He wasn’t exactly preaching to the choir, and Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders acknowledged that from the start on September 14 when he gave a speech at Virginia’s conservative religious college, Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell:
…let me start off by acknowledging what I think all of you already know. And that is the views that many here at Liberty University have and I, on a number of important issues, are very, very different. 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.
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.
Sanders, who is Jewish, spoke to the group about morality and social justice:
You are a school which, as all of us in our own way, tries to understand the meaning of morality. What does is mean to live a moral life? And you try to understand, in this very complicated modern world that we live in, what the words of the Bible mean in today’s society.
You are a school which tries to teach its students how to behave with decency and with honesty and how you can best relate to your fellow human beings, and I applaud you for trying to achieve those goals.
…through the lens of religion:
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, and it states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the war and the prophets.” That is the golden rule. Do unto others, what you would have them do to you. That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated.
Sanders makes the point that “it would be hard to make the case that we are a just society, or anything resembling a just society today,” and with that he addressed income and wealth inequality and poverty:
We are living in a time — and I warn all of you if you would, put this in the context of the Bible, not me, in the context of the Bible — we are living in a time where a handful of people have wealth beyond comprehension. And I’m talking about tens of billions of dollars, enough to support their families for thousands of years. With huge yachts, and jet planes and tens of billions. More money than they would ever know what to do with.
But at that very same moment, there are millions of people in our country, let alone the rest of the world, who are struggling to feed their families. They are struggling to put a roof over their heads, and some of them are sleeping out on the streets. They are struggling to find money in order to go to a doctor when they are sick.
In my view, there is no justice when thousands of Americans die every single year because they do not have any health insurance and do not go to a doctor when they should. I have talked personally to doctors throughout Vermont and physicians around the country. And without exception, they tell me there are times when patients walk into their office very, very sick and they say, why didn’t you come in here when you’re sick? And the answer is, I do not have any health insurance or I have a high deductible or I thought the problem would get better. And sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes they die because they lack health insurance.
In my view, there is no justice when low income and working class mothers are forced to separate from their babies one or two weeks after birth and go back to work because they need the money that their jobs provide. Now I know everybody here — we all are, maybe in different ways, but all of us believe in family values.
Unemployment and racial inequality:
In my view there is no justice in our country when youth unemployment exists at tragically high levels. I requested a study last month from a group of economists. And what they told me is that 51 percent of African American high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 20 are unemployed or underemployed — 51 percent.
and the prison system:
We have in this country sufficient amounts of money to put more people in jail than any other country on earth. The United States has more people in jail than China; a communist authoritarian country.
Video and a transcript of his speech can be found at the Washington Post; the video is also on YouTube.
The New York Times included responses from students, some who were not swayed:
“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.
And others who were:
“I liked almost everything he said,” said Sarah Fleet, a sophomore who grew up just a few miles from the university in southern Virginia. She noted that she did not agree with Mr. Sanders’s views on abortion, but that his calls to help address childhood poverty and hunger resonated.
“And there’s no one who should be expecting everyone to agree on everything,” she said.
“What Bernie Sanders’s Speech at Liberty University Says About His Rise,” The Wall Street Journal
(Image is of Vines Center at Liberty University, the location where Sanders spoke, but not a photo from the event itself.)