The Atomic Bomb that was Dropped on April 19
I knew from the moment I learned of the announcement that this was going to create a firestorm of controversy. A Mormon is speaking at the Commencement for the largest Evangelical university in the world. Seconds after Liberty University posted their decision on Facebook, the page was lit up with comments expressing fervent disagreement and bitter disappointment.
It immediately caught the attention of the local ABC station WSET. Since I had posted a few comments trying to calm things down and received support from other Liberty students, a reporter from WSET contacted me and I agreed to a brief, spur-of-the-moment interview. I wanted to support the university’s decision and provide my opinion of Mitt Romney, but unfortunately I am not as eloquent with the spoken word as I am with the written word, so I would like to clarify my position.
Let me preface the rest of this note with a statement of my appreciation for everyone who has respectfully disagreed with me. As of yet, I have only had pleasant conversations with the few people who have confronted me on this, and I hope to continue to foster a spirit of civil discourse and mutual understanding. I’m very proud of these people. Okay, enough introduction! Bear with me as I make my case, and feel free to comment.
“Well, there goes another Christian university down the drain!”
This is the first thing I want to address, because some are accusing Liberty of being something it is not. One of the common misconceptions is that LU is a liberal Christian institution, and this decision seems to strengthen that narrative. That was actually the reason in 2007 that I said I would never attend Liberty. But I had been misinformed, according to one alum I spoke with. So I visited Liberty to see for myself. I was impressed beyond words.
As I am now completing my fourth year at LU, I can state with absolute confidence that Liberty University is a conservative Christian university that has not compromised on the fundamental Biblical truths it was founded on by Jerry Falwell in 1971. Every professor and every administrator, is a born-again, blood-bought Christian. These men and women of God are vetted and then required to sign documents that state their agreement with LU on the fundamentals of the Christian faith: God created the universe in six literal days. There was a worldwide flood that wiped out all but eight members of the human race. Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, born of a virgin, who died for the sins of the world and resurrected. One day He is coming back for His people and will establish his Kingdom as part of a millennial reign…. The list goes on.
But every student that comes to Liberty is not necessarily a Christian. And if they haven’t heard the Gospel, it doesn’t take long for them to hear it. Each student, regardless of major, is required to take eight semester-long Bible courses: two courses in Theology, Old and New Testament Surveys, Contemporary Issues I and II, Evangelism, and Philosophy. Every student is required to record 20 hours of Christian service per semester. Every dorm has a team of student prayer leaders which lead groups of five students to fellowship, study Scripture, worship, and pray on a weekly basis.
Every week, there are three mandatory services where the entire campus of 10,000+ students gathers to worship God and pray for 30 minutes, and hear from a speaker for the additional 30, usually from a Christian. (This year’s speakers included Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick, Vernon Brewer, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Brad Stine, Cal Thomas, founder Elmer Towns, Pastor Jonathan Falwell, and campus pastors Johnnie Moore and Clayton King). Each semester there is Spiritual Emphasis Week where an evangelist or pastor leads a campus-wide revival over the course of several days. Without fail, Christ saves hundreds of young people at these services, every semester. There is also Campus Church on Sunday and Wednesday nights, although Liberty encourages students to get involved in local churches.
The Liberty Way, a rulebook, enforces strict policies. There is to be no drinking, smoking, or drug use. There is to be no cursing or crude speech. There is to be no lying, cheating, or stealing. There is to be no suggestive dancing, kissing, or sexual activity of any kind. There are to be no R-rated movies. There is a modest dress code for both men and women.
We believe there is ONE way to Heaven: that is through Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As a human race, we mucked it up in the Garden of Eden, and we continue to muck it up to this day. We rebelled against God and separated ourselves from a right relationship with Him, destined for eternal damnation and separation from Him in a place of eternal torment. But God made a way, and the physical resurrection of Jesus was representative of His victory over sin and death. By trusting our souls and lives to Him, we are restored to a right relationship with God, and can now live a life that honors Him by following His Word, the Bible, and loving others and Him with all of our heart, mind, and strength.
I do not believe I am overstating it when I say that Liberty University is the single greatest force for God on the planet. With 13,000 residential students and 70,000+ online students, Liberty’s influence is felt around the world. With over 200 fields of study, Liberty continues to fulfill its motto of “Training Champions for Christ” that grow into leaders within their communities and professional fields. I don’t think anyone can say what Liberty University has meant for the cause of Christ, and it was the childlike but insatiable faith of the late Reverend Jerry Falwell that built it.
So Why Is a Mormon Speaking at Liberty’s Commencement?
Many know that this isn’t the first time a non-Evangelical has spoken at Liberty University’s commencement ceremony. In fact, Mitt Romney will not even be the first Mormon. I believe Glenn Beck had that honor a couple years ago, and it caused a similar controversy then. When Beck came on stage to address the graduates and guests, he made his sentiments clear by declaring, “I know that the invitation for me to speak to you today was not an endorsement of my faith, but my acceptance of this invitation was indeed an endorsement of your faith.” The year before Ben Stein, a Jew, spoke at Commencement.
Why would Liberty invite non-Evangelicals to speak at its Commencement? Because Liberty is committed to securing world-class leaders to speak. There is much we have in common with these men, and they often speak out on issues using the same arguments and words that we would use if we had their influence. If anything, these men are an inspiration to achieve and succeed at pursuing big dreams and audacious goals. I’ve heard these men take stands in favor of life and creationism. I’ve heard them cite a need for God in the hearts of men. Why should we deny them a chance to speak to tens of thousands of people who are going to agree with everything they say?
I have heard it said that Commencement should be a final spiritual charge for the graduating class, but I think it is unnecessary, although the Baccalaureate certainly serves this purpose (renowned evangelist Luis Palau is speaking at that the night before Commencement). Every graduate of LU has been educated with a foundation in Biblical truths. Our entire education is explicitly built on the goal of being a light for Christ, with whatever gifts or passions He has blessed us with. There is no need for another speech on that topic. Jesus Christ provided the only one we ever needed in Matthew 28 when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” What other charge do we need, as Christians?
I freely recognize that Commencement is a chance for Liberty University to celebrate its influence and broadcast its popularity. I think it is a positive thing that the Republican nominee for President of the United States would be brave enough to want to speak at LU, recognizing its influence. A speech given by anyone else would be less meaningful to the university and frankly less memorable to the graduating class. I believe that God will use Mitt Romney’s speech to inspire thousands and perhaps draw many people to attend Liberty who would not otherwise have attended, and who may not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But what better place for those people than to be immersed in the Gospel from day one of their education? And when those students repent and become lights for Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that is so prevalent on Liberty’s campus, how much more will the Kingdom of God be furthered by the resulting influence of those students? I think it would blow my mind to know the answer to that question.
To put it simply, if Mitt Romney were to be preaching beliefs contrary to the truths of Scripture, or if he was speaking as a pastor, then I would have a huge problem with it. However, because he is merely present as a public figure and inspirational speaker, I am thrilled that I will be hearing from Romney at my Commencement ceremony.
“It’s Mitt Romney, for Pete’s sake, he’s a member of a cult”
Thank you for weathering this far through my note, now for the meat of my reasoning. First, I will emphasize my support and admiration for Mitt Romney, and secondly I will make an observation of the Evangelical community, and finally issue a challenge to my Evangelical friends.
Mitt Romney may be a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, but that also means he is amazingly similar to the Evangelical Christian. He believes in the right to life, governing Massachusetts as a pro-life bastion and wants to see Roe v Wade overturned. He would appoint traditionalist justices to the Supreme Court. He has been endorsed by several pro-life groups including National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony List, and other state-based pro-life groups. He also stands on the side of traditional marriage and favors a constitutional amendment that would require marriage to be between one man and one woman. He stated in his speech on faith in 2007 that he worships Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and he reportedly reads the Bible on a regular basis. He believes that God is the giver of our rights and our freedoms, not government.
Not only does Romney share our values, but he also has lived a tremendous life of integrity and accomplishment. He, along with his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years Ann, have raised a tremendous family of five boys and 16 grandchildren. Romney spent more than eight years as a leader in his local church, being responsible for at least 4000 members, tending to their personal, financial, and spiritual needs. He volunteers his time and energy on a regular basis, including when he helped out a family after the California fires in 2007. This wasn’t a publicity stunt; there were no members of the press, only a curious bystander taking pictures like this one.
When a fellow employee named Robert Gay confessed to Romney that his daughter was missing, Romney shut down the entire company. He set up a command center to systematically search the city, communicating with local authorities and police, organizing Bain employees to physically search the city, and even participating in the physical search himself. They eventually found Gay’s daughter via an anonymous tip, and Gay continues to express extraordinary thankfulness for Romney’s leadership and kindness.
He never smokes or consumes alcohol. He gives about 15% of his income to charity (20% last year), and declined all salaries when he was CEO of the Olympics and Governor of Massachusetts. Romney graduated with honors from Harvard University with both MBA and law degrees. He went on to found Bain Capital, which helps turn around and start companies like Staples and Dominos, leading to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.
In an attempt to stand up to the liberal establishment in his home state, he launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senator Ted Kennedy in 1992. However, after returning to Bain Capital to lead it out of a fiscal crisis and into its most successful years, he accepted a job as CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics which was $500 million in debt and marred with scandal until he took the reins; the Olympics ended up generating a $100 million profit. He then was elected Governor of Massachusetts in a time where the state was losing jobs and over $2 billion in debt. By the end of his term, Romney had succeeded in lowering unemployment to below five percent and built a $1 billion rainy day fund for the state, all while cutting taxes 17 times and issuing 800+ vetoes to a Democrat-controlled legislature.
This is a man who through hard work and service to other people has led by example. He is a problem solver, and a true leader of tremendous character. The co-founder of Bain capital wrote a glowing article about him for Time’s list of the world’s 100 Most Influential People, and some of the most prominent men in the country have named Mitt Romney as one of the most intelligent men they have ever met. And even with all of these accolades and accomplishments, it seems that Romney doesn’t let it go to his head. Though he is worth about $200 million, he insists on washing his own laundry by hand and eating peanut butter and honey sandwhiches for lunch. What better man to speak to Liberty grads than a man who has accomplished so much and by doing it the right way—with hard work and integrity. I cannot claim to be able to judge the heart of Mitt Romney, but I do carry a deep respect and admiration for the man and all he has accomplished and stood for.
Furthermore, I believe that Mitt Romney will be the next President of the United States. The last time that Liberty University had an opportunity to host such a prominent speaker was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was a GOP candidate for President and of course went on to become one of America’s greatest Presidents. Now, we have a chance to see history repeat itself, at a time when America so dearly needs restored to its founding principles, a time of economic crisis and instability and uncertainty. Just as Ronald Reagan took on the failed Jimmy Carter, Mitt Romney now will take on the failing Barack Obama. In both cases, Liberty University will have given these men a platform to speak to the principles and the beliefs that we so hold dear as conservatives and as Christians who recognize that we should not be dependent on government but on God.
Additionally, Mitt Romney has received praise and support from prominent Evangelicals like Franklin Graham, Chuck Colson, Bob Jones III, Mark DeMoss and even Jerry Falwell. Shortly before his death, Falwell had this to say about Romney: “I have no problem voting for a person who is not of my faith as long as he or she stands with me on the moral and social issues. Mitt Romney may be a candidate for president. He’s a Mormon. If he’s pro-life, pro-family, I don’t think he’ll have any problem getting the support of evangelical Christians.”
A Call to Love
I have to admit, I was somewhat ashamed of the response on Liberty’s Facebook page. Many of the angry comments were unbecoming of those who profess to follow Jesus Christ, who loves all people, even those that may reject Him. It earned us a headline story on CNN’s website. This type of response does not reflect well on the school or its students, nor Evangelicals as a whole. This is not what Liberty trained us to be nor what Christ calls us to be. We are to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry. We are to use reason, not resort to knee jerk reactions. Does an outcry against Mitt Romney speaking at Commencement make anyone more open to the Gospel? I doubt it.
Mormon. For whatever reason, the word can evoke strong emotions. It is like a bad word within the Evangelical community. In my opinion, it is because the label “cult” is usually slapped onto it. There are such strongly negative emotions regarding Mormons among Evangelicals. In my own personal experience, these words distanced my heart from Mormons and provoked me to “righteous” anger, not love. Perhaps I do not know what I’m talking about in this regard, but if I am to believe that Mormons are lost without a saving knowledge of Christ as God and Savior, then are they any more lost than an agnostic family member or Buddhist friend? What about a Catholic or a Muslim or a Jew? Why is it that Mitt Romney is viewed with such disdain among some Evangelicals, but not Ben Stein (a Jew) or Newt Gingrich (a Catholic)?
I think that Mormons are not the enemies of Evangelicals, but our friends. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us on social issues, and they are very giving people. When it comes to eternal salvation, reconciliation with God is an issue of the heart.
In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” In Romans 10:9-10 Paul says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” I firmly believe that God doesn’t look at the affiliation of my church membership. He looks at the condition of my heart. It is not our good works which earns us salvation, but it is our salvation that provokes us to good works. Eternal salvation requires repentance from sin and complete and total trust in Christ as our loving Savior and Lord.
Scripture says to “speak the truth in love,” not in righteous anger. Are we so adamant about our views, that we forsake the potential influence that the Holy Spirit can have on someone’s soul? It is such a responsibility to carry, as Christians. But to love as Christ does is of the Holy Spirit, not of our own ability.
In conclusion, I would just like to state that bringing Mitt Romney to Liberty University is a decision that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell would likely have agreed with. The Moral Majority coalition was all about uniting those with a common passion: that our country remain one nation under God. Mitt Romney is a man we can proudly support without any reservation.
Romney’s speech on Faith in America: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IJ_i-4dH-0
WSET original story: http://www.wset.com/story/17587453/lu-students-eager-to-hear-mitt-romney
WSET followup story: http://www.wset.com/story/17590846/liberty-students-react-to-graduation-speaker