Bernie Sanders will venture into unfamiliar territory on Sept. 14 when he delivers a convocation speech at Liberty University, a massive evangelical Christian university in central Virginia.
Sanders, a culturally Jewish democratic socialist, is an odd headliner for the reliability conservative school that was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist preacher known as the father of the Christian right.
Liberty released their fall convocation schedule on Wednesday and Sanders was listed at the Sept. 14 speaker. The other speakers include Christian artists and authors, Korie and Sadie Robertson, stars of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, a conservative congressman from Texas.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a firebrand conservative courting evangelical voters in the GOP presidential primary, launched his campaign at Liberty.
Since announcing his own presidential bid earlier this year, Sanders has pledged to campaign not only in reliability Democratic areas, but also Republican territory.
After drawing more than 11,000 people to an event in Arizona, Sanders said, “Progressives will never win unless we plant a flag in these states. The Democratic Party cannot abdicate and surrender half the states in the country.”
Since then the candidate has headlined two events in Texas and has told reporters that he plans to hold events in Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.
Sanders is one of the least religious candidates running for president. Asked about his Jewish faith earlier this year, the senator said he was “not particularly religious.”
“Liberty University was kind enough to invite me to address a convocation and I decided to accept,” Sanders said in a statement. “It goes without saying that my views on many issues – women’s rights, gay rights, education and many other issues – are very different from the opinions of some in the Liberty University community. It is very easy for a candidate to speak to people who hold the same views. It’s harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently. I look forward to meeting with the students and faculty of Liberty University.”
Johnnie Moore, former senior vice president of Liberty University who used to run the convocation speaker series, said he was very impressed the liberal senator accepted Liberty’s invitation.
“It’s an incredibly courageous and savvy move,” Moore said.
Moore, who is now an author and consultant, said while Liberty is a conservative school that disagrees with Sanders on many issues, they regularly invite Democrats to appear at their convocations. During Moore’s 12-years at the school, he said the school regularly invited President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton.
“They didn’t so much as reply to our invitations,” he said.