Liberty University responds to Romney controversy, angers online students
April 23rd, 2012
04:43 PM ET

Liberty University responds to Romney controversy, angers online students

By Dan Merica and Laura Bernardini, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Liberty University reacted over the weekend to a brewing controversy over the fact that the evangelical school has selected Mitt Romney, a Mormon, to speak at the school’s graduation.

In a statement from Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., the school says that the complaints have significantly died down and that many of those complaining “had no affiliation with the university.”

“We have also noticed over the last few days that students with reservations about Romney's appearance at Liberty basically fit into one of two categories,” Falwell, Jr. wrote. “They were either strong supporters of other candidates who were seeking the Republican nomination or they were online students who were not as familiar with Liberty University's traditions.”

After last week’s announcement, hundreds of comments were registered under the announcement on Liberty’s Facebook page. While some were supportive of the decision to invite Romney, a number of respondents were angered and posted their frustration to Facebook.

As of Monday morning, the announcement was deleted from the page, along with all the comments.

“Complaints died down because they took the ability to complain down from the website,” said Janet Loeffler, a 53-year old freshman at Liberty who takes classes online. Loeffler was a frequent poster to the Facebook page.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

According Johnnie Moore, vice president of executive projects and spiritual programs, the post was removed because "people who had no affiliation with the university were using our Facebook page to air their grievances and to engage in conversations that violated our policies with regard to social media etiquette."

"We just decided to eliminate the post all together rather than let our page be the place where these arguments were taking place," Moore wrote in an e-mail to CNN. "With regard to our students, the university has a number of channels for our students and constituents to express feedback, and that feedback is attended to by Liberty staff who have input in, and understanding of, the university's operations and decision making."

Though the deletion of the post bothered Loeffler, it was the statement about online students familiarity with Liberty’s traditions that she says deeply offended her.

“It is just a complete lie. You cannot get through your first semester at Liberty Online without taking their Theology 101 and Apologetics 101,” Loeffler said.

Loeffler provided CNN with a copy of the page in the freshman textbook “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” which includes a number of passages on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons. “Mormon doctrine stands in stark contrast to Jewish and Christian monotheism,” reads the passage, “which teaches that there is only one true God and that every other ‘God’ is a false god.”

Liberty's handling of the situation "has very much altered my thinking of Liberty,” Loeffler said. “I haven’t registered for my fall classes yet because of it. I am offended that they would talk to us like that, telling us that we just don’t understand.”

Many of the anti-Liberty comments, including Loeffler’s charged that Mormonism goes against the teachings of the school and claimed that the religion is a cult. The charge of Mormonism as a cult is not a new one for the church, however. In a 2011 column, Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the LDS Church described 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.

Oyindamola Bankole, a 22-year old online psychology major at Liberty, said she was disappointed that the comments had been deleted from the website.

“I thought it was very cowardly,” Bankole said in an interview with CNN. “There were a lot of good conversations and debates and people were arguing both sides and I was shocked when they took it down.”

Bankole will be graduating this year from Liberty but has opted to walk in 2013. Though the school differs between online and on-campus students, all walk in the same graduation. This year, 14,000 students will walk and 35,000 are expected to attend as guests.

“Even though we're online students, it's still our graduation,” Bankole said. “The Liberty University Online students are going to be flying in, renting rooms in hotels, and going to the same graduation, so why does our opinion not matter as much? There are 70,000 online students compared to the 12,500 residential students, according to Liberty's website. Glad to know we're just numbers and income in their eyes.”

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.

This debate over Romney’s selection further tests the relationship between Mormons and evangelicals. 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.

Tony Perkins, a Liberty graduate and the president of the Family Research Council, said he sees the Romney speech as an opportunity.

"As Christians we can disagree strongly but we show respect and I think they will show respect for Mitt Romney," Perkins said on CNN's Starting Point Monday morning.

"They may not warmly applaud him and may continue to express differences and clearly there are differences theologically between Mormons and Christians, but here's an opportunity for Mitt Romney to talk about what he has in common with evangelicals and that is on the value issues," Perkins said.

But if the evangelical vote hinges on how evangelicals see Mormonism, Romney may need further outreach to the evangelical community. A recent Pew Research Center survey finds 47% of white evangelicals say that Mormonism is not a Christian religion, while 66% say Mormonism and their religion are “very or somewhat different.”

Loeffler and Bankole both look at this as a way for Liberty to help Romney with evangelical voters.

“This is nothing more than a political rally, at a time when graduates are having their lives dedicated to the work they were trained to do at Liberty,” Loeffler said.

In their statement, though, Falwell Jr. said over the past 25 years, many people have been invited to speak at graduation and “most of them did not share Liberty’s doctrinal beliefs.”

Graduation at Liberty, like at most colleges and universities, features a baccalaureate event before the final graduation. This year, Liberty has invited Luis Palau, a preacher that Liberty bills as "among the most influential Christian leaders of all time."

Mark DeMoss, a Liberty graduate, member of the Board of Trustees and a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, when reached on Monday made mention of Glenn Beck being the first Mormon to address Liberty graduates at commencement and added some background to how the decisions have been made.

“I remember the first time Falwell, Sr. decided to use a commencement speaker that was not evangelical because it was controversial to some at the time," Demoss said of Liberty's founder Jerry Falwell Sr. "And he explained, or justified it, by virtue of us having a baccalaureate service that was a decidedly Christian service. And commencement could feature a prominent figure from politics or business – evangelical or not evangelical.”

“Liberty has never held a commencement that did not include a strong gospel message from a evangelical leader at baccalaureate,” Falwell Jr. wrote.

- CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Christianity • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics • Virginia

soundoff (688 Responses)
  1. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Seperation of church and state please! As president would Mitt Romney require all members of congress to take communion before he delivers the state of the union address? Pathetic religious psychopaths!

    April 24, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  2. ol cranky

    Funniest thing I've heard come from LIberty ever: “Mormon doctrine stands in stark contrast to Jewish and Christian monotheism,” reads the passage, “which teaches that there is only one true God and that every other ‘God’ is a false god.”

    So Liberty will condemn Mormonism for their "false God" as not monotheistic but lump their "monotheism" in with Judaism? The Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus very much separates Christians and Jews so to lump the tribe in with Christians to show some religious superiority and/or as examples of monotheism is intellectually dishonest at best. Prayer to Jesus (and, in some denominations, saints) castes them as gods/demi-gods in their own right – so who is Falwell to chastise Mormons for their allegedly "false gods" or insufficient monotheism?

    April 24, 2012 at 6:38 am |
  3. Jesus was a space alien

    I am skeptical on the learning and degrees these people are getting if they are arguing over imaginary beings. One cult arguing about another cult. Sounds like a whole lot of hyprocrisy going on.

    April 24, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  4. Kebos

    Your guy doesn't belong to our club! Religion is such a pathetic notion.

    April 24, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  5. sick of republican phonies

    Why are they complaining? Didn't they see the name "Jerry Falwell" when they enrolled? Did they expect anything other than false (profit-making) piety and politics from him?

    April 24, 2012 at 5:35 am |
  6. sick of republican phonies

    So the members of a really really big cult- the evangelicals- don't like the members of a smaller cult. That's how cults/religion work.

    April 24, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  7. Nii

    There is a funny thing here. Jews n Muslims dont call themselves Xtians ever. In fact Messianic Jews(Jewish Xtians) r not accepted by Jews as Jewish. All Orthodox Xtians(RCC, Greek Orthodox n Protestants-including Evangelicals) accept de 3 creeds. They differ only slightly. Mormons differ widely.

    April 24, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • Nii

      1st de original Biologixco is a Xtian n won't use such language. 2nd cult has many definitions including
      1)spiritually abusive religious grp. Some ex-Mormons have accused de LDS as such and psychaitrists have confirmed it.
      2)Worship rituals-In this sense Jews n Xtians have de same cult but not LDS

      April 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Jim

    Love the show Sister wives. That dude has one heck of a racket going on exploiting women. Whats that dude up to now, like 5 wives? Those women are dumber than rocks. That dude has a wife for each night of the week, one doesnt want to give it up that night kust call around and see who's horney. Dude has a heck of a racket I tell you.

    April 24, 2012 at 4:59 am |
  9. Orwell seen it before

    These complainers at Liberty Baptist Cult seem to have a hard time with lesson #1 taught there:
    GOP #1 and GOD #2. They will learn like the Jews when they get their baptism of the dead. Idiots!
    Don't they teach them anything at a baptist seminary?

    April 24, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  10. Theatleasteighty-fourpercentoftheearth'spopulace

    There is nothing new in here,all are just a piece of S/H/I/T!

    April 24, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • .

      u mad?


      April 24, 2012 at 4:09 am |
  11. Trent

    I think the reaction has been overblown- there are always students at any university who prefer a different commencement speaker had been chosen. I guess this story makes for good news though. The vast majority of Liberty students haven't been complaining on the page, but the few dozen who do so loudly have gotten all the attention. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?

    April 24, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  12. james

    Wow, this article used the opinions of 2 people from the online population. I think the authors need to go back and do some basics in stats to realize that 2 people are not representative of the whole population.

    April 24, 2012 at 3:12 am |
  13. morpunkt

    Let the truth be known. The only perpetrators of the theory that Mormonism is a "cult" are the preacher lobbyists for the preacher industry, because it's a big multi-million dollar industry, especially in the Deep South, like NASCAR, college football, and Walmart. Therefore, they will say and do anything to prevent losing more of their flock to the Mormons.

    April 24, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Sam Scar


      Oh, that's a good one! Yeah, they're all jealous. Riiiight.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  14. biologixco

    I'm really just an Obama minion.

    April 24, 2012 at 2:20 am |
  15. biologixco

    Joseph Smith was a false prophet

    April 24, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Excellency

      Tut, tut!

      Say, rather, that he was a disgusting piece of human filth who has many followers.

      "False prophet", while accurate enough as far as it goes, does not quite paint a large enough picture of the man and his criminal acts.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:16 am |
      • biologixco

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. Im only now researching this regular man the mormons treat as a god. Seems like a regular man with a proclivity for polygamy and other criminal activities.

        April 24, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • steven

      That doesn't even have to do with anything this article is about

      April 24, 2012 at 3:09 am |
    • shaun

      And that affects you how? you are not a member of our faith and have no respect for any one you consider different than yourself, so why not just be the best you can be and let others you disagree with alone/

      April 24, 2012 at 3:55 am |
    • Drive-by

      Oh, shaun, you just admitted that what was said is true.
      How does the truth hurt us? It hurts you and your filthy lying cult.
      Which is why you posted, right? You are so transparent, shaun.
      You're such a sheep.

      April 24, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • GermanAutoz

      Shaun, responding to their hate felt towards the Mormon faith will not benefit you in the slightest bit. Let them enjoy their freedom to speak their minds on the issue and if you don't like what they are writing, you can turn the other cheek. But responding accomplished nothing. Especially in a comment section of CNN where any village idiot can post their mind. Auf Wiedersehen! 🙂

      April 24, 2012 at 5:15 am |
  16. biologixco

    Mormons are creepy and cultish.
    Just look at WILLARD (MITT) Romney.
    Dishonest and corrupt

    April 24, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • Dadgum Varmints are everywhere!

      But they will gladly tell you how nice they are to each other.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:18 am |
      • biologixco

        mormon doublespeak

        April 24, 2012 at 2:22 am |
    • shaun

      What a stupid thing to say, when you say things like that you only show your own ignorance and what a small and mean spirited person you really are.

      April 24, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Drive-by

      ...said shaun the simple-minded slime-covered sheep.

      April 24, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  17. What's wrong?

    Evangelicals say their problem with Mormons is their differences in religious doctrine. Well, evangelical's doctrine also differs from Jewish people, Muslims, atheists, and Catholics but they don't seems to be condemning the doctrine of any religion except Mormonism.

    April 24, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • Ambrose Smith

      I disagree. Evangelicals bad mouth Catholics, Muslims and Jews too.

      April 24, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Cyric

      Agreed Ambrose. I find Mormonism on the same level as Scientology but the fact is Evangelicals have a problem with everybody.

      April 24, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • mandarax

      Evangelical Christians feel persecuted by the fact that other people are allowed to not be Evangelical Christians!

      April 24, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Evangelicals are quite vocal in their hatred and condemnation of everyone but themselves, even those in differing evangelical sects from their own.

      April 24, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • courtneykent0

      SixDegrees, you can't truly say that all Evangelicals condem everyone else. The foundation of Christianity is love. God is love. In fact, He so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for everyone in it. Christians are commanded to love. Do they always, no! Of course not. Blame the fact that no one if perfect, including Christians, and it's difficult to love imperfect people all the time. That being said, God may love the world, and there are Christian who aren't the condemning type, but God also says that Jesus is the only way to God and to Heaven. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by Him.

      So, Mandarax, Evangelicals don't feel threatened by the fact that people are allowed to practice other religions and believe in other Gods. This is because God Himself gives humans something called free will. Choose what you want, or choose Him and live. God is not threatened by anyone's ability to make choices because He is almighty. In fact, I myself have spent time in a beautiful Muslim country with beautiful, kind, generous Muslim people, just to let them know that they even have a choice. Many other gods don't afford the luxury of choice to their followers.

      So, Cryic, to say Evangelicals have a problem with everybody is also false because you don't have the authority or knowledge to speak for every single person who claims to be Evangelical.

      I challenge you all to take a good, close, and open-minded look at Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ alone...and tell me if you find fault with Him. Tell me if He has a problem with everyone. Tell me if He walked around telling everyone His problem with them, or if He went around giving sight to the blind or healing to the sick, just because of love. Tell me if He has a problem with you, or if you find that He loves you. He loves you so much that He died for you. And that's love.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • GermanAutoz

      Raff our Roud @ six degrees. And all of the Evangelicals who say they openly *hate* other religions as well as Mormons. What a great display of Christianity the Evangelicals in this post are setting for the rest of you. Hate others who believe things different from yourself. Yah... sounds like Hitler's theory. AUF WIEDERSEHEN! 😀

      April 24, 2012 at 5:22 am |
    • ol cranky

      @Ambrose is right but he left out that they also badmouth Christians who don't agree with them politically as by accusing them of not being "real" Christians or secularists or atheists

      April 24, 2012 at 6:43 am |
  18. DFWDelia

    I guess what I'm getting from this article is that a lot of Liberty students believe you should only be welcome on the Liberty campus if you are a southern Baptist. That does not sound like students are getting a very well rounded education.

    April 24, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • mandarax

      The association with Jerry Falwell sort of ruled out "well-rounded education" from the start.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  19. b4bigbang

    Matthew chapter 24 Jesus predicts earthquakes as one of several signs of the end times – check it and the other Gospels out!

    April 24, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Earthquake swarm hits Pac NW!

      April 24, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Habbo

      I found a pubic hair! Oh, that's just b4bigbang who is a small twisted worm.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Matthew 24 - Almost humorous... picture some wild-eyed guy on a soapbox in the park, ranting this stuff.

      No mention of polar ice caps? Glaciers? The Amazon rain forest? 2/3 of the world (at least) that were unknown to this Jesus character and unknown to whoever wrote M, M, L & J and Paul of Tarsus, because no god "revealed" anything unusual to these guys.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • True Prophecy, Not Like That Cheap Faulty Jesus Stuff

      There shall, in that time, be rumors of things going astray, erm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things wi– with the sort of raffia work base that has an attachment. At this time, a friend shall lose his friend's hammer and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o'clock.

      April 24, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Get Real

      Earthquake swarms are not unusual.

      Just one recent example: March/April 2008 - a swarm of earthquakes - more than 1,000 over two months' time - struck Reno, NV area. They, and we, are still here.

      Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/04/30/20080430renoquakes0430-ON.html#ixzz1svmhZ2BR

      April 24, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • mandarax

      For True Prophecy:

      Brian: Please, please, please listen! I've got one or two things to say.
      The Crowd: The Messiah! He speaks! Tell us! Tell us both of them!
      Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, You don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for your selves! You're ALL individuals!
      The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We're all individuals!
      Brian: You're all different!
      The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we ARE all different!

      April 24, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Excellency

      Another True Prophecy! Egad! This is only slightly precedented!

      CNN is truly blessed by this prophecy which is True. Will they be mindful of it? Somehow I do not expect such a thing from CNN, even though they are a major news corporation.
      The problem, I believe, is in their corporate policy, both written and unwritten. (can't say doc.ument for some blasted silly reason!)

      April 24, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • Dennis

      I'm not.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  20. mkriley

    If you look to history, you will find the real rub between the Baptists and the Mormons. In 1831, in Kirtland, Ohio, many Disciples of Christ (the forerunners of the Southern Baptist Convention) converted to Mormonism. In fact, it was this mass migration that gave the Mormon Church the growth that wojuld see it through it's tenuous beginning. The Baptists hate the fact that the Mormon Church continues to grow through its missionary efforts while their membership is in decline. The truth hurts eh?

    April 24, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Kyle

      Southpark hit the mormon nail on the head. Just cause they are creepy and cultish, doesn't mean they aren't nice happy people.

      April 24, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Baptists hate pretty much everybody outside the evangelical fold, and are even quite fond of hating each other when one sect's doctrine runs afoul of another's.

      April 24, 2012 at 3:40 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
About this blog

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.