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Liberty's choice of Romney leads to angry student response
Students at Liberty University bow in prayer during commencement in 2007. Current students were angered by the choice of Mitt Romney for the 2012 graduation speaker.
April 20th, 2012
06:16 PM ET

Liberty's choice of Romney leads to angry student response

By Laura Bernardini and Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Liberty University students and alumni are accusing the Christian school of violating its own teachings by asking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose adherents are called Mormons, to deliver its 2012 commencement address.

By Friday morning, more than 700 comments had been posted on the school's Facebook page about the Thursday announcement - a majority of them decidedly against the Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr.’s invitation, citing that the school had taught them Mormonism isn’t part of the Christian faith.

“I can’t support Romney and I am happy I decided not to walk (in the commencement) this year,” wrote student Josh Bergmann. “Liberty University should have gotten a Christian to speak not someone who practices a cult. Shame on you Liberty University.”

Janet Loeffler, a 53-year-old freshman at Liberty, expressed her anger at the decision when contacted by CNN. She also sent a copy of the page of the freshman textbook “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” which includes the passage, “Mormon doctrine stands in stark contrast to Jewish and Christian monotheism, which teaches that there is only one true God and that every other ‘God’ is a false god.”

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Loeffler’s daughter, Sarah Misch, 33, of Unionville, Virginia, who is also a student at the school said, “I am glad I am not graduating this year. I would not want to end my studies at a Christian university by being sent in to the world at commencement by a Mormon. We came to Liberty because of our faith in Jesus; not for political reasons.”

Holly Stanton Morgan, another student, posted to Facebook, “I am glad that my husband and I won’t be attending his commencement. Mormonism is not Christianity. My commencement is next year. Hopefully they choose more wisely.”

Mark DeMoss, a Liberty graduate, member of the Board of Trustees and a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said on Friday, “We have had a Jewish commencement speaker, we have had a Catholic commencement speaker, and so, I think people are certainly entitled to their opinion. Social Media certainly provides an outlet for people’s opinions, but I think it is a great thing for the university.”

DeMoss also noted that the night before graduation is the annual Baccalaureate and that event will feature an evangelical Christian speaker.

Liberty University was founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by the influential pastor and Moral Majority co-founder Jerry Falwell. He founded the school to be a Christian university for evangelical believers, according to Liberty’s website.

Today, Liberty brands itself as the largest evangelical university in the world, with 82,500 students enrolled either on campus or online.

Liberty University would not comment beyond the press release it sent out Thursday announcing Romney would speak. There will be 14,000 graduates for the May 12th ceremony. The University announced that it expected 34,000 guests.

Previous commencement speakers included previous Republican presidential candidates Sen. John McCain in 2006 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The relationship between Mormons and evangelicals has been tested as of late. With Romney as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, many political commentators are asking whether the evangelical base, an important voting bloc to the GOP, will come out for Romney.

If those votes hinge on how evangelicals see Mormonism, Romney may need further outreach to the evangelical community. A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that nearly half (47%) of white evangelicals say that Mormonism is not a Christian religion. Sixty-six percent responded the Mormonism and their religion are “very or somewhat different.”

The charge of Mormonism as a cult is not a new one for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the Church, wrote about the word in a 2011 column.

“As part of the rhetorical warfare that has come to characterize modern American political discourse, it was only a matter of time before someone once again used the term “cult” to describe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Otterson wrote. He went on to describe the word as a, “a neat, shorthand and rather lazy way of putting a whole group into a box.”

The nation’s largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Conference, lists the LDS Church as a cult. They specifically cite differences in theology surrounding salvation, baptism, belief in the Trinity, and marriage. A major sticking point between other Christian traditions and Mormons is the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe is divinely inspired scripture and on par with the Bible. Other Christians do not recognize the Book of Mormon as scripture.

CNN reached out to a LDS church spokesman for further comment but they demurred, stating that the story was a political story.

A Romney spokesman did not respond to questions about the issue.

Not all Facebook comments were negative, though. Tom Johnson added, “Mitt Romney has been invited to give a motivational speech, not a religious sermon. His religious beliefs do not have anything to do with his ability to give a motivational speech at commencement.”

And Kathy Creech added, “I, for one, am pleased that the future President of the United States will be speaking there!”


soundoff (1,597 Responses)
  1. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Liberty University and their patrons are pure pieces of work!!! So, I guess there's a right kind of Christian, eh? And I'll bet by their definition, it's whatever they want it to be depending on who the subject of their scrutiny is, right?! Some of them are in for an interesting Judgement Day, No?!

    April 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • No

      .

      April 20, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Stuck-With-Rmoney

      Most evangelicals will have to flip-flop and vote for a Mormon or sit out the election.

      Thanks to the GOP establishment.

      April 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • RevMum

      Of course they think there is only one right kind of Christian – this is Falwell's school. Why would that be a surprise?

      But Romney's appearance there as a speaker isn't about religion.
      It's about politics and power.
      Romney is using the event for political purpose; and the school is using it for affiliation with political power.

      Unholy all the way around.

      April 21, 2012 at 2:53 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for the offering plate

    Brainwashing changes things.

    April 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  3. Evil_Atheist

    Isn't "a religiously affiliated school of higher knowledge" an oxymoron? Seems to me it's just another cult brainwashing center, much like any other church, except this one parades around in the vestments of the intellectual set.

    Foolishness, all of this.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Evil Giant Death Robot from Planet Theta-8

      Yes, it is.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    April 20, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Neither are you.

      Prayer changes nothing. Instead of sending telepathic messages to your imaginary friend up in the sky (using your hands as an antenna, apparently), try actually *doing* something for yourself. Or at very least, go read a book that doesn't have the word "Holy" inscribed upon it. You might learn something, like why the sky is blue and how species evolved (hint: God didn't do it).

      April 20, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Proven

      April 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for the offering plate

      Actually, DISproven. THINKING changes things.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for brain cells

      Studies have shown that prayer has the same psychosomatic effect that other ritualistic practices do. In other words, it's the placebo effect. When the person being "prayed for" doesn't know they're actually receiving these magical telepathic healing rays, studies have shown ZERO difference in recovery rates.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Chicken soup is not healthy for the soul

      It causes soul cancer. Look it up. I know this because I prayed about it and the voice in my head (which I naturally assumed to be God) told me so.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      "Prayer changes things"

      I sure hope so, 'cause I'm praying that you go away.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • just sayin

      Prayer against prayer may not work benny. God bless

      April 20, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Just trollin'

      How do you know? Where in the Bible does it say that one prayer can't cancel out another prayer?

      I mean, if I hit your prayer with an anti-prayer, the two should annihilate, causing a chain-reaction explosion that destroys the universe as seen by religion. Fortunately, this universe exists in imaginary space anyway, so it really doesn't matter.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      ... as does religion.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • just sayin

      Prayer is talking with God. God wants all people to come to Him. You cannot ask God to prevent someone from coming to Him in prayer and expect God to agree with you. The request is contrary to God's loving nature. God bless

      April 20, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  5. vic , nashville ,tn

    I have so many reasons to reject Mitt Romney not a religion

    April 20, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • "just sayin" is a dummy

      Maybe Jerry Jr. can just wave a mitts-a-sketch around at the commencement instead....

      April 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  6. Tug

    Why would anyone even want to speak at a school which teaches hatred and bigotry?

    April 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  7. Dawn

    I don't get why Liberity, which is very anti-gay, is asking Romney at all considering that some of his biggest donors are Wall Street bankers, who helped get gay marriage passed in NY.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Stuck-With-Rmoney

      Rmoney can always become anti-gay if Liberty University requires that.

      After all, he did the same with the NRA.

      April 20, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  8. Kris Craig

    This is exactly why I say Evangelicals are utter hypocrites when they whine about people showing intolerance for their religion. They show the same intolerance for every religion that isn't their own. This isn't a simple matter of saying, "We don't agree with these teachings." No, these students are actually refusing to walk at their commencement because they don't want to be associated with an "unclean" Mormon.

    Besides, personally, I'd be more angry at the fact that they're inviting one political candidate for President but not the other. As a student, I'd be offended by this. Does the school think I'm incapable of making an informed decision on my own? Oh, right. I forgot. These students probably are incapable of that. Nevermind.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  9. mk1

    If this is the response by fundamentalist Christians simply to Romney speaking at a commencement, I can only imagine the response in the voting booth come November when they must choose whether or not to vote for this cult figure. This could prove very interesting.
    Kalessin, he may be a Republican, but he certainly is no conservative.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  10. Romney is not My Hero

    The war of religions continues. First everyone accusing the President of being Muslim or Extremist Christian, then the whole controversy of contraception and Catholics, now a Christian University against Mormons.

    See how seperatism poisons the mind and effects the world? AND all in the name of Christ. What would Jesus think?

    April 20, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Kris Craig

      I'm still waiting to see Romney's long-form birth certificate.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • RevMum

      Jesus would weep.

      April 21, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • RevMum

      Jesus would weep with sorrow.

      April 21, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  11. Larry L

    @"Liberty University should have gotten a Christian to speak not someone who practices a cult."

    News flash! Liberty University IS A CULT!

    April 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  12. Josh

    I'd be more angry at the fact that they chose ROMNEY himself rather than the fact that he is a mormon. Liberty's always had an interesting way of choosing people. I went to their ceremony when my sister was graduating and they chose Chuck Norris to address the graduating class. My opinion is that if the Christian school wants to let a mormon speak at their commencement, then they should. They just should have found someone better than Romney.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  13. Kalessin

    Um, did the college invite Romney for his beliefs or for the fact he is a Republican and conservative?

    April 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Kris Craig

      Neither. They invited him because he has a wicked stand-up comedy routine.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  14. Mark in Atlanta

    As always, Liberty seems like a swell place.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  15. Steve

    “As part of the rhetorical warfare that has come to characterize modern American political discourse, it was only a matter of time before someone once again used the term “cult” to describe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Otterson wrote. He went on to describe the word as a, “a neat, shorthand and rather lazy way of putting a whole group into a box.”

    But he never denies that the Church of LDS is a cult.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Kris Craig

      News flash: Religions and cults are one and the same. Christianity is a cult. Buddhism is a cult. Mormonism is a cult. They're also religions. No difference, except how they're perceived by the person using the pejorative term.

      One person's "cult" is another person's "religion." To those of us who aren't religious, it always makes us laugh hysterically when you people argue over which ones are cults and which ones are religions, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there's literally no difference between the two.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  16. ?

    And now it starts. True Christians do not believe that Mormons are Christians. And if the media would ever do an expose on the Mormon church, not only will Romney not be elected, but the United States will invade Utah and restore democracy.

    April 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Kris Craig

      I can't tell if you're being ironic or just plain crazy....

      April 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Rockgod28

      What nonsense is that about Utah? Do a little research and you will find that it was tried in 1857. The US Army invaded Utah. Mormons are still here. Guess what the Utah War later became called, because the war never happened?

      'Buchanan's Blunder'.

      In case you have forgotten or won't do the research James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States of America. A Democrat by the way who did nothing to stop the Civil War.

      He did assemble an army to attack Mormons in the Utah territory even as the South was declaring their secession from the United States of America.

      You have a rich spiritual heritage of over 182 years. A heritage of those that spoke and acted just like you during the early years of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ by Joseph Smith Junior.

      In 1835 Joseph Smith wrote a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws. The purpose of this declaration was so “That our belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, we have thought proper to present, at the close of this volume [of History of the Church], our opinion concerning the same.” (History of the Church, 2:247) It is now Section 134 in the Doctrine and Covenants, canonized scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

      This declaration was adopted by unanimous vote of the general assembly of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio 17th August 1835.
      Three years later in 1838 Governor Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44 or Mormon Extermination Order. For nearly 140 years it was legal to kill Mormons in the State of Missouri.

      It was four year after the declaration on government Joseph Smith Jr., an American Citizen, representing the people who were suffering at the hands of mob violence for their beliefs. He met with President Martin Van Buren in November 1839 and worked for two months until February 1840 Joseph Smith was told, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”

      It was a bitter lesson in government.

      Joseph returned to help relieve the suffering of the people as best he could against the mobs that attacked the Mormons who called them liars, a cult and did worst in the name of Christianity.

      In 1844 Joseph Smith announced his candidacy for President of the United States. He ran on a platform to stop mob violence, free the slaves without collapsing the Southern economy and expand the borders of the United States by annexing Oregon and further at the consent of Native Americans to include their lands to the western coast.

      The forces of religious bigotry and racial inequality conspired together with the Governor of Illinois to murder Joseph Smith Jr. to stop him from his attempt to win the presidency that election or the next.

      This is your legacy and spiritual heritage to those that call Mormonism a cult, liars and lay the charge of conspiracy upon in your anger and hatred.

      You who call Mormonism a cult and liars associate yourselves with bigots, murderers, rapists, and the worst of humanity that call for the extermination of Mormons from American life.

      Over 100 years ago that was attempted and failed. So there is another legacy you get associated with too, failure.

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints did not end with Joseph Smith Jr. and will not pass away even if the same extermination orders, mobs and assaults were tried again and again.

      You are free to display your bigotry and allegiance to those whose spiritual heritage you inherit by turning your back on Romney.

      April 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  17. Lol

    Lol both the bible and the book of mormon are chock-full of laughable lies, and these people base their lives on them LOL . . . just . . . just lol!

    April 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  18. Ting

    Liberty's choice of Romney leads to angry student response.

    Really? Imagine that. In my very best Jerry Seinfeld voice. "That's a shame."

    April 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Snow

    of course they will be mad.. every cult thinks theirs is better than the others.. no exceptions

    April 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • White

      especially the atheist cult

      April 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Kris Craig

      @White-y Atheism is not a "cult." Grab a dictionary and learn something for a change.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • steven harnack

      @White, Not! We don't shun everyone who is not an atheist, and we don't have any rules for membership.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  20. Ufia

    Both sides are idiots.

    April 20, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Kris Craig

      Amen to that!

      April 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • biologixco

      We wanna know if ROMNEY wears the mystical magical mormon underwear!

      April 22, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • biologixco

      Does ROMNEY pray to Planet Kolob?

      April 22, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Janjira

      I think theree2€™s a lot to learn about conservative chtsirians. Like them or not, they are here to stay and will continue to shape politics for the next 50 years or so.I know. Sad isn't it? I was just thinking about something akin to this. Neo-conservatives like Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes, Fred Kagan, and the rest of the delusional lot are still rather young, most in their mid to late 40s. They are hardened in their positions. Even a magnificent failure as Iraq won't change their perception; to do so would undermine what they've lived for for so long. So sad that we have to live with these kinds of people for still several decades longer.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:38 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.