From: Josh Hogan
To: David Lifferth,
Subject: Learning About Others' Political Views
Date: Sun Sep 27 00:49:53 MDT 2015

Learning About Others' Political Views

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Learning About Others’ Political Views:  The Case of Liberty University

Hello Representative |NAME|,

Below is an article I would like to share with you.


Josh Hogan
Treasurer, Utah County Democratic Party

Richard Davis

Last week a rare event occurred in American politics:  Thousands of voters sat and listened respectfully to a candidate they didn’t agree with.  I am not talking about the Republican Presidential Candidate Debate.  Instead, I am referring to a speech at Liberty University, a conservative and predominantly Republican Christian university, delivered by Senator Bernie Sanders, a Jewish (although not very religious) socialist and a Democratic presidential candidate.
It took bravery for Sanders to even make the speech. He knew he was not going to receive the kind of rousing reaction he gets during his speeches around the country.  He probably anticipated the tepid applause he received from the audience through most of the speech.  Undoubtedly, he was aware that he might not change very many minds. 
Nevertheless, Senator Sanders should be highly commended for speaking there. He reached across a growing divide in American political life.  He didn’t have to do that.  He knew there weren’t many votes for him in that crowd.  He could have spent his time talking to (and raising money from) those who already agree with him.
Yet, he didn’t.  Instead, he sought to bridge that divide.  He showed Liberty University students he could speak articulately about key issues.  And he could seek to explain those positions in terms they could relate to.  In other words, he was highly respectful of them as well.
At the same time, he offered Liberty University students a perspective they likely had not heard.  Indeed, students seemed very appreciative of his coming. They were courteous during his speech and laudatory afterwards of his willingness to reach out to them.
Perhaps even more so, the Liberty University Board of Trustees and administration should be applauded for inviting Sanders in the first place.  They must have known that some parents and donors could be upset.  It would not be surprising to learn that their decision was unpopular in some circles within the Liberty University community.  Yet, they concluded inviting Sanders, regardless of his party affiliation or views on certain issues, was the right thing to do.
To clarify, they did not just invite Sanders.  Remarkably, they have a policy that all major party presidential candidates are welcome to speak to their student body.  Indeed, they even require students to attend the event.  That doesn’t mean just Republican candidates or conservative Christian candidates.  The university has also invited Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and former Governor Michael O’Malley, although Sanders is the only Democrat who has accepted so far.
It is a sign of their intellectual and spiritual maturity, that Liberty University leaders do not feel threatened by exposing their students to views different from their own. They seem to respect the fact that their students can hear varying views and it will not corrupt them.  Indeed, to the contrary, they seem to believe that the purpose of a university is to educate and inform broadly, not narrowly.  
Those are highly admirable sentiments, particularly in an era when our society is fragmenting into our various political corners.  We watch television news that reinforces our views.  We separate geographically and therefore associate with people of similar opinions.  The result is isolation from those with opposing views and misinformation about and misunderstanding of those who hold them.
That is why what Liberty University is doing seems so unusual.  But their approach is so welcome today.   With a campus that is heavily dominated by conservative Christians, they know that their students likely exist in a political and religious bubble and that, in order to further political discourse and civility, they need to break through that bubble.  This is one way they can achieve that goal.
Senator Sanders remarked that he spoke at Liberty University because “I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.”  That is a message for all of us, particularly our universities where exposure to people of varying political views should be routine and not exceptional.  To the surprise of many, it is Liberty University that is showing the way.
Originally published in the Deseret News, September 23, 2015
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