Last month we celebrated the hard work of 17,840 graduates — the largest graduating class in Liberty’s history — at our 41st Commencement. More than 34,000 joined us for this special weekend. I am always amazed by this show of support from families and friends who have trusted us to care for their loved ones. We understand that it is no small responsibility to train students to not only know how to make a living, but also how to live.
When I addressed our graduates, I congratulated them on their success but I also offered words of encouragement as they enter a world that is growing more hostile to their Christian beliefs. Many of them are going into careers where they will face attacks on religious liberty head-on. Below are portions of my speeches during Commencement and our historic Baccalaureate service, as I believe these messages can apply to all of us who face challenges to our faith and freedom no matter where we live.
I applaud the Class of 2014 as they join more than 200,000 Liberty alumni faithfully serving as Champions for Christ throughout the world.
In recent years, Liberty has encountered growth on an unprecedented scale. God has blessed Liberty in ways that nobody dreamed possible, allowing the university to literally rebuild the campus. We are replacing all the temporary buildings that were erected in the 1970s with state-of-the-art academic and athletic facilities and adding hundreds of new programs of study, including a cinematic arts center and a medical school. Some were concerned that these blessings and prosperity would cause complacency and would result in our students losing some of their fervor for serving Christ and others. I am proud to report tonight that, if anything, Liberty students are even more committed to the Christian ideals that have defined them for decades. I spoke with hundreds of graduates at the senior picnic last weekend and it was evident to me that they remain committed to a life of loving God with all their hearts and loving their neighbors as themselves.
Tonight’s occasion — the baccalaureate service — is a Christian tradition that is as old as the university tradition in America itself. In fact, it’s even older than America.
The early founders of America’s universities left behind many of the traditions of European higher education, yet they kept this one intact and treated it with a certain solemnity.
The baccalaureate service is believed to have begun in the early 15th century at Oxford University, and involved every male graduate delivering a sermon in Latin. The baccalaureate service eventually came to be treated more like an official worship service where the university community gathered prior to Commencement to give God the glory for their great achievement.
Yet, as the American academy became increasingly secularized, baccalaureate services were de-emphasized, and today — if they exist at all — they are considered unofficial services often endorsed only by a student club, sometimes not even allowed to meet on campus, and almost never endorsed by the university itself.
The sad fact is that God has been steadily uninvited to Commencement at most universities in America.
At Liberty University, God is the guest of honor.
The American education system, founded in so many respects upon our faith, is the envy of the entire world.
America’s founders would not believe — nor would they accept — the alienation of faith from the academy. Quite to the contrary, they wrote Christianity into the founding creeds of America’s first universities. They carved Bible verses in the stone facades of buildings and erected monuments to pastors and missionaries.
You might say that at Liberty University we actually believe in the mission statements that made America’s first and most famous universities what they once were.
Actually, and ironically, six of America’s Ivy League universities have kept their religious mottos.
This includes Brown University, whose motto is “In God we hope.” Princeton’s official motto remains “Under God’s power she flourishes” and Yale’s is still “Light and Truth.” The seal of Columbia University has Psalm 36:9 inscribed in Latin, which reads: “In Thy light we shall see light.”
These days higher education has itself become a spiritual wilderness, and Liberty — now the fifth largest four-year college in America — is a voice so loud that it can be heard from one corner of that wilderness to the next.
That voice declares that we believe in God. This university is His university, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
(To the Class of 2014): We are so proud of you and so thankful to God for your achievement. It has truly been our privilege to serve you and to be a part of your lives. You have sacrificed and labored for years to make this day a reality; you have earned this great honor, and we are here to salute you today. Congratulations!
I have watched with pride as you welcomed some of the best-known and most influential leaders of our world today to Convocation. We’ve had everybody from Willie Robertson to Sarah Palin to even the mother of Justin Bieber here this year. …
Each of these speakers left here as lifelong fans and supporters of Liberty University because of the impression you made on them. You even changed for the better how some of them view Christianity.
I have to stop here to congratulate you on that because the warm reception that this diverse group of speakers received here at Liberty this year and in past years is in stark contrast to the reception that speakers often receive at major secular universities — universities that constantly pat themselves on the back for their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.
Just last week, former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice cancelled her scheduled Commencement speech at Rutgers University because of loud and organized protests from students and faculty who did not like the fact that Dr. Rice’s political views were different and more conservative than their own.
USA Today reported this week that HGTV had announced a new series, “Flip It Forward” planned for October, starring twins and LU graduates David and Jason Benham. The show was already in production and was being filmed when suddenly this week, quietly, in a tweet, HGTV said the show will not be happening.
USA Today reported that it appears HGTV was alerted by an anti-Christian and anti-conservative watchdog group that David Benham had protested against the homosexual political agenda at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and had protested against abortion in the past.
When I learned of this just two days ago, Becki suggested that I invite the Benham brothers to be my personal guests at Commencement this morning. To my surprise, they were able to make it. They are here, sitting on the front row.
David Benham said this week:
“The first and last thought on our minds as we begin and end each day is: Have we shined Christ’s light today? As Christians we are called to love our fellow man. Anyone who suggests that we hate homosexuals or people of other faiths is either misinformed or lying. Over the last decade, we’ve sold thousands of homes with the guiding principle of producing value and breathing life into each family that has crossed our paths, and we do not, nor will we ever, discriminate against people who do not share our views.”
Jason Benham added to that:
“We were saddened to hear HGTV’s decision. With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show, then so be it.”
David and Jason, it is sad that the groups targeting you are using McCarthy-era tactics in an attempt to punish you for your opinions. Your values are American values, and if everyone in the world turns against you, you can rest assured that your alma mater will always have your back. I would like to invite the more than 30,000 people in this stadium to join me in applauding you to demonstrate our support for you and our admiration for the stand you’ve taken.
I tweeted this morning with the hashtag #flipthisdecision and you can find it on @LibertyU or my twitter account @JerryJrFalwell. Please retweet it and let’s get the message out to HGTV that it’s not acceptable to punish people for their opinions and their beliefs. It’s just not American.
This year’s Commencement speaker at the University of California at Berkeley is Nancy Pelosi. I heard the mother of a conservative graduate at UC-Berkeley interviewed by Rush Limbaugh this week. She said that she and her husband don’t share Ms. Pelosi’s beliefs but they are planning no protests and intend to be respectful at the ceremony.
Isn’t it amazing how the people in our country who claim to be open-minded and committed to tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness are the most bigoted and close-minded to opposing views, especially conservative Christian views?
While Liberty is a Christian university and all of our faculty are Christians committed to our doctrinal statement, we have always invited prominent speakers from all religious and political persuasions and from all walks of life to speak in Convocation and even at Commencement. We believe that you, our graduates, will be better equipped to defend your faith and your values because you have heard firsthand from leaders who have different theological and political beliefs.
I believe that one reason our Liberty community and conservative Christians in general are more respectful and more willing to listen to those who have different viewpoints is because they are confident in what they believe. You see, if you fervently believe something and have confidence in your faith and in your worldview, you don’t feel threatened by contrary opinions. On the other hand, if you are insecure in your beliefs or you don’t really believe what you claim to believe, you are more likely to fear the expression of opposing views. I believe that is why the protestors at Rutgers were so afraid of Condoleeza Rice speaking at their school and why the liberal watchdog group feared the Benham brothers having their own TV show.
You, the Class of 2014, are entering a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to your Christian values. I urge you, like the Benham brothers, to never compromise your faith or your values, regardless of the price you have to pay.
From our university’s inception we have taken our faith and our patriotism seriously. Our name, “Liberty,” has both theological and patriotic implications. Each graduation year, our Baccalaureate service emphasizes our faith, and this Commencement service emphasizes our patriotism.
During this Commencement ceremony we have always reminded you that it’s far better and far easier to love God and to love others in a world that’s free.
We have reminded you that success and prosperity are worthy ambitions, and that the free market is not an enemy of generosity but a reason for it. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Doing well is the result of doing good.”
In the parable of the talents, Jesus scolded the servant who didn’t take risk in the marketplace and generate a return on his investment, calling him “wicked and lazy.” Jesus taught us that it is not good to not do well.
At Liberty we have prepared you for both: to do good and to do well.
In America, it was our Judeo-Christian foundation that gave us the free market and that made us the most prosperous and generous nation in the history of the world.
We believe in work and worship, in prayer and prosperity, in generosity and responsibility.
I like what William Penn, the devout Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania, said about the marriage of faith and the free market. Penn said, “I desire to extend religious freedom, yet I want some recompense for my troubles.”
This degree you’ll soon receive today is an investment in your future, and as Jesus said, “To whom much has been given, much shall be required.”
It’s not getting your degree that’s most important … it’s what you’ll do with it that matters.
As colleges across the country welcomed business leaders, politicians, and other people of influence to speak at Commencements, similar thoughts began to resound from the podiums. While President Falwell spoke on the silencing of conservative views in this nation and how institutions of higher learning should be the arenas where diverse views can challenge minds, a surprisingly similar speech was given by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at Harvard University’s Commencement a few weeks later. Falwell, using the example of Liberty alumni David and Jason Benham who had their TV show pulled because of their conservative views, said the groups targeting them are using “McCarthy-era tactics in an attempt to punish (their) views.” Bloomberg told Harvard graduates: “There is an idea floating around college campuses — including here at Harvard — that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.” Both Falwell and Bloomberg mentioned other major universities that either rescinded their invitations to Commencement speakers or had speakers withdraw this year because of political pressure. “In each case, liberals silenced a voice — and denied an honorary degree — to individuals they deemed politically objectionable,” Bloomberg said. “That is an outrage and we must not let it continue. If a university thinks twice before inviting a Commencement speaker because of his or her politics, censorship and conformity — the mortal enemies of freedom — win out. Isn’t the purpose of a university to stir discussion, not silence it? What were the students afraid of hearing? Why did administrators not step in to prevent the mob from silencing speech? And did anyone consider that it is morally and pedagogically wrong to deprive other students the chance to hear the speech?” At Liberty’s Commencement, Falwell praised Liberty’s student body for giving a warm welcome to diverse speakers invited to campus this year for its Convocation series. Speakers ranged from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and Pattie Mallette (mother of Justin Bieber) to television and radio host Glenn Beck. The students’ response, Falwell said, “is in stark contrast to the reception that speakers often receive at major secular universities — universities that constantly pat themselves on the back for their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.” Bloomberg’s speech can be viewed on Harvard University’s YouTube Channel.