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Sanders Preaches Message Of Morality And Justice At Liberty University

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Sanders Preaches Message Of Morality And Justice At Liberty University

Bernie Sanders Netroots Nation BlackLivesMatter

On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sought to make his brand of democratic socialism palatable to an audience of conservative Christians.

In a stirring, eloquent stump speech that touched on religion, health care, education, and income disparity, Sanders connected his progressive agenda to tackle economic inequality with an ethical obligation that had a firmly religious basis. Before an unlikely crowd, in an address that sometimes resembled a lecture, sometimes a sermon, he bridged abstract values of morality and justice with concrete policy proposals. His goal, he said, was to “find common ground.”

The location was an incongruous one for Sanders’ full-throated liberal oratory: Liberty University, the Baptist school founded by Jerry Falwell (Sanders was given a warm introduction by Falwell’s son) — the very same venue where five months previous, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) launched his presidential run on a series of promises to repeal Obamacare, gut Planned Parenthood, and roll back progress on marriage equality. In other words, the antitheses of virtually every one of Sanders’ points.

Sanders made no secret of where he stood on social issues, the items on which he was most likely to diverge from the popular opinion in the room. He affirmed his support for same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to a legal abortion. (Throughout the speech Sanders received scattered applause, punctuated by ardent cheers from small but vocal pockets of the crowd.) But the senator from Vermont then suggested that, among those who hold opposing views, there was a valuable opportunity “to reach out of our zone of comfort,” and to have “civil discourse.”

“It is very easy for those in politics to talk to those who agree with us. I do that every day. It is harder, but not less important, to try to communicate with those who do not agree with us,” Sanders said in his prepared remarks.

He hastened to stake out common ground in the question of how best to lead a “moral life” — an inquiry that he argued was both deeply theological and inescapably political, one that he said both the audience and he could agree was vital. He said he was motivated by a vision of morality shared by all religions, namely, the Golden Rule as articulated in the Book of Matthew: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets,” which he quoted.

“Let me be very frank. I understand that issues such as abortion and gay marriage are very important to you and that we disagree on those issues. I get that. But let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and the world and that maybe, just maybe, we don’t disagree on them. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together in trying to resolve them,” he said.

His speech touched on Americans who became sick and died because of a lack of health insurance, mothers separated from their weeks-old children because they did not have paid leave, rampant youth unemployment and mass incarceration, particularly among people of color. Amid the explosion in wealth for millionaires and billionaires, he said, children still lived in poverty. That all of this could occur in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, was tantamount to a moral crime, he argued.

“There is no justice when so few have so much,” he said. “In your hearts, you will have to determine the morality of that and the justice of that.”

He asked the crowd to interrogate the meaning of the words “family values,” which are commonly invoked by conservatives in anti-abortion or anti-gay-marriage screeds.

“All of us believe in ‘family values,'” Sanders said. “Is it a family value that the United States is the only major country on Earth that does not provide paid family and medical leave?” He renewed his calls for universal health care, tuition-free education, and paid leave for new parents and sick employees. These issues, he said, were inseparable from the health and well-being of the family — and so necessarily must be considered “family values.”

In a Q&A session moderated by David Nasser, Liberty University’s Senior Vice President of Spiritual Development, Sanders took three pre-screened questions from the student body.

In a response to the first one — on the subject of race — Sanders conceded that while the country had been “created […] on racist principles,” it had made many positive strides, but cautioned the audience that they should be aware “to what degree racism is alive in this country.” He cited the massacre of a Bible study group at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the too-common occurrence of unarmed men of color being shot by police. He said that institutional racism was a very real scourge and that police officers who committed crimes should be brought to justice, but was careful to note that the vast majority of men and women who serve in law enforcement were honest.

When Nasser posed a question about abortion, he framed it by invoking Sanders’ own stated mission to protect society’s most vulnerable, saying that many conservatives believed unborn children fell within that category. The question got perhaps the loudest applause in the event.

Sanders responded by pointing to the many instances in budget appropriations when Republicans had stripped funding from education and social programs — implicitly demanding that conservatives extend their moral crusade to protect unborn children to include born ones as well.

Finally, Nasser offered a prayer expressing both gratitude for Sanders’ visit and a desire for the senator to know that “he has made friends today.”

File photo: yashmori via Flickr

Sam Reisman

Sam Reisman is the former managing editor at The National Memo, where he still writes the weekly "This Week In Crazy" column. His writing has appeared in Flavorpill, The Huffington Post, Columbia Daily Spectator, and Bwog. He was the publisher of the 2010 edition of Inside New York, an annual guidebook to the city for students and young professionals.

Since 2011, he has co-curated and hosted Peculiar Streams, a showcase for NYC-based writers, musicians, comedians, and filmmakers. He is a staff writer at Mediaite, and blogs at SamReisman.com.

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  1. Dominick Vila September 14, 2015

    I find it refreshing and encouraging to have a presidential candidate willing to go to an institution that he knows does not share many of his views, articulate his opinions in a respectful manner, highlight issues that in his opinion deserve more attention, and encourage civil dialogue to find middle ground on issues that are both critical to our society and that are considered divisive because of ideological leanings.

    The contrast between Sen. Sanders and most of the other candidates running for the nomination of their respective parties could not be more stark. We need more candidates like Sanders, and fewer charlatans.

    1. TZToronto September 15, 2015

      You said it. . . Charlatans! Most of the GOP wannabes are charlatans, posing as responsible people who want to make the country better. In reality, they are narcissistic shils for the uber-wealthy who are trying to buy the next election and turn the USA into their fiefdom. If the Kochs and their friends have their way, Americans will be paying their taxes to their “lords,” and protecting them with their blood. Am I being too bleak?

      1. Dominick Vila September 15, 2015

        Nope. The only thing you left out is the likely reaction of not-so wealthy Republicans who actually believe the garbage that is being fed to them by people like Trump, whose only interest in politics and the well being of the American people is limited to the culmination of his narcissism: becoming President of the United States.

      2. jmprint September 15, 2015

        I don’t think you are, I feel the same way, People like Ted, and Trump that is their goal. Their presidency is not for the people.

    2. yabbed September 15, 2015

      Attendance is mandatory for students.

      Sanders is the biggest charlatan of all the candidates. He is a total fraud.

      1. Dominick Vila September 15, 2015

        Could you providence evidence to support your claim? The only concern I have about what Sen. Sanders is proposing is that Congress will not appropriate the funds needed to implement his proposals, and will not change existing legislation to ensure justice for all, and equal opportunities for all Americans.
        In any case, I am waiting for VP Biden’s decision to decide who I plan to support and vote for.

      2. latebloomingrandma September 15, 2015

        I imagine a lot of stuff at Liberty is mandatory for students.

      3. Jinmichigan September 15, 2015

        Yes, attendance was mandatory, and the majority sat there like the bumps on a log they are.
        Of course you are entitled to your opinion, but you will convince no one based on insults with nothing to support your joke of a comment.

  2. Otto Greif September 14, 2015

    Theft isn’t moral, and he’s in favor of the government stealing my money.

    1. bobnstuff September 15, 2015

      There is a very easy way not to pay taxes, leave the country. Give up your membership. Stop using the services and protection. Taxes aren’t stealing. I may not always like how my taxes are spent but as a citizen of the United States of America I get to pay taxes. We elect people to give us services and those services need to be paid for. I guess you would be happier giving you money to companies that you have zero say in how they are run.

      1. Otto Greif September 15, 2015

        When I give money to companies I get products I want in return.

        1. bobnstuff September 15, 2015

          And you don’t get services from the government? Who paved the roads you drove on? Who employees the police at protect you? Who makes sure your food is safe? Even the land you own is only yours because some where the is a record of a deed and the government enforces property rights. The money you use only have value because the government backs it. Why do you think we have a government? As I said if you don’t like taxes don’t use the services they pay for but you might find it hard living with out them.

          1. Otto Greif September 15, 2015

            You should look up what a “straw man argument” is.

          2. bobnstuff September 15, 2015

            I’m tired of people complaining about their taxes. Most people don’t even know what their taxes are spent on. I’m sure you don’t with out looking it up.

          3. Otto Greif September 15, 2015

            If you are tired of people complaining about their taxes you should move someplace where people love high taxes.

          4. bobnstuff September 15, 2015

            No one’s taxes are all that high. Back in the 50’s they were high but now it’s just people be greedy. I just guess people don’t think being American is worth the price.

          5. Sand_Cat September 15, 2015

            If you’re tired of “high” taxes, why don’t you move someplace where they’re low instead of whining about it.

          6. charleo1 September 16, 2015

            Or have no taxes at all, like Somalia!

          7. Sand_Cat September 15, 2015

            You should stop trying to dodge the facts by making references to things we “should look up.” It’s called the “weasel fallacy.”

          8. Otto Greif September 15, 2015

            It’s not my fault you people don’t know very much.

          9. Sand_Cat September 15, 2015

            Yes, you’re just so well-informed.

    2. Jinmichigan September 15, 2015

      Another nothing comment not worth another second.

    3. tomtype September 15, 2015

      On the subject of taxes, Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. So I guess you believe Jesus was counseling immorality?

      1. Otto Greif September 15, 2015

        Great logic, dude.

        1. bobnstuff September 15, 2015

          Yes, The truth.

  3. John Murchison September 15, 2015

    Its a good attempt i suppose but i think the Christians aren’t about to engage in civil discourse considering what we hear from the far right just now.

    1. bobnstuff September 15, 2015

      Don’t lump all Christians into one box. There are still some out there that follow the teachings of Christ.

      1. Jinmichigan September 15, 2015

        Agree, those at LU are on the right of the right.

  4. docb September 15, 2015

    Excellent and brave and not shaming but inclusive…Bernie is a great American.

    1. Dominick Vila September 15, 2015

      I have the feeling Hillary is well aware of that. One of her Super PACS just launched a vicious attack against Sen. Sanders linking him to a dictator, and other claims worthy of the Tea Party.

      1. docb September 15, 2015

        An exercise in futility for the PAC…Thinking Americans are not threatened like the easily led fearful of the rabid right. He has been a singular voice for equity for all for 37 years.

        1. Dominick Vila September 15, 2015

          If she persists, that negative campaign tactic is going to destroy what little credibility she still has.

      2. yabbed September 15, 2015

        Well, really. Have a look at the corporate donors Sanders has: Federal Coal Company, Merrill Lynch, Boeing, UPS … it’s an endless list supporting Sanders’ hypocrisy.

        1. Dominick Vila September 15, 2015

          The link below lists Sen. Sanders top donors:


          Unlike other candidates, the contributions to his senatorial campaigns, and now to support his quest for the nomination of the Democratic party, do not include dark money, or huge amounts of money.
          Bear in mind that it is virtually impossible for anyone running for office in the United States to do it without money. Doing so would guarantee anonymity and defeat. Until something is done to ban contributions from business, labor, religious, and all special interests, and limit funding to equal amounts provided by the Federal and State government to each candidate, this situation will persist, and those special interests will continue to exert tremendous influence on policy making in the USA.

  5. yabbed September 15, 2015

    I’ve seen no sign of morality in Bernie Sanders. All I see is hypocrisy.

    1. latebloomingrandma September 15, 2015

      Huh? Bernie is the very antithesis of hypocrisy. He’s not a fipflopper nor does he dance around a question.

    2. CrankyToo September 15, 2015

      Would you care to elucidate us with examples of Bernie’s hypocrisy? or are you just being irrationally and gratuitously caustic because you’re a wingding?

      1. BillP September 15, 2015

        Yabbed also didn’t offer proof of the claim that Bernie Sanders is immoral or amoral. All yabbed did is write 2 sentences offering nothing.

        1. CrankyToo September 15, 2015

          Exactly. He/She is clearly just another garden-variety Turd Party butthead.

          1. David September 15, 2015

            “Turd Party”? Hmm… I haven’t heard of the Demorats referred to as that. I like it!

          2. CrankyToo September 15, 2015

            Up jumped the devil!!! What’s up, eSquire?

          3. David September 16, 2015

            Lol…you weren’t’??? Gosh!!! Having fun on the enemy’s talk site and saw your post. Enjoying the life my Savior has given me. You?

          4. CrankyToo September 16, 2015

            Blest in every way possible. Company just left, started new job today, subcontractors are working the construction issues, and you’re still on my list for an email in response to yours – as soon as I catch my breath. Feel like I’m laying track in front of a bullet train.

          5. David September 16, 2015

            Get your house fixed! Hate to have you hear it from your boss for the next ___ years!

      2. yabbed September 15, 2015

        Read Sanders’ outrageously misogynist sex essay. Watch his statements in wild-eyed support of Israel’s savage bombardments of the defenseless Palestinians. Go look at his scrounging hippie freak life living on unemployment benefits until he finally got himself elected to the government trough where he has languished on another form of welfare for decades. Look at his lies denying the real mother of his illegitimate son. Sanders is a total fraud.

        1. CrankyToo September 15, 2015

          “…. the real mother of his illegitimate son.”

          Bernie Sanders’ personal life doesn’t concern me. And it shouldn’t concern you. Don’t you have your own family issues to worry about?

          I’ve been watching Bernie for years. My instincts tell me he’s the person we need right now. You’re instincts clearly tell you something else. I’d be interested to know which of the current candidates you’d pull the lever for – and why.

          And while you’re at it, tell me one positive thing Republicans in Congress have done for this country in the last 30 years.

        2. Lyle52 September 16, 2015

          No yabbed, the fraud is you. You’re so obviously a troll.

    3. Jinmichigan September 15, 2015

      A nothing comment not worth another second.

    4. Sand_Cat September 15, 2015

      That’s because you’re blinded by partisan hatred and ignorance./

    5. Lyle52 September 17, 2015

      Well of course that’s all you see, you’re a republican.

  6. Karen Bille-Golden September 15, 2015

    The only candidate I’ve witnessed so far that is willing to speak with civility to their opposition. He deserves credit for that and for the tact employed in the process.

  7. CPAinNewYork September 15, 2015

    I don’t think that Senator Sanders has much of a chance of getting the Democratic nomination, but I like him personally.

  8. dtgraham September 15, 2015

    Bernie is new testament; they’re old.


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