Mitt, Falwell, and Liberty University

By: Mormon Heretic
May 14, 2012

The late Jerry Falwell

Liberty University, founded by Moral Majority leader and evangelical Jerry Falwell, recently invited Mitt Romney to speak at commencement exercises.  Several students boycotted the commencement address by Romney, choosing not to attend.  Christianity Today had an interesting article titled Why Jerry Falwell Sr. Isn’t Rolling In His Grave over Romney’s Liberty Invitation. The subtitle was “And what the university’s invitation to the Mormon candidate says about evangelical political engagement.”  Here are some excerpts I found interesting.

Touting itself as “the world’s largest evangelical university,” the conservative institution has a history of hospitality to speakers from outside the not-so-big evangelical tent, including Democrats such as the late Ted Kennedy and former Virginia Governor and Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine. Joining Romney among the ranks of non-evangelical commencement speakers are Jewish comedian and economist Ben Stein, Episcopalian Karl Rove, and Catholics Dinesh D’Souza and Sean Hannity.

Hosting such speakers falls squarely within the vision of the university’s late founder, Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority. The now-defunct activist organization, long held as central to the rise of the so-called “religious right” was, in fact, a broad coalition of religious, not strictly evangelical, conservatives.

However, since Falwell’s death in 2007, the voting bloc of the “religious right” has been largely replaced by the narrower demographic of “evangelical voters” whose energies lit bright but short-lived sparks for fallen presidential contenders Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. While great momentum is gaining among evangelicals and Catholics working together, the larger interfaith vision of Falwell seems to be fading. As Lucas Wilson, 22, who will graduate from Liberty tomorrow surmised, “I am not sure why we are allowing a Mormon to speak at commencement just because he is conservative; we sure would not invite a conservative Muslim to speak.”

The late Falwell, on the other hand, influenced by Francis Schaeffer’s concept of “co-belligerents” teaming up for battle in the culture wars, pioneered a brand of political activism based on heterogeneous political bedfellows.

In 1980, for example, Falwell dissociated himself from the statement of the then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention who claimed that “God does not hear the prayer of the Jew.” In response, calling America a “pluralistic republic,” Falwell told The New York Times, “This is the time for Catholics, Protestants, Jews,Mormons,and all Americans to rise above every effort to polarize us in our efforts to return the nation to a commitment to the moral values on which America was built.” He also argued, “We may have differing theological positions, but we must never allow this to separate us as Americans who love and respect each other as a united people.” Falwell later told The Washington Post, “I’m a fundamentalist, but I believe in a pluralistic America. This country belongs to the Hebrew Americans, theMormonAmericans, black Americans, white Americans.” Falwell’s political ecumenicism reached even further than these, at least in a tongue-in-cheek way: in mobilizing religious conservatives to elect Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Falwell said they’d support Reagan “Even if he has the devil running with him, and we’ll pray he outlives him.”

As a writer for Time described in a 2007 retrospect of Falwell’s approach in the Moral Majority,

Instead of enlisting just fundamentalists and other conservative Protestants, Falwell opened the Moral Majority up to everyone: Jews, Catholics and Mormons—in short, the very people (and faiths) that fundamentalists had been separating themselves from for generations. That was Falwell’s greatest political discovery: he understood that fundamentalists, orthodox Jews, conservative Catholics and Mormons had so much in common politically that they could overlook their theological differences.

I have to say that of late, the political bigotry of evangelicals is a real turn off to me, and I think this article certainly enhances Jerry Falwell in my eyes.  What about you?

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11 Responses to Mitt, Falwell, and Liberty University

  1. Stephen Marsh on May 14, 2012 at 6:21 AM

    That was interesting, thank you.

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  2. Bonnie on May 14, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    I think the adherents of a tradition are almost always more narrow-minded and annoying than the founders. Having spent 40 years of my life in the heartland, I found a very wide variety of evangelical attitudes and I think many would be very surprised by these words from Falwell. It seems that we aren’t the only faith whose believers are sometimes unaware of the true intent and purposes of the organization!

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  3. Dan on May 14, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    let me help you un-enhance your opinion of Falwell….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-CAcdta_8I

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  4. Dan on May 14, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Here are some other choice quotes from this vile man

    On Brown V Board of Education

    “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never had been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

    on Jews,

    “Jews can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose.”

    On AIDS:

    “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

    just a few fun ones from one of America’s greatest charlatans.

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  5. Nick Literski on May 14, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Not so many years ago, Falwell was readily meeting with those he considered “cultists,” in order to plot (and obtain their influence/funding, no doubt) against the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. Mitt Romney, in his effort to blur the distinctions between LDS-ism and evangelical christianity, boasted of how Falwell and Gordon Hinckley engaged in such foul, back room machinations.

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  6. Will on May 14, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    A year ago or so I predicted on this site that Romney would win the GOP nomination because of northeast and west; but would lose in the general election to Obama. I reasoned if the evangelical’s had to decide between a European socialist and a Mormon, they would pick neither and it would favor Obama. It would favor him as he has locked up the limousine liberal and dependency vote; and Romney would need to counter this with the fiscal and social conservatives – if some drop out it is simply a numbers game.
    I have changed my toon and think Romney will glide to victory. He will win all the states Bush won in 2004; and, has a good chance in Wisconsin, Oregon and New Hampshire. Obama has just done too much damage to the economy that the evangelical’s will simply plug their nose and pull the trigger for Romney. Also, Obama just helped him with is support of same sex marriage. Most importantly, they realize we can’t continue on the path towards Greece like entitlements.

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  7. Douglas on May 14, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    A few Evangelicals will pick up their toys and “go home”. Most will have a greater dislike of Obama and liberal Democrats than Mormons. Perhaps a Romney presidency will show the normalcy of most American LDS. Good thing that it ain’t me!!

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  8. FireTag on May 14, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    While we’re talking about where Romney spoke, we might as well read WHAT Romney said at Falwell’s Liberty University. It’s linked to Romney’s website at RealClearReligion today; democrats can feel free to ignore the fund raising ad after the speech. :D

    http://www.mittromney.com/blogs/mitts-view/2012/05/mitt-romney-delivers-commencement-address-liberty-university

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  9. Jon on May 14, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    MH,

    Interesting. I read in our small town paper the hatred towards Muslims. It is quite amazing to me, since I stay out of the mainstream media, I forget how much hate is out there.

    Either way, who cares about the presidential election? It matters not who wins, one socialist or the other socialist. Either way, the liberty and freedom of this nation will continue to slide down to oblivion.

    It’s past time for politics. Politics will not get us the results we desire, or at least the one I desire, simply to be left alone and not threatened any more.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on May 15, 2012 at 12:37 AM

    Hats off to Romney’s speech writer for these great lines:
    - “One graduate has said that he completed his degree in only two terms: Clinton’s and Bush’s.”
    - “The American Dream is not owning your own home, it is getting your kids out of the home you own.”

    Ah, nevermind, speechwriter blew it with an epic grammar fail: “he insisted that Ann be in the middle, with he and I on the sides.” (should be with “him and me”).

    And finally a strong line for the campaign: “we will see a resurgence in the American economy that will surprise the world, and that will open new doors of opportunity for those who are prepared.”

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  11. Michael on June 3, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    I’m the producer of a new film about Mormons and politics: http://youtu.be/4mvShCOHY_c. If interested, please read more about the film at thereligioustest.com and send me a link if you write a post about it. Thanks!

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