Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) implored Liberty University to put his views on economic inequality “in the context of the Bible” as he addressed students at the conservative Christian school in Lynchburg, Va., this morning, but also stressed that he’s in favor of abortion rights because the government shouldn’t be in people’s lives.
The mandatory student gathering is where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also launched his presidential campaign. Sanders has been the only Democrat to accept an election-season invitation to speak there.
Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. was interrupted during his introduction by cheers for Sanders, and noted that they’d reserved some rows at the convocation for local Bernie supporters who weren’t students. “You’ve got a fan club here,” he noted.
Falwell presented Sanders with a jersey for the school’s team, No. 71, saying perhaps that’s where they could find common ground.
“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,” Sanders told the arena holding about 10,000 people. “But I can 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.”
“Too often in our country — and I think both sides bear responsibility for us. There is too much shouting at each other. There is too much making fun of each other… We go out and we talk to people who agree with us. But it is harder, but not less important for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
Sanders cited the Bible in making his arguments, noting he’s “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,” the senator said.
He also cited Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
“Justice treating others the way we want to be treated, treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity,” Sanders continued. “In the United States of America today, there is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant. We live, and I hope all of you know this, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. But most Americans don’t know that. Because almost all of that wealth and income is going to the top one percent.”
“…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… Now, when we talk about morality, and when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.”
Sanders said that “maybe in different ways …all of us believe in family values.”
“Money and wealth should serve the people. The people should not have to serve money and wealth,” he said, adding that he hopes some students “will conclude that if we are honest in striving to be a moral and just society, it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor, to stand with working people and when necessary, take on very powerful and wealthy people whose greed, in my view, is doing this country enormous harm.”
Sanders stuck around for a question-and-answer session, and was asked how he reconciles advocating for the protection of underprivileged children without advocating for protection of unborn children.
“I understand this is an area where we disagree. I understand and I do believe that it is impractical for the United States government or state government to tell everyone in this country the very painful and difficult choice she has to make on that issue,” replied Sanders, a self-described socialist. “I honestly don’t want to be too provocative there, but very often conservatives say, ‘you know, get the government out of my life. I don’t want the government telling me what to do.’ But on this very sensitivity of which this nation is divided. A lot of people agree with you and a lot people agree with me.”
“But my view is, I respect absolutely a family that says, ‘no, we are not going to have an abortion.’ I understand that but I would hope that other people respect the very painful and difficult choice that many women feel that they have to make and don’t want the government telling them what they have to do.”
Sanders was also asked what he’d do to fight racism in the country.
“I cannot understand, for the life of me, how there can be hundreds of groups in this country whose sole reason for existence is to promote hatred. These are hate groups. And they say, ‘Join us so we can hate African Americans, or gays, or Jews, or immigrants, or anybody that is different from us.’ I can’t understand,” he said.
“…I think what we have got to do is, when we see instances of racism, when we hear political leaders appealing to the worst elements of us by making racist attacks against people from another country, or people whose color may be different than most of us, we have got to stand up and say, ‘In America you are not going to do that. Racism is unacceptable.'”