Politics & Policy

In Welcoming Sanders, Liberty University Shows the Left How to Handle Dissent

Sanders at the lectern at Liberty University, September 14, 2015.

Most have heard by now that Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at Liberty University yesterday. Liberty, of course, is the university masthead for conservative Christianity and the origin of the Jerry Falwell enterprise. Its influence in merging conservative Christianity with Republicans politics is well known.

Sanders, of course, is the notoriously liberal — nay, socialist — United States senator from Vermont now running a long-shot bid for the presidency. Sanders is an avowed progressive whose views earnestly mimic those of European statists. He’s pro–gay rights, pro–gay marriage, and pro-abortion. On issues near and dear to conservative Christians — life and marriage — Sanders stands as far to the left as is possible in America. As a conservative Christian, I can tell you that the ideological ingredients of Sanders’s campaign are not pleasing to conservative Christians. So the presence of Sanders at Liberty is an odd sight.

But something happened yesterday that is worth noting: All reports indicate that Sanders was received with the utmost warmth, respect, and kindness by the university and its students.

Liberty students received no trigger warnings prior to Sanders’s speech.

The media set-up of Sanders’s visit would have one believe that the senator was offering himself as a sacrificial lamb to hordes of intolerant, conservative Christians who would relish humiliating him. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Sanders delivered a speech with no interruptions or mass protest. There was no jeering. No one held up signs denouncing Sanders as a baby-killing progressive. As far as I could tell, Sanders had no need of security guards or police protection.

Moreover, Liberty students received no trigger warnings prior to Sanders’s speech. Nor did the school provide campus “safe spaces” where students could seek calm and coddling after being traumatized by his leftist ideas.

#share#Could it be that Liberty University demonstrated the fruits that follow from an atmosphere that prioritizes respect, kindness, and a forthright willingness to engage with those who hold opposing views? Is there something unique at a faith-driven campus that allows people the freedom to debate without recourse to violence and intimidation? One would think civil, open discussion would be the norm at college campuses in America. As we all know, it isn’t.

The stories are too numerous to list (See Kirsten Powers’s new book, The Silencing, for one full accounting), but at many college campuses, when a conservative or a Christian intellectual comes to speak to a liberal audience, the results are far different from what happened at Liberty yesterday. We should be shocked by the fact that conservative speakers usually need multiple layers of security when they speak at liberal colleges; that conservative iconoclasts are shouted down mid-speech; that students stand up to angrily denounce the speaker as patriarchal, sexist, or bigoted.

One must ask, Why is it that conservative Christians are the adults in the room while liberals turn schools into ideologically rigid precincts with safe houses for infantile students?

Many of us have observed that liberalism is illiberal and intolerant, often to the point of intimidation or violence. But why is this?

Many of us have observed that liberalism is illiberal and intolerant, often to the point of intimidation or violence. But why is this? One answer might be that liberalism is an ideology, and Christianity is not. The students at Liberty live with the perspective of the ultimate. Most campus leftists, however, live with only the penultimate in view. For them, the here-and-now of contemporary life is subject to an ideology — leftism — that competes for absolute devotion. But conservative Christians’ views of the penultimate (the here-and-now) are moderated by the eternal; we therefore have a different attitude toward politics. Leftism takes its here-and-now with utter seriousness, so much so that leftists have a hard time respecting differences of opinion. If the highest good is “reproductive freedom,” for example, why bother even listening to someone who is pro-life? But if the highest good is the beauty and dignity of life offered by a transcendent Creator, one can tolerate a differing viewpoint, knowing that the pro-choice advocate lives only with an eye toward the present, though he really needs an eye toward the eternal.

Leftism being shortsighted? We’ve seen this before.

— Andrew T. Walker serves as director of policy studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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