Democrat Bernie Sanders ventured into the lion’s den—a.k.a. Liberty University in Virginia—on Monday and appealed to evangelical Christians’ better angels, looking for common ground by linking Biblical precepts to care for the poor with criticism of cut-throat capitalism.
“We are living in a nation and in a world which worships the acquisition of money and great wealth,” he rasped in a voice harsh from campaigning, “but which turns its back on those in need. And that must end. We need to move toward an economy which works for all, and not just the few.”
Founded by Moral Majority co-founder Jerry Falwell, the evangelical Christian university would seem to be an unwelcoming campaign stop for the very liberal, Jewish, pro-gay rights, pro-choice senator from Vermont. And while it was not an unfriendly audience, the avowed socialist did not win the rapturous applause Republicans like Ted Cruz typically receive. But some say Sanders deserves points just for going. No other major Democratic candidate for president has accepted an invitation from Liberty, according to the university. Ever.
“The evangelical coalition is changing,” Amy Black, a professor of political science at Wheaton College told Reuters via email. “Younger evangelicals are interested in a wider range of issues than their elders, and they do not identify as closely with the Republican party. … Trends suggest that Democratic candidates can capture some of the votes of this generation of evangelical voters. Candidates like Sanders should look for ways to appeal to younger evangelicals on issues of shared concern.”
Sanders tried to do just that, by addressing the elephant in the auditorium.
“I understand that issues such as abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very strongly about. We disagree on those issues,” he said. “I get that. But let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on them. And maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.”
That’s an almost radical idea in American politics these days. The rhetoric of the moment is often that of total victory over enemies rather than working with political opponents. Compromise amidst honorable disagreement? That’s so 2008.