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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. terrimain

    When push comes to shove, I'm afraid with the Religious Right politics will out strip theology every day and twice on sunday. Who cares if it's Biblical as long as it's republican.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  2. cv

    This is entertaining...Fighting over an imaginary friend.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  3. DWhite24

    I attend Liberty University and I want to apologize for the ignorance shown by my student body. These comments are by no means reflective of the love that Christians are supposed to show. Of course, we do not believe that Mormonism is the same doctrine as Christianity but these comments are out of line. I do not agree with the choice of Romney as speaker either. It has nothing to do with his faith but everything to do with choosing a controversial political figure. Commencement should be about myself and the other graduates who have paid our dues for the last 4 years, not about marketing the name of the school and using the commencement address as an opportunity to reach out to Romney's weak point: young, evangelical voters. To think that we do not see what is going on here is insulting and patronizing, but to show hatred towards a man because of his religious background is equally as insulting. I am sincerely sorry for those remarks that those idiots made.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Adam

      Thanks for the nice words... im L.D.S. and I assure you we are not a cult... haha the first tenet is we were all born with free agency to chose whatever path we so desire. But it was the atonement of our lord and savior Jesus Christ which will save us from this fallen and miserable state for no unclean things came come unto the presence of god... and the family unit is essential to our HeavnlyFathers plan..... Romney sucks.... Obama2012

      April 22, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  4. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    More postings for the doors of Liberty U:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues

    April 22, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  5. ramblinross

    If I wrote a stupid post like ? I would not identify myself either.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • ?

      Why did polgamy end? Enlighten us.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Quick

      I'm going to bu.tt in here and say a bunch of pinch-faced s.ex-hating narrow-minded busybodies got together and decided polygamy was bad, used the "becoming one" phrases in the Bible to say that you can only become "one" with "one" other person.
      You can see the results. It worked for them. It's just insane, of course, but that, of course, does not matter to them.
      They want to control every tiny bit of a person's life and think their own shiit does not stink. Lynching may be in order, here.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  6. ramblinross

    These comments by Janet Loeffler and others are nothing new. So-called Christian Protestants have been murdering, burning at the stake, and persecuting anyone different than they since the false doctrine of Constantine's trinity was made up. Even if that doctrine were true I don't think God and his son Jesus appreciate all the hate and persecution of those who understand it differently.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • C. Dasilva

      Ramblinross. Regarless of the comments here, Where did u learned of this " Christian protestant persecution".? I`ve never heard of a Baptist inquisition, what about a Presbyterian one? or a Lutheran Inquisition?. History tells us of the Roman Catholic inquisition where that church persecuted and murdered millions of people for their faith, for 1260 years to be exact just as prophecy said they would do. Now the apostate/ protestant/evangelical america might be guilty of inappropriate Christian fruits but far from physical persecution as you state. Please, get your facts straight before speaking what you don`t know. BTW, Mormonism is not Christianity in any way. Just because they claim to "believe" in Jesus Christ doesn`t mean they "follow the Lamb wherever he goeth" therefore they can not claim His faith. Even the devil believes and trembles.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  7. ?

    Brigham Young had 55 wives. Will a Mormon on this board tell us why the church abandoned polygamy? The real story?

    April 22, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Abinadi

      Will you tell us where the Baptist church gets its authority? What evidence can you show that it is the true church?

      April 22, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Abinadi

      Let me give you a hand with that.

      "By their fru its ye shall know them."

      Lynching innocent people, burning Crosses on lawns, and sowing hate and bigotry are not good fru its.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  8. Hmmmm

    Much ado about nothing. "over 700 comments" from a University that has 82,500 students and 14,000 graduates this year. Assuming each person only commented once (unlikely), less than 1/2 of a percent (0.005) of the graduates and less than 1/10 of one percent of all students are upset Romney will be there. It obviously really is not a big deal to all but a few. Silly article CNN.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • ?

      Would you care to tell us why the Mormon church abandoned polygamy? You do it, to avoid any fabrications. Oh, and tell the truth.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Abinadi

      We are a law a ibiding people. When poligamy started, it was not against the law. When it became against the law, we abandoned it.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  9. the truth

    The mormon faith is cultish. Anyone who doesn't know this simply doesn't know about their church. Its founder, Joseph Smith, claims that while he was chopping wood one night, an angel let him in on another gospel that wasn't in the bible. He then created his own religion and got rich in the process. The mormons believe that God was once a man and that any man, who is a good mormon, will one day be a god himself in control of his own little universe. This is just ONE of the inane things they believe. One thing you can believe in is that Romney wii be more loyal to his church than to the american people. That's what people in cults do. If you don't believe this comment, look it up for yourself.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Abinadi

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the 4th largest church in the United States and one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Anyone who thinks it is a cult is ignorant, backward, and uninformed! Eat your grits!

      April 22, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • tnfreethinker

      Silly Abinadi...grits are for theists.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      Mainstream Christians use the term "cult" as a weapon, little more and little else. Anyone who doesn't know this is not paying attention.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Adam

      so wrong... its amazing...

      April 22, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Rockgod28

      To those that call Mormons a cult, liars and display other bigotry:

      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, 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 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  10. jv

    post the real reason..the LIBERTY students wanted RON PAUL!

    April 21, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • ...

      http://www.ronpaul2012.com/2012/04/21/romney-revolt-at-liberty-university/

      April 21, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  11. ?

    Just curious. Is it true that Brigham Young had 55 wives?? And he eventually divorced many of them?

    April 21, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Abinadi

      ?, why are afraid to answer me? Where does your priesthood authority come from? You say that the Mormon church is wrong. What evidence can you show that yours is right?

      April 21, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Alice

      Why does ? need to prove membership in a "true" faith in order to see faults in another? Maybe the "Judge not" rule could be used to keep anyone from criticizing anything, but what kind of a world would we be living in if everyone could operate without fear of being scrutinized? We'd never have heard of Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  12. Mary

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I find it peculiar that Mitt Romney would be asked to speak at this University. I am sure the University has it's reason and I am also sure that Mitt Romney will not be espousing Mormon Doctrine. But here is a chance for these students to practice their Christian virtues and rid themselves of misunderstandings and prejudices. I hope that all will turn out for the best.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  13. CORYLITSTER

    iM ALL FOR SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

    April 21, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  14. CORYLITSTER

    iM STARTING TO RESPECT THE CHRISTIAN THING MORE EVERYDAY, AS LONG AS THEY TO STAY OUT OF POLITICS.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Abinadi

      Too bad the Southern Baptists have to bring religion into it. We Mormons were just minding our own business until we were attacked!

      April 21, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Alice

      I guess they were just minding their own business when Brigham Young said "If any miserable scoundrels come here, cut their throats" right before the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre of 120 men, women and children?

      April 22, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Abinadi

      Your source? There isn't one, is there?

      April 22, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Abinadi

      And by the way,Alice, those people at Mountain Meadows were the people who had murdered, rap ed, and thrown the Mormons out of their homes in the dead of winter causing thousands of deaths. They deserved what they got.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Kill the murderers!

      Even the women and children? Are you serious? They deserved it? What?

      People like you deserve it. Not the children you gloat over their deaths you sick piece of disgusting filth.

      April 22, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  15. texasgreenacres

    Well it sounds to me like?He better bone up on grit eating? And not expect to get swamped in vote getting?Them folks down at liberty. don't sound like they are real happy to see or hear him speak.the folks at liberty call it poke and grits.Poke your feet under the table and grit your teeth.and wish mitt romeny was some where else.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  16. skyler

    How cuuuuuuute! A little spat spat over an imaginary friend.

    April 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  17. speedy007

    I'm astonished. So much hatred. I'm certain Jesus Christ would be disappointed at this so-called Christians. Aren't we all christians supposed to love one another?

    April 21, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • ?

      First off. Mormons aren't Christians. And I'm pretty Jesus isn't to pleased with Joseph Smith for using his name to perpetuate fraud. Damn, these pesky facts about the church just won't go away.

      April 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Mormon Mom

      Mormons are Christians. They believe in Jesus Christ. They worship him. They call him their Savior and Redeemer. They study about him in the Bible. They know that salvation is only possible through him.

      April 21, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • speedy007

      ?, I don't think you have ANY idea what you're talking about here. Answer me, what makes someone a Christian? On the other hand, Jesus commanded not only to love those from our faith but to love everyone.

      April 22, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  18. Republican Grandma

    He is Mormon! And I agree! Mormon is a cult!

    April 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Abinadi

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the 4th largest church in the United States and one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Anyone who thinks it is a cult is ignorant, backward, and uninformed!

      April 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • ?

      I once heard a story of Mormon missionaries asking if they could tell potential converts some of the specifics of the church. No no no they were told. Milk, not meat for kittens. And that about sums it up.

      April 21, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • hicks

      hicks

      April 22, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Rockgod28

      To those that call Mormons a cult, liars and display other bigotry:

      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, 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.

      Mitt Romney will be President of the United States November 2012!

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

      April 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  19. Amanda Wolf

    MITT ROMNY TOOK FEDERAL GRANTS TO CANDIDATES, IN SPITE OF HIS WEALTH. (SOURCE: jUDY WOODROOF INTERVIWED ROMNEY. SHE ASKED HIM IF HE HAD EVERY ACCEPTED FEDERAL AID. HE REPLIED HE RESPONSED: OF COURSE I HAVE.SO HE IS, IRONICALLY A MILLIONARE WELFARE KING.

    April 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  20. helenecha

    There’s nothing but excuses. Did somebody ever expect barbecue commencement?

    April 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
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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.