It is relatively easy to go and speak to a crowd who agrees with you on most of the issues but it is much harder, as Bernie Sanders pointed out to speak to a crowd that disagrees with you on most issues. When Sanders went to speak at Liberty University, he definitely was not preaching to the choir.
Here is his full speech plus the Q&A:
Bernie Sanders was very clear that on many issues he strongly disagreed with most of his audience. He mentioned his strong support for a woman’s right to control her body and gay rights. Surprisingly, he actually got some applause and cheers for championing those two issues even at this Religious Right strong hold. What he did not call attention to and in my view, he should have, was his strong acceptance of the science of climate change and the importance of dealing with this issue. I was disappointed that this was not an issue mentioned.
Also during the Q&A, when David Nasser asked Sanders about “protecting babies before they were born,” this would have been a good time to bring up that there are things we can do to prevent unwanted pregnancies before they occur. This would have been an excellent time to talk about the value of comprehensive sex education.
During his speech, he talked about how much parents sometimes have to suffer and he joked about how he suspected this might apply more to the teachers and staff, than to the students. Again this would have been a great time to stress the value of birth control.
Sanders focus was more on dealing with wealth inequality. He pointed out that it is fundamentally unjust for so few people to make so much while so many suffer from too little. At one point, when the camera focused on the crowd, it was clear that many in the audience were not buying it but Bernie did a good job selling it. He quoted the Bible a few times and praised the students of Liberty University for continually thinking about subjects like morality and justice. Perhaps by focusing on these virtues, his speech may spark conversations that might actually change people’s minds.
One thing that I thought was interesting about the Q&A section was that the moderator, David Nasser, claimed that his questions were from students, but he never gave their names and it seemed to me that they could have just as easily been written by the administration. Now sure, when he asked about Bernie’s pro-choice position the crowd roared. They clearly wanted a question on this topic, but did a student actually write this particular question? I’m a little skeptical. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter any way, but it just strikes me as phony and as another example of Christian dictator mentality.
Finally, Nasser asked how the students and faculty can pray for Bernie. This is where I really think Bernie dropped the ball. Don’t get me wrong all in all I think his speech and Q&A were awesome. However, this was just needlessly embarrassing. Bernie was clearly uncomfortable here and he had an easy out. If he were an atheist it wouldn’t have been a problem for him to say something like this, “Thank you for your prayers, but what this country needs right now is action. In my point of view, asking for God to save us will not be as effective as actually rolling up our sleeves and doing the saving for ourselves. If you would like to pray do so, but then I want you to get to work.” At this point he could go on about the statistics concerning the homeless, poverty rates, etc. Hell, he could even bow his head and pray out of respect if he wanted but he should have at least pointed out that prayer is not action and what America needs right now is action.
I have no doubt that many of the students of Liberty University are intelligent and caring people. Some even cheered for Bernie when he talked about progressive values like a woman’s right to choose, marriage equality, and gay rights. This is why I think making the distinction between prayer and action would have resonated with the student when it might not resonate with the faculty. It was a missed opportunity in exchange for an awkward moment.
Again, we have to remember that fundamentalist Christians often live in their own bubbles where they block any contrary points of view. Even in this YouTube video posted on Liberty University’s official channel, comments and ratings are blocked. So it is very important for someone like Bernie Sanders to speak there and to get his message to people who have often been deliberately isolated from hearing it. He did a great job using his stage to reach across the aisle.
I hope every fundamentalist Christians watches this video. It would be hard for people who see themselves as more pious and moral than everyone else to disagree with Senator Sanders on some of these issues. Of course these are also the same people who believe that the Earth is less than 10k years old and that a walking, talking, snake tricked a woman into eating a bad apple. These are the same people who believe the Bible was written by God and should be taken absolutely literally except where someone is explicitly telling a story. There is no bounds to the mental gymnastics they can fall victim to but when it comes to politics, maybe Bernie’s attention to common ground will resonate.
EDIT: I want to once again point out that the criticisms in this post are relatively minor. Over all, Bernie did an amazing job and I really do hope all fundamentalist Christians watch his speech.