LYNCHBURG, Va. — Bernie Sanders is Jewish, supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion and backs gay marriage.

Yet there he was, on stage at conservative Liberty University, quoting Scripture, invoking Pope Francis and bowing his head in prayer.

As his campaign stuns the Democratic establishment, Sanders continued to surprise Monday, taking his campaign before perhaps his most unusual audience yet: the conservative Christian school founded here in 1971 by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

The 60-minute appearance may not have earned the independent socialist senator from Vermont many votes, but it was in keeping with his outlier image and his draw for the politically disaffected, uninterested in politics as usual. It allowed him to show that he’s not afraid of talking to a wider range of voters than his activist base.

Sanders noted from the outset that he supports gay marriage and the right to an abortion. But he said he accepted the invitation to speak because despite his own liberal and socialist views, there was common political ground to be found.

“We disagree on those issues. I get that,” Sanders said. “But let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country … that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve.”

Chiefly, he sought support for his signature push for economic equality, saying, “There is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.”


He sought to cast much of his campaign platform – calls for raising the minimum wage, providing universal health care and paid family and medical leave – in a moral, if not entirely biblical, context.

“If we are honest in striving to be a moral and just society, it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor, to stand with working people and when necessary, take on very powerful and wealthy people whose greed is doing this country enormous harm,” he said.

His remarks were politely received, with students and a sizable contingent of Sanders fans applauding him numerous times.

“I’m really impressed that Liberty invited him and that he showed up,” said Ann Bryant, 25, a senior at the school. “We do have our differences, but we can still respect each other.”

Still, the loudest and longest applause was not for Sanders but for Liberty Vice President David Nasser, who asked how Sanders could reconcile his concern for child poverty with his support for abortion.

The majority of Christians believe “children in the womb need our protection even more” than poor children, Nasser said, adding, “Can you see, sir, how we see the child in the womb is the most vulnerable that needs protection?”

Sanders said he believes the government should not tell women they cannot terminate a pregnancy. He sought to turn the question into a critique of congressional Republicans, saying they had wanted to cut health care, education and nutrition programs while providing tax breaks to the wealthiest.