Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is making an unlikely stop on the campaign trail: He’s scheduled to speak Sept. 14 at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, that was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Sanders will address students at one of the university’s thrice-weekly convocations, described by Liberty University as “the world’s largest weekly gathering of Christian young people,” where students “hear from prominent speakers of national/global significance from every sphere of society.”
Sanders, who is Jewish, isn’t the only presidential candidate to address the crowd at Liberty University: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, kicked off his bid for the Republican presidential nomination to a packed house there in March.
But Sanders holds decidedly different views on most issues from Cruz and the typical audience at Liberty, which he addressed in a statement Wednesday night.
“Liberty University was kind enough to invite me to address a convocation and I decided to accept. It goes without saying that my views on many issues -- women’s rights, gay rights, education and many other issues -- are very different from the opinions of some in the Liberty University community,” said Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist.
But, Sanders added, he hopes “to see if we can reach consensus regarding the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country, about the collapse of the middle class, about the high level of childhood poverty, about climate change and other issues.”
He’ll have the opportunity to raise those issues among a large crowd: According to the Lynchburg News & Advance, the convocations often draw crowds of around 12,000. Other speakers on the fall convocation schedule include Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, former major league baseball player Darryl Strawberry, and former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett.
University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said he admires Sanders “for having the courage to come to Liberty and speak” to the heavily conservative audience at Liberty. Falwell's father, a longtime high-profile television evangelist, died in 2007.
“It is very easy for a candidate to speak to people who hold the same views. It’s harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently,” Sanders said. “I look forward to meeting with the students and faculty of Liberty University.”