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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.

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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. Maya

    How much damage could Romney possibly do? Liberty University is a joke anyway.

    April 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • biologixco

      What kind of damage did GW Bush do in 8 years.
      I would bet MITTENS could do as much damage in 4 years as Bush did in 8!

      April 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  2. biologixco

    Mitt Romney could very well be the anti-Christ

    April 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • BRC

      I would love to hear a cogent explanation of that remark.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • biologixco

      Mitt Romney is an alien from Kolob.
      How can he run for President?
      You have to be born in the USA
      He was born on Kolob?
      LET"S SEE THAT BIRTH CERTIFICATE!
      NOW!

      April 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • fred

      Biologixco could very well be a tw.at

      April 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  3. zip

    Here's what I want to see when Mitt Romney speaks at Liberty University. "Hello, my name is Mitt, I am a Mormon, and I want to tell you about my heaven, planet Kolob." And watch the party start.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  4. Lenny Pincus

    Mormon facts: Jesus and Lucifer were brothers who had an argument in heaven. Seems like God couldn't keep his people in line. God has a body and boffed Mary to create Jesus. Jesus went to upstate New York and helped win a war. There are hidden planets where Mormon Gods live. We are all star babies. The church was started by an insane con artist.

    In America there is supposed to be no religious means test. Evangelicals do not buy into this basic tenet of democracy.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Paul Brown

      Lenny,
      Do not strive to create contention over the points of Christ Doctrine
      Jesus Said:
      28 ... There shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

      29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

      30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

      31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

      32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

      33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • momoya

      Matthew 10:

      34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

      “‘a man against his father,
      a daughter against her mother,
      a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
      36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]

      April 24, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Paul Brown

      For those who fight against The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, or any faith, remember if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

      An LDS article of faith reads: we claim the privilege of worshiping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may

      April 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • momoya

      Yeah right.. Every other religion is born, changes, and dies, but not the LDS.. Just every other religion.. lol

      April 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Paul Brown

      momya, The Standard of Truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame. But the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and dependent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, until the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah will say, ‘The work is done

      April 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • momoya

      yeah, right.. And almost every believer of every god believers that, but none of ya'll have the first strand of evidence for anything you believe; it's why you just state it as fact instead of trying to make any logical argument–you don't have one.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  5. Tyrone

    Again, MAN you Tabby nackles are easy to Wind up!!!

    April 24, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Rick Ron Tantrum

      85K a YEAR? LOL!

      The bishop could get it in half a wink.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • J.W

      I don't think a catholic bishop would make 85K a year.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  6. Laura

    I believe that these students have every right to boycott Mitt Romneys speech. The fact is that he is a Bishop in a man made up religion based on the Mason Cult. Yes they have the right to Express the 1st Amendment.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • fred

      @Laura

      And that differs from any other religion how?

      April 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Maya

      Which religions AREN'T made up?

      Read a book. Private actors cannot violate the First Amendment.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  7. liberty

    Does the University doesn't have the liberty to choose for their speaker without being prejudiced by bigot students?

    April 24, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Now you are talking. Let Mitt describe Mormonism for the open minded people at Liberty and watch the fun begin.

      I guess this all proves that morality is indeed a moving target.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Arnold

      Watchu talkin bout liberty!

      April 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • liberty

      Was Romney told to speak about Mormonism?

      April 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  8. Doc Vestibule

    Thanks to the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, which was specifically designed to target Mormon polygamists, American citizens may legally have only one spouse.
    After Brigham Young died, the Mormon Prophet and the 12 had a "divine revelation" getting them in line with the US Gov't position – and surprise surprise, the next time they applied to statehood (their 6th attempt) Utah was accepted into the union.
    While the divine revelation had Mormons obeying the letter of the law, they do NOT obey the spirit (literally).
    Mormon men are allowed (indeed encouraged) to have as many "spirit wives" as they can, while women can be sealed to only one man.

    Latter Day Saint divine revelations are generally very well timed to coincide with the church's best interests.
    LIke when they allowed black clergy the exact same year that they opened their 1st temple in a country populated by those bearing the Mark of Cain (melanin).

    April 24, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The above is a response to Lizzie ....

      April 24, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • momoya

      Any day now they'll reveal a new change that approves of alternative lifestyles.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Michael

      Doc:

      "Latter Day Saint divine revelations are generally very well timed to coincide with the church's best interests."

      Ummmm... what else would you expect? If God is guiding a church through a prophet, wouldn't this be exactly what you'd expect him to do? The Old and New Testaments are full of stories of God guiding his people, through prophets, in direct response to the socio-political pressures of their time.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Michael

      Momoya: That strikes me unlikely, but you're right that it could happen. And if it did, and if you felt it was the morally correct thing to have done, would you welcome the change with a glad heart?

      April 24, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • momoya

      Yes, Michael, I would.. I tend to appreciate ideas that bring peace–especially when it's over something as inconsequential as who you spend time with in a s3xual manner.. It's just pretty funny.. "We're so racist it's in our religion and god said....umm...well... wait..... ok, no, a few decades have gone by... so... we're not racist anymore!! yay! Blacks come on inside!"

      Wash, rinse, repeat..

      April 24, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Colin

      Michael, Doc's point is that Mormon theology can hardly be divine if it ebbs and flows based on prevailing political concerns. Let's be honest, there was no "divine revelation." It would take a person of jaw dropping credulity to believe that there is a creator of the Universe who changes his mind to suit what happens in Utah. Silly stuff.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • momoya

      Mormons are attempting to keep their holy text literal in a figurative and metaphysical game.. LOL!

      April 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  9. Tyrone

    Yo Rick, I make 85 K a year & I am white. Man you Tabby Nackles are SEVERLY easy to wind up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 24, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Rick Ron Tantrum

      85K a year? That's all you can get and you're boasting to pay a good money for the bishop to speak in Harlem"? Ah ok, thanks for the good laugh.

      I have a tip for you, there's a lot of game sites out there for kids, leave CNN for adults.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  10. Tyrone

    What are the Vegas Odds that The Bishop twist JACK MORMONS arm Rubio & converts him back to LDS. ?? Can a Bishop Dangle the VP spot??? Come on Rubes, though shall wear majic underwear & have your own galaxy!!!!!!!

    April 24, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. Tyrone

    I wanna see da bishop give a speech in Harlem. I would pay good money for that.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Rick Ron Tantrum

      Apparently, the bishop doesn't need your money. It would be better if you use it to buy your lunch instead of welfare coupons.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  12. Rick Ron Tantrum

    "Brigham Young was a founder of the church."

    AND...

    "These are historical facts."

    You have just claim your UTTER IGNORANCE as "historical facts"! Better have your facts straight, otherwise you have use your moniker to your mouth to keep it from foaming.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Arnold

      "otherwise you have use your moniker to your mouth to keep it from foaming."

      Can you translate that into English please?

      April 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Rick Ron Tantrum

      Arnold

      Don't let your cranium be like an appendix. You should use that little something inside it.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  13. Tyrone

    The Tabby Nackle BOYCOTT has begun. Good for these wonderful student standing up for their 1st amendment. God Bless them. Brigham Young had over 50 wives & the Bishop worships him. Bad, Bad, Bishop!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 24, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Arnold

      How is this a 1st amendment issue

      April 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  14. Mattski

    Falwell made a political decision. Surprise surprise. Remember the Moral Majority?

    April 24, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  15. Disgusted by Fools

    "I go to Liberty University–it's a religious college."

    "What denomination?"

    "Republican."

    April 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  16. fathertime

    I bet they wished they had someone talk tothem that coudl empart wisdom. When they are getting ready to step into a newfuture they might want to hear from someone who is a visionary. That coudl talk ro tehm about waht is going to happen in thenext ten years or so.

    Open the time capsule: Ron Paul's predictions – FROM 10 YEARS AGO TODAY!!
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ku7SHxoztGY&w=640&h=360]

    April 24, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  17. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The question for thebstudents at Liberty University is whether they are prepared to become Americans. Being American means living in a community in which EVERY person is a.minority in theirbreligion. Being American means making common cause across.religioys boundaries so we can reach demicratic solutions tp oyr community problems. Serving in the armed forces means being willing to die in the defemse of a diverse platoon which us made.up of peopke from every religion. How can a person who refuses to recognize their common citizenship with Mitt Rombey ever be a valuable contributor to our nation? If you must run aeay from everyone who is diffetentbfrom you, you can never form a community, and your intolerance will find you frw frienfs. America was founded on toletwnce for diverse religioys beliefs. If you rejectbtoletance, you havebtekected America, and ypu have rejected liberty.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Arnold

      As difficult as it was to get thru this post, I agree with it whole heartedly.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  18. Tyrone

    I think its Marvelous that these students are going to boycott Bishop Romney Tabby Nackle & his speech. They have every right to do so. The man worships BY that had 55 wives. NOUGH SAID!!!!!!!!!!

    April 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • M S White

      Tyrone,
      I know that there is a lot of misinformation about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). However, as the name of the church signifies, we are indeed follows of Christ. However, please do not take my word for it. Just check out morom.org and read the doctrines and beliefs of the church.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  19. lies from the right but mostly hate

    I have listened to romney . He has very little good solutions to the problems of this country the ones he does have will hurt the working class, all he can say is we have to get the current president out of the whitehouse these are not good sound ideas this is just rhetoric

    April 24, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  20. zip

    The largest Mormon university on earth is Brigham Young University. Brigham Young was a founder of the church. He had 55 wives. Many were still married to their first husbands. Some men were sent on missions and their wives were suddenly married to Young. He later divorced many of the women. These are historical facts. Do you know why polygamy was finally ended? The United States government had to intervene. Many Mormons refused to abide by the new rules and fled to Mexico to preserve the practice. Mitt Romney's family was among them. Just a fact.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Lizzie

      So how many wife's does Romney have???? Why do you bring religion into it, you don't object to Sen. REID he is Mormon, how many wife's does he have.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Rick Ron Tantrum

      @ zip

      "Brigham Young was a founder of the church."

      AND...

      "These are historical facts."

      You have just claim your UTTER IGNORANCE as "historical facts"! Better have your facts straight, otherwise you have use your moniker to your mouth to keep it from foaming.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • zip

      If you think my remarks are political, you are a fool. Harry Reid and Mitt Romney are one and the same. I am a Christian who can't seem to find planet Kolob in my Bible. The Mormon church was founded by a known con man. And the fact that he invoked the name of Jesus to perpetuate the fraud is heresy. I am just defending my faith with the same ferocity as you do. And your faith is a cult.

      April 24, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Paul Brown

      For those who fight against The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, or any faith, remember if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

      An LDS article of faith reads: we claim the privilege of worshiping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may

      April 24, 2012 at 12:17 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.