sick,” Sanders posited.
In an interview following the event, Sanders told reporters that he believes morality involves more than abortion and homosexuality.
“That’s the main point I was trying to make, that morality is more than just your view on abortions or gay rights,” he stated. “Moral issues are also hungry children. Moral issues is also the state of our planet and climate change.”
Falwell also stated that while he realizes Sanders is a socialist and disagrees with his socialist views, he believes Liberty University still has beliefs in common with him.
“We have the same goals—helping people in need—we just have different philosophies on how to get there,” he said.
Falwell said that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have likewise been invited to speak. The university has a long history of speakers that have raised concerns, including Mormons Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney (the former of which cited LDS doctrine on stage), Roman Catholics Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush, and others.
“We’ve always tried to present both sides because we believe that college students are at an age where they need to hear viewpoints from all ends of the spectrum,” Falwell told USA Today. “We’re proud of our students for treating speakers that are not in line with their views with respect.”
Students were split on their reception of the Democratic candidate, with some cheering and others not so enthusiastic.
“I liked almost everything he said,” student Sarah Fleet told the Washington Times, nothing that while she disagreed with Sanders’ views on abortion, she liked his statements on childhood poverty and hunger. “And there’s no one who should be expecting everyone to agree on everything.”
“The biggest inconsistency [that he asserts] is the woman’s right to control her own body,” student Cameron Swathwood told CNN. “That assumes her body is the only one in question. … But if the unborn is in fact a human being, which science and philosophy say it is, that killing the unborn is a grievous moral wrong.”