How Bernie Sanders Won The Heart Of An Evangelical Liberty University Grad (AUDIO)

On Monday, Bernie Sanders took to what could easily be a hostile crowd and spoke to students at the evangelical Liberty University. Sanders didn’t pander to the crowd. He called them out for their own hypocrisy, even about the hot button issue of abortion.

If you aren’t familiar with Liberty University, it was founded by extreme right-wing televangelist Jerry Falwell. Along with regular academic subjects, students learn the Bible and “biblical values” such as being anti-choice and anti-marriage equality.

Sanders’ reception at the university was polite but mixed. Several students spoke out in the Roanoke Times:

“I think he did a good job of not offending,” junior Emily Murphy said. “I think he said what he believes in, but he didn’t put us down, so I respected that.”

Keila Overcast, also a junior, said she thought it was appropriate for Sanders to be as up front as he was about his support for abortion rights and gay marriage, but as someone strongly opposed herself, she wished he’d said more to explain why he feels that way.

One student said he disagreed with many of Sanders’ positions but given a choice between Sanders and Trump, Sanders would get his vote.

“Even though I might not agree with him, I respect him the most out of all the candidates right now, the fact that he came here and spoke with us and at the same time was very blunt with us, I really appreciated that,” (Michael) Leh said.

Sanders’ messages about income inequality and healthcare resonated with nursing student Joseph Pappas, who said that no one should be held back from seeking medical care due to lack of insurance. Papps considers himself a conservative, but he plans on voting for Sanders in his first presidential election.

The most surprising response came from someone calling themselves Jim the Evangelical Pastor. Here’s the entire audio from Reddit, but I’ll post part of the transcript:

Jim first notes that he is not a current student at Liberty University and that if he was, he would not be allowed to post about Sanders. It’s against the rules there to support a pro-choice or pro-gay marriage candidate. Students can even be expelled for supporting someone like Sanders (or presumably Hillary Clinton). Yes, the people who defend religious liberty give no liberty of speech to their students.

Jim worked for the George W. Bush campaign in 2004. He is a conservative pastor and has worked as a teacher at a conservative Christian school. He now supports Bernie Sanders.

Jim has no problem aligning his conservative religious views with the views of Sanders. He also believes that the Bible tells him to be progressive.

Some people call that a contradiction, or hypocrisy, it is absolutely not. I believe that my views are 100% consistent. And so I think that the shock value for that comes in beginning to appreciate that the Bible and Jesus, in my opinion and in my very moderate reading of the Bible and the words of Christ, leads us to a Progressive worldview. And that is shocking to a lot of people, especially folks back home in the Evangelical community, they hear that and go, “What are you talking about? That’s heresy—“ it’s like, hold on. Hear me out. There is a Biblical argument for voting for Bernie Sanders, believe it or not, and I’m gonna walk you through it really quick on some key issues.

Jim also notes, as many liberals do, that Jesus said nothing about gay marriage. He recognizes that the Bible does, but he sees abortion and gay marriage as not being “high-priority topics” for Jesus.

So here’s the interesting thing. When I was watching Bernie Sanders talk at Liberty University, I was just really shocked, and something kind of magical happened for me, because as I watched that guy stand up on that stage, here’s what I saw. I saw a wild-haired Jew crying out in a hoarse voice, in a very forceful and forth-speaking way, he was convicting the Christian leaders and religious leaders in that University and calling us out for being complicit in the abandonment of those who suffer: “The least of these.” And siding with the powerful and the rich and the masters of this world. And he was convicting us, and calling us out. And we scorned him, and we stared him down, and with sour faces we thought, “Who is this whacko? And why do all these people seem to follow him, seem to like him? This wild-haired Jew, crying out from the wilderness of the political Left, in his hoarse voice?”

He compared Sanders to John the Baptist:

And if you’re an Evangelical listening to me today, you already know where I’m going with this. When I heard Bernie speaking in that way, when I saw that guy on stage at Liberty University, I saw John the Baptist. I saw the wild-haired, roughly-clothed John the Baptist, eating honey and wearing camel’s hair, and crying out to the religious leaders, the Pharisees of his day, calling them corrupt and complicit with those who have all the power and all the money and all the wealth, and for abandoning the people that God loves, that God cares about. For the Pharisees, who were siding with those who already have power and wealth and saying that they will be the last in the Kingdom of God, and that the weak, and the meek, and the simple, and those who need help—they are first in the Kingdom of God.

And I saw that guy, that John the Baptist figure, who is standing up and saying “There is coming a messenger, there is coming a messenger who will bring equity and justice to the poor, and to the weak, and who will stand for ’the least of these.’” That’s the wild-haired Jew that I saw up on that stage. I saw, and felt, the same voice coming from the Bible when I read about John the Baptist, who cried out in the desert to the Pharisees, warning them that Jesus was coming, the messenger of God. And that he was coming to restore justice, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to value ’the least of these’ when the Pharisees had failed.

I’ll let you read the rest of the transcript or just listen to the audio above, but it’s clear that Sanders is resonating with an audience who, in all likelihood, would be against everything he says. Perhaps there is hope for sanity, even among the most conservative Christians.

Featured image via Flickr