Jerry Falwell Jr., Jimmy Carter, and Liberty University Set a Great Example for the Rest of America in These Divisive Times

Former President Jimmy Carter, left, talks with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. during the 45th commencement ceremony at Liberty on May 19, 2018, in Lynchburg, Va. (Lathan Goumas/The News & Advance via AP)
Former President Jimmy Carter, left, talks with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. during the 45th commencement ceremony at Liberty on May 19, 2018, in Lynchburg, Va. (Lathan Goumas/The News & Advance via AP)

by Jacob Lupfer

As Jimmy Carter waited to appear before a commencement crowd at Liberty University, it looked like he might be entering the lion’s den. The school, founded by Carter’s political foe, Jerry Falwell Sr., has stayed true to its socially conservative roots. Carter has been steadfastly to the left.

But Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. gave Carter a generous introduction, praising his kindness, warmth and humility. In a curious comment, Falwell said: “The longer I live, the more I want to know about a person and give my political support to a person. Policies are important, but candidates lie about their policies all the time to get elected.”

For his part, Carter, 93, resisted the urge to re-litigate old institutional battles. Instead, he deployed his characteristic humility and charm to emphasize his closeness with and affection for fellow Baptists and other Christians in spite of significant differences.

As he always does, Carter emphasized the plight of women and girls who experience sexism and other forms of degradation. He also spoke on themes that progressive Baptists often emphasize: wealth disparity and the threat of nuclear war. But Carter lifted up other issues that, along with sexism, conservative Baptists routinely denounce: human trafficking, discrimination and rising prison populations.

Carter’s address began and ended with standing ovations. His presence and the audience’s generosity called to mind what I viewed as one of the high points of the 2016 presidential campaign: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ visit to Liberty. That event was also a model of civility and mutual respect in spite of profound political disagreements.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service