Bernie Sanders is stumping at Jerry Falwell's university. Here's why

The democratic socialist says it's "harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently"

Published August 6, 2015 4:29PM (EDT)

Bernie Sanders  (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Bernie Sanders (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has accepted an invitation to speak at Liberty University, the hotbed of evangelical conservatism founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Why? Well, as the independent Vermont senator puts it, he's looking for a challenge. “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 of his decision to speak at the university’s Sept. 14 convocation in front of 13,500 evangelical students, faculty and staff.

The school also served as the campaign kick-off site of Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz back in March and will also host Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson alongside Sanders at the same event.

The Lynchburg, Va. campus holds mandatory convocations three times a week, which it bills as “North America’s largest weekly gathering of Christian students,” and has frequently served as a campaign stop for Republican presidential candidates  in the past.

“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,” Sanders noted in a statement. Sanders, who is Jewish and a self-described democratic socialist, said he hoped his speech could determine wether “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.”

Sanders won't be the first prominent progressive to speak at the university. In 1983, Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, delivered a famous speech there calling for respect for opposing viewpoints.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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