Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the 2016 presidential election, did something bold this week. He accepted Liberty University’s invitation to come speak at their school. As a Jewish democratic socialist, he seems an unlikely person to accept an invitation to speak at one of the bastions of conservative evangelicalism (the school was founded by Jerry Fallwell), and in fact was the first Democratic presidential candidate to ever accept the invite. In his speech, he appealed to Christian values:
“When we talk about morality, we are talking about all of God’s children,” he said. “In my view, there is no justice when we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time the United States of America has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth.”
After the speech, an evangelical pastoral counselor and graduate of Liberty gave an impassioned sermon about why he was moved by Sander’s speech. Some highlights were transcribed in a reddit thread and I’m reposting them here because I think it’s so compelling.
He was convicting the Christian leaders and the religious leaders in that university, and calling us out for being complicit in the abandonment of those who suffer, the least of these, and siding with the powerful and rich, the masters of this world. And he was convicting us and calling us out, and we scorned him, and we stared him down; and, with sour faces, we thought, “Who is this wacko, and why do all these people seem to follow him, seem to like him – this wild-haired Jew, crying out from the wilderness of the political left, in his hoarse voice?”
When I heard Bernie speaking in that way, when I saw that guy on stage at Liberty University, I saw John the Baptist…crying out to the religious leaders, the Pharisees of his day, calling them corrupt and complicit with those who have all the power and all the money and all the wealth, and abandoning the people that God loves, that God cares about…
As I heard Bernie Sanders crying out to the religious leaders at Liberty University, in his hoarse voice, with his wild hair – this Jew – and he proclaimed justice over us, he called us to account, for being complicit with those who are wealthy and those who are powerful, and for abandoning the poor, the least of these, who Jesus said he had come to bring good news to. And in that moment something occurred to me. As I saw Bernie Sanders up there, as I watched him, I realized Bernie Sanders for president is good news for the poor. Bernie Sanders for president is Good News for the poor. Bernie Sanders is gospel for the poor. And Jesus said “I have come to bring gospel” – good news – “to the poor.” (source) And lightning hit my heart at that moment. And I realized that we are evangelical Christians. We believe the Bible. We believe in Jesus. We absolutely shun those who would attempt to find nuance and twisted and tortured interpretations of scripture that they would use to master all other broader interpretations, to find some kind of big message that they want to flout. We absolutely scorn such things, and yet somehow we commit to the mental gymnastics necessary that allows us to abandon the least of these, to abandon the poor, to abandon the immigrants, to abandon those who are in prison. I listened to Bernie Sanders as he said he wanted to welcome the immigrants and give them dignity, as he said he wanted to care for the sick children and mothers and fathers who do not have health care, as he said he wanted to decrease the amount of human beings who are corralled like cattle in the prisons, as he said he wanted to do justice for those who have nothing and live homeless. And I remembered the words of Jesus who warned his disciples that there will be judgement, and on that day he will look to his friends, and he will say “Blessed are you for you cared for me, for I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was in prison and you came to visit me, I was homeless and you gave me shelter.” And his disciples said, “When did we do any of those things for you?” And he said, “If you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me.” Those words echoed in my heart as I listened to that crazy, hoarse-voiced, wild-haired Jew standing in front of the religous leaders of the Evangelical Movement, calling us to account, as a Jew once did before, telling us that he intends to care for the least of these, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to care for the sick, to set the prisoners free.
I wouldn’t be much of a Christian if I didn’t stand on the side of gospel for the poor, because, the last time I checked, that’s where my master Jesus stood, and I’ll stand with Him. And, for now, that means I stand with Bernie Sanders.
You can hear Jim’s entire talk here. It’s worth a listen