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Think Progress

By Igor Volsky on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:48 am

Mitt Romney — who at an earlier point in his career had promised to advance the equality of gay and lesbian people — is scheduled to deliverthe Commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University on May 12, an Evangelical Christian college that refuses to recognize people or ideas that don’t adhere to its social conservative worldview.

The university — founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971 — seeks to impress on its students a “commitment to the Christian life” that “leads people to Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe and their own personal Savior” and forbids openly gay enrollees. Students are required to abide by a strict Code of Conduct, which prohibits them from engaging in “[n]on-marital sexual relations,” drinking, smoking, watching R-rated movies, dancing, cursing or hugging for longer than three seconds. In 2009, the school attracted controversy after it revoked its recognition of a Democratic club, because “[t]he Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine.” The school condemned the party for supporting abortion rights, “same-sex marriage, hate crimes, LGBT rights, and socialism.”

To that end, Liberty is heavily invested in the anti-gay and ex-gay movement. The school withdrew from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2010 to protest the inclusion of a gay rights group and hosted a one-day symposium to address the consequences of being gay. The event offered sessions on “[u]nderstanding Same-sex Attractions and Their Consequences” and “Homosexual Rights and First Amendment Freedoms: Can They Truly Coexist?” Liberty University law professors Matt Barber and Judith Reisman have also linked gay and lesbian rights to “the pedophile movement,” while the school’s affiliates describe marriage equality as a “rebellion against God” and claim that gay people are more likely to commit suicide because they know “what they are doing is unnatural, is wrong, [and] is immoral.”

Significantly, this isn’t the first time Romney has embraced conservative Christian Evangelicals in an effort to endear himself to Republican voters. In 2007, he addressed Regent University, the school founded by televangelist Pat Robertson.

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Exposing the Christian Right’s New Racial Playbook

A diversity summit at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University reveals that the religious right’s survival depends on the black and the brown.
April 28, 2010 |
NOTE: A reel of video highlights of the Freedom Federation Summit, filmed and compiled by Sarah Posner, appears at the end of this article.

“When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line. The true Negro does not want integration.” That was the assertion made by a young Rev. Jerry Falwell in a sermon he preached at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1958, four years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. But at a gathering of the religious right earlier this month at the late preacher’s Lynchburg compound, integration was not only the topic of the day, but touted as the future of the conservative Christian movement.

Convened by the Freedom Federation earlier this month, the diversity summit, dubbed “The Awakening,” took place in the sanctuary of church that Falwell founded, and on the campus of his Liberty University. Sold as a gathering of “multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational faith-based and policy organizations and leaders committed to plan, strategize, and mobilize to advance shared core values to preserve freedom and promote justice,” this “awakening” coincides with renewed efforts by the Republican Party to recruit African-American and Latino candidates for elected office. This year, 37 African Americans are running for seats in the U.S. House and Senate, according to the Associated Press.

The outreach to nonwhite evangelicals, spurred by Karl Rove’s strategy during the 2004 election and embraced by James Dobson during the same period, has been years in the making. As religious right leaders read the demographic writing on the wall, they are striving to broaden their movement’s base — and to create an environment appealing to the millennial generation of white evangelicals, who are far more accepting of LGBT people and their rights than the generation that came before them, but who remain steadfastly opposed to abortion. Once dismissed for their lack of orthodoxy, fast-growing charismatic and Pentacostal churches, where ecstatic forms of religious expression are displayed, are now regarded as fertile ground for growing the religious right. These churches have large numbers of Latinos and African-American members, often even when the pastor is white.

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