Bernie Sanders reminds Liberty University that God hates greed

In one of the most unexpected campaign stops that any candidate has made this election cycle, Bernie Sanders went to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University to remind God-fearing Christians that God hates greed.

It went over incredibly well.

Quoting the Bible’s invocations for justice and against unfettered capitalism, Sanders — speaking to a packed house at the school’s weekly convocation — earned applause lines at practically every turn, despite acknowledging that he doesn’t exactly see eye to eye with the school’s politics when it comes to its founder’s pet social issues.

Sanders needled the Republican field about who’s really for “family values.” He asked students if they think it’s moral for the United States to be one of the only countries in the world without paid family leave. He invoked the Pope — who Jerry Falwell would likely consider something close to the antichrist — to rail against the “idolatry” of pursuing money for money’s sake.

And the crowd went wild.

Watch the video here. Sanders starts speaking 16 minutes in:

[iframe src=”http://www.c-span.org/video/?328079-1/senator-bernie-sanders-ivt-remarks-liberty-university”]

Here’s the thing: For as much as people scratched their heads when it was announced that Sanders would be speaking at one of the most stalwart bastions of the Religious Right, having watched Sanders speak there, it makes a ton of sense. Sanders’s core message — that America can’t be considered a moral country when our primary value is money for money’s sake — is a moral message and a Christian message. Because once you get past the rather scant parts of the Bible concerning who’s doing what between the sheets, there’s a lot of common ground to be had.

As Sanders said:

Let me be frank…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. 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 entirely disagree on. And maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.

Framed in the context of justice and morality, redistribution of wealth, universal health care, paid family leave, debt-free public college and public spending to curtail child poverty make a lot of sense for a Christian audience — the same Christian audience that was forced to cheer for Ted Cruz when he launched his presidential campaign on the principle that God wants you to be straight, white, male and rich. It’s one thing to say these things to a progressive, secular audience in Seattle; it’s another thing entirely to challenge students at a conservative Christian university to think about whether the economic message they’ve been spoon-fed by their conservative parents, educators and political leaders is in fact a moral one.

As Sanders asked:

Do you think it’s moral that 20 percent of the children in this country — the wealthiest country in the history of the world — are living in poverty? Do you think it is acceptable that 40 percent of African-American children are living in poverty? In my view, there is no justice, and morality suffers, when in our wealthy country, millions of children go to bed hungry. That is not morality. And in my view, that is not what America should be about.

After all, he said, “When we talk about morality and when we talk about justice…there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.” Based on the students’ response, they agreed.

Bernie also had a few choice words for Republicans’ co-opting of the term “family values”:

Bernie Sanders at Liberty, screenshot via CSPAN

Bernie Sanders at Liberty, screenshot via CSPAN

Let me tell you about a family value. 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 their jobs provide…All of us believe in family values…But it is not a family value when all of you know that the most important moments and time in a human being’s life is the first weeks and months after that baby is born…And I want you to think whether you believe it is a family value that the United States of America is the only — only — major country on earth that does not provide paid family and medical leave.

In a campaign cycle marked by scripted unscriptedness on the one hand and unmitigated chaos on the other, seeing the most progressive candidate in the race speak with authority on moral issues at one of the most conservative venues in the country has to be among the high points of the campaign season thus far.

Which is why it was broadcast on C-SPAN, and not on any of the major cable news networks.

 


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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