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. kmrphy74

    Dear sir or ma'am,

    I have a question or two, well, first of all, is Romney still the commencement speaker at Liberty University? I am a student of their online Christian Academy, along with my brothers, and so we are affiliated, those were mostly my mom's comments they had deleted before pulling the whole post. Second, aside from the obvious conflict of interest with Mark Demoss being on the L.U. Board of Trustees, the Administrative Chairman, as well as his being on the investment committee; coupled with Demoss being a Senior Adviser for Romney's campaign, doesn't Romney's invite as a prominent speaker during an election year also pose a violation to the Universities Section 501C(3) standing? Just wondering, thanks 🙂


    May 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  2. Como?

    Reblogged this on Faith in Real Life and commented:
    I have thought that this was a little funny. As a current Liberty graduate student, I can't for the life of me figure out why in their texts and in class we are told that Mormons are going to hell and are essentially a cult devised by Satan, but it's totally OK because he's the presumptive Republican nominee. Perhaps we should stay out of politics and try to walk more in line with Jesus.

    April 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
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    April 30, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  4. chuck

    What I don't understand about this is the fact Mormons believe that other Christian churches are satanic.

    April 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  5. mandarax

    What if the students, the university administration, and the commencement speaker of LU just agreed to stick to issues that are demonstrably true and things that exist for certain. Oh wait, that would be a real college.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  6. b4bigbang

    "Swarm" of earthquakes detected in Pac NW (4/19).
    Jesus predicted these occurances as part of the signs indicating the end times!
    Read about it in the Gospels!

    April 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      No, he didn't.

      April 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Jesus

      No, I didn't.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • The Law

      Get back across that border Jesus. Take your tacos with you.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  7. BillM

    I am one of those who is not affiliated with LU and I hope my opinion on this topic is deemed to be of lesser value because of it. From an outsiders point of view I see this to be a freedom of speech issue more than anything else. I see this as the members of the school body's opinions being suppressed because they do not align with that of the administration of the university. I believe that the administrations explanation for the removal of the post and the subsequent responses to that post to be at best disingenuous. If the folks at LU can't properly moderate their Facebook page then they should take the whole page down not just the conversations that they find to be unpleasant to them. Student body members have a God given right to their opinions and shame on LU for not supporting them weather they agree with them or not! In closing my prayers go out to those who stood up for their moral convictions and spoke their minds. Get used to it Brothers and Sisters. You are not of this world and you know the truth because you know the voice of your Sheppard. Which is more than I can say for the LU administrators. Be glad because you have not compromised the truth. Your Father in heaven is watching and knows the hearts of all who are involved. He will judge the motives of all. How foolish to think that they can hide the truth from Him!

    April 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  8. Jeremy

    Liberty has had several non-evangelical commensement speakers in the past few years. Why is this year any different?

    1996: Clarence Thomas (Catholic)
    2005: Sean Hannity (Catholic)
    2009: Ben Stein (Jewish)
    2010: Glen Beck (Mormon)

    The baccelaurreate is a religious meeting with a Christian message, so it ought to be done by an Evangelical Christian. But commensement isn't a time to discuss theology. It's a time to get the most prestigious speakers from around the country to speak in order to celebrate the graduation and recognize the prestige of the university. Allowing a Mitt Romney to speak at graduate is not an endorsement of the Mormon faith, but it is an honor to have a potential POTUS recognise the university.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • TheJCG

      Because the pattern is annoying the student body to the point that it's no longer accepted as an oversight or poor choice. There was a furor over Beck as well.

      April 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Jeremy

      So, what you're saying is that the student body was ok the first few times that a non-evangelical was selected to speak because the administration must have just not been thinking correctly. But now it's unexcusable because the admin should have learned their lesson by now?

      I'm not a student or an alumus of Liberty U, but it appears to me that the university administration is trying to make a conscious statement by their recent trend. It's as if they want to say that, as Christians, we can make non-Christian friends and allies without endorsing their theological viewpoints. If we want to reach out and minister the message of Jesus Christ to others, we will have to be willing to establish healthy relationships with them while still upholding our beliefs. One of the big reasons that people are currently turned off from relgion is that they dislike the contention between relgious groups. Imagine the message that this is sending to secularists (and Mormons, for that matter): we love all people, we care about and respect people even though they disagree with us. It's likely that Mormons and secularists would be more likely to approach the Christian community as a result. I believe that Mitt Romney is a wise choice and I tip my hat to the people that selected him.

      April 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • mandarax

      Egad, what an ignoble parade of buffoons. Neither Beck nor Hannity ever even graduated from college – not even a bible college.

      April 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • TheJCG

      Catholicism and Judaism are not deemed by the university as cults that exist to convert people away from biblical Christianity. It's apples and oranges. This is a purely political move in which the university is giving a thumbs up to an anti-Christian Mormon Republican in hopes that they'll help him win an election against a Christian Democrat. It's a political move where they're giving their approval to a cult member over someone who claims to be a believer and attends a Christian church.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Mormonism may be a theological cult, but that doesn't mean that Christians should cut off their associations with them. Protesting Romney's seletion as a speaker sends a message to the Mormons and others in the country that Christians don't want to listen to people who don't aggree with them. It reinforces the current public belief that Christians are hateful. I believe that the Christian cause would be better served if we were more willing to associate ourselves with non-Christians. Besides, the selection of a Commencement speaker is not an endorsement of the person's religion or his politics.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  9. aaron & alyssa

    So, LU did not remove a (talented) football player earlier this year after being arrested for cocaine- an offense with a punishment of dismissal from the school per "The Liberty Way", and THIS is what the students are protesting? Seriously!? I, an alumna, was disappointed in the administration when the drug fiasco happened, but now I am disappointed in the students for being so catty. You have the opportunity to see/hear a potential POTUS and all you care about is his religion. I had a Jew (Ben Stein), and was beyond excited to hear him. Although, if you are on the field during the speaker's address you can't hear the speaker anyway, only in the stands. Please, show some respect for him and don't embarrass good 'ole LU. Forget the religion and politics- he's a successful businessman, something graduates should admire.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • momoya


      LU claims that mormons are heretics bound for hell.. Why would LU invite a heretic bound for hell to speak at their commencement?

      April 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • ?

      Yeah, forget the fact that he's a cult member. That's the Christian thing to do. Put down the bong. Really.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • TheJCG

      Actually, much of the student body DID protest having Asa Chapman allowed back on the football team. The heat from that is one of the reasons why Danny Rocco left for another coaching job.

      April 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  10. biologixco

    If Joel Osteen can proclaim mormonism Christianity, then why doesn't he explain where Kolob, Magic Underwear and the Pearl of Great Price fit in. They DONT!
    Christianity can be compared to a child's toy where you bang the peg in the hole.
    Catholic, Protestant, even Baptist are all round pegs that fit in the hole.
    They are tapered slightly differently, but they all fit.
    Along comes the square peg of mormonism that wont fit in the hole.
    Mormons have deceptively whittled the sharp edges of their square peg to try and MAKE it fit.
    But even a child can't be fooled by that deception.
    American voters won't be fooled either.
    Say NO to Romney2012!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  11. Paul

    The bottom line: Liberty U cares more about conservative politics (the Republican Party) than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    You'd think these guardians of the bible might recall that New Testament warning about serving 'two masters'.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      Precisely. Evangelical Christianity is and always was a political movement.

      April 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  12. Reality


    Bottom line: Romney is Mormon because he was born Mormon. Should we hold this against him? After all, BO also believes in "pretty/ugly wingie thingies, bodily resurrections and atonement mumbo jumbo.

    Warren Buffett, THE AGNOSTIC, for President !!!!

    Bill Gates, THE AGNOSTIC for VP !!!!

    One should be voting based on rational thinking. Believing in angels, satans, bodily resurrections, atonement, and heavens of all kinds is irrational.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  13. Former Flame

    The first amendment and my faith in God Almighty give me the right to dislike anyone whose beliefs do not match up with mine. In fact, I see it as my moral obligation to do so for they are lost and even though have shown them the light, they continue on their path to eternal damnation. This is an abomination and the school leaders will surely go to hell for it. I will not be returning to LU next year and I encourage others to do the same.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Jasen

      Wow. So the blood of Jesus is unable to cover the sin of bad judgement? I think I smell a troll.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  14. ?

    do a wiki search on Parley P Pratt. He was Mitt Romney's grandfather. He was also killed for messing around with another man's wife. And he already had 11 wives. Damndest Christians I ever saw.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • mandarax

      Yeah, that's so messed up it could be right out of the bible!

      April 24, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • RMB

      Right, because a wiki search is all it takes to become an expert on something (sarc).

      April 24, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Arnold

      I know right, because if it’s on wiki it has to be false even if it’s backed up by numerous other sources. What an idiot that ? is.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Jeremy

      Parley P. Pratt was murdered by the ex-husband of one of his plural wives named Eleanor McLean. While technically Eleanor was still legally married to her previous husband, he was abusive to the her and the children. In those days, the law was usually on the side of husband when it came to abuse, divorce, etc. so poor Eleanor didn't have many options for legal recourse (especially considering that this was the wild west era). After studying with the Mormon missionaries she fled the marriage and eventually settled in Utah where she was married to Pratt. About the situation, Pratt said, "He accused me of taking his wife and children. I did not do it. They were oppressed, and I did for them what I would do for the oppressed any where." This was hardly the case of a man, "fooling around with another man's wife".

      April 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  15. TheJCG

    The worst part of this, as a Liberty student who just finished my M.Ed., is that the statements from Falwell Jr. and Johnnie Moore are blatant lies. The discussions on Facebook were almost entirely between Liberty students and they just removed them because the so-called leadership of the university got caught once again selling their souls for the possibility of a little political influence.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • fred

      This has been their MO right from the start, so I’m not sure why this comes as a surprise to you.

      April 25, 2012 at 6:11 am |
    • Abolitionist

      I am in total agreement with you, that was the most upsetting part is that you could tell that Jerry Jr's statements to the students, staff, and faculty was a blatant lie. He said hundreds were happy about Romney coming and that only "some graduates inquired about Liberty's policies regarding doctirnal beliefs of commencement speakers". This could not be more false, I'm a graduating senior and almost all of my friends graduating are upset about what is going on. Yes, as Christians we are to be kind to others of a different faith, and I totally get that. But that does not mean that I want those of my family who are unbelievers and coming to my graduation to hear a Mormon speaker. I went to a Christian university for a reason, and that reason was so that I could get a Christian education and so that through my going there others would hear the gospel and see those who are prominent Christians rise up as leaders to take on the world.
      I'm just so upset with Jerry Jr and Johnnie right now, why can't the just address us like grown-ups and tell us that the reason Romney was invited was because of a political move?

      April 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • momoya

      Well said, Abolitionist.. That's been my argument the whole time on this issue, and I'm an atheist!. They really did a number on you seniors, I think, to tell you that a specific religion is heresy and then invite someone from that club to come "advise" you on your life.. Please.. Stupidity.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  16. mikstov33


    April 24, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Not as long as religion is involved.

      April 24, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  17. One one

    One solution could be for the evangelicals and Morans to get together and come up with a new bible that has the best of both worlds. For example, the mormans offer a better deal to the devoted when they go to heaven. They get to rule over their own planet. With a little creative thinking, and cut and paste, the two religions could come up with something to make everyone happy.

    April 24, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • GodsPeople

      Evangelicals are weird. I went to an evangelical service once (I'm Eastern Orthodox) and I was like "what???"

      April 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • momoya

      What a fantastic idea.. A better one would be to go ahead and do the copypasta work and start up the meme, and then milk it like a cash cow (following the L. Ron Hubbard model)..

      April 24, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  18. ?

    If Mitzi really had some courage, he could tell them about planet Kolob. Now that's comedy!

    April 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Kolob"? "Heaven"? What's the difference?

      April 25, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  19. One one

    Perhaps he should perform an exorcism to warm up the audience to get a more favorable reception.

    April 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  20. Steve

    Religious bigotry...Mitt Romney has his work cut out for him in this address....especially since it really should have nothing to do with his Mormonism and everything to do with the direction of our country and where these graduates are headed in the future.

    April 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • momoya

      Steve, Liberty teaches that Mormonism is a cult and that mormons go to h.ell.. It'd be like getting a neo-nazi to come speak at a Holocaust survivors banquet. . Of course the neo-nazi should talk to those survivors about the future and not the past, but who there would would go along with it?

      April 24, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
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