By Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams
Avowed democratic socialist and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Monday gave a rousing lesson in morality to thousands of students at the conservative Christian college Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
"We are living in a nation and in a world which worships — not love [for] our brothers and sisters, not love for the poor and sick — but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is the country we should be living in."
Following an introduction by university president Jerry Falwell Jr., whose father founded the school in 1971, Sen. Sanders immediately acknowledged two broad areas in which his and the student body's views were likely to diverge: "the right of a woman to control her own body" and "gay rights and gay marriage."
With that out of the way, the progressive senator from Vermont then launched into a speech in which he sought common ground with the religious right over issues "of enormous consequence to our country, and in fact, the entire world."
As students of Christian faith, the people in attendance regularly "try to understand the meaning of morality ... and try to understand, in this very complicated modern world, what we the words of the Bible means in today's society," he said.
Quoting the Bible — Matthew 7:12 and Amos 5:24 — he continued, "in my view, it would be hard for anyone in this room today to make the case that the United States of America ... [is] a just society, or anything resembling a just society."
In the U.S., "there is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant," Sanders said. "We live ... in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, but most Americans don't know that because almost all of that wealth and income is going to the top one percent."
"When we talk about morality, when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little."
Asking the students to "put this in the context of the Bible," Sanders said that we are living at a time "when a handful of people have wealth beyond comprehension" — in the tens of billions of dollars. "And at the same moment, there are millions of people in our country — let alone rest of the world — who are struggling to feed their families, struggling to put a roof over their heads ... struggling to find money in order to go to a doctor when they are sick."
Sanders also addressed other injustices while describing his priority agenda items: increasing minimum wage, healthcare for all, paid family leave, anti-hunger programs, and reforming the system of mass incarceration.
"When we talk about morality, when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little," he added to great applause.
"And while the very, very rich become much richer, millions of families have no savings at all," he continued. "That is not justice, that is a rigged economy designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everybody else."
The stop in Lynchburg was part of the presidential candidate's four-day southern tour, during which he also made campaign appearances in South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina — where he spoke to an estimated crowd of 9,000 people in Greensboro on Sunday evening. On Saturday, Sanders gave a speech at the historically black Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.
Analyzing the trip, much of the mainstream media attention has focused on what is described as Sanders' "weakness" in the South. However, the sizable attendance numbers and diversity of appearances indicate that Sanders may have a different "Southern strategy" than rival Hillary Clinton.
"I came here today 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," he told the packed Lynchburg auditorium on Monday, to a standing ovation.
Sanders concluded the speech quoting Pope Francis, who said, "the current financial crisis originated in a profound human crisis ... we have created new idols."
And then in his own words, Sanders added: "We are living in a nation and in a world which worships — not love [for] our brothers and sisters, not love for the poor and sick — but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is the country we should be living in."