Letter Explains Mitt Romney for Commencement Speaker at Liberty University

Mitt Romney at Liberty University

Every since Liberty University announced that Mitt Romney was going to be the Commencement Speaker (see also the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the CBS News, and even the POLITICO) for this year’s graduation class [some] people have been in an uproar (so says the Daily Kos anyway, the people I know had no problem with it at all). Most of the uproar comes in the form of the fact that Romney is a Mormon, and doesn’t align with Liberty’s theological vision, which is correct, he is, and he doesn’t.

Yesterday, the Office of the Chancellor, or Jerry Falwell, Jr. addressed concerns with the statements below. I guess at some level an explanation was needed, but the one presented below is a great example why this is no different than any other speaker Liberty has had in the past. I for one am glad that they have such a wide variety of speakers at Liberty. I’m sure there are those who can shred the theological explanation below, but it’s good enough for me, and it goes beyond just the criticism of having a Mormon speak at graduation, the letter explains why Liberty’s mission statement, to train Champions for Christ, includes welcoming Mitt Romney, regardless of his faith or politics.

Dear Students,

My office has received hundreds of messages from students and 2012 graduates who are thrilled and honored that the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States will be our Commencement speaker. Some graduates have also inquired about Liberty’s policies regarding the doctrinal beliefs of graduation speakers. These same questions seem to surface every spring and I am writing you in response to those inquiries.

First of all, it is important to remember that Liberty actually has two Commencement speakers each year. Long ago, most universities ceased their practice of including a Baccalaureate service during their Commencement weekend, but we have insisted on keeping this service as a demonstration of our Christian commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

This year our Baccalaureate speaker is Luis Palau. Dr. Palau is an evangelist who has preached the Gospel to a billion people. Palau is often considered second only to Billy Graham in his influence for the Gospel, and, as is our tradition, he will be clearly delivering the Gospel at Baccalaureate.

For twenty-five years Liberty has traditionally had leaders from the worlds of politics, business, and entertainment speak during the Commencement ceremony on Saturday. Most of these leaders have not traditionally shared Liberty’s doctrinal convictions. In the last few years, our Commencement speakers have included an evangelical filmmaker (Randall Wallace), a Mormon commentator (Glenn Beck), a Jewish economist (Ben Stein), an evangelical actor and athlete (Chuck Norris), an evangelical – now Catholic – politician (Newt Gingrich), a Catholic commentator (Sean Hannity), a Southern Baptist senator (John McCain), and an Episcopalian chief of staff to President Bush (Karl Rove). In all, at least 20 of Liberty’s 38 Commencement speakers have fit in this category.

My father’s vision for Liberty University was both a theological and a cultural vision. Theologically, it was to found the world’s preeminent Christian university where every faculty member professed faith in Jesus Christ, agreed with our doctrinal statement, and sought to fulfill the Great Commission and live the Great Commandment. Culturally, it was to found a university that held in high regard our nation’s founding principles of limited government, the free enterprise system, and individual liberty. Liberty’s tradition has been to focus on the first part of this vision during the Friday night ceremony and the second part on Saturday morning.

Liberty’s commitment to an annual Baccalaureate service has ensured that we have never held a Commencement that did not include a strong gospel message from an evangelical leader.

I am sure that members of the Liberty University community will treat Gov. Romney with the respect he deserves, regardless of whether they agree with his religious or political beliefs.

When my father traveled the nation speaking at many secular universities, he was often met with boos and hisses by those who held different theological beliefs than he. I am so proud that Liberty students have gained a reputation for treating those whose beliefs are different than their own in a Christ-like manner. You have shown respect to speakers as divergent from Liberty’s worldview as Ted Kennedy, Bob Beckel, and Tim Kaine.

Gov. Romney is a man who has excelled in business, governed a state, and even managed the Olympic games. He has been faithfully married to his wife, Ann, for 43 years, and they have 5 sons and 16 grandchildren. Gov. Romney is a leader of global significance, who might eventually be the leader of the free world, and we are honored that he accepted our invitation.

An invitation to speak at Commencement is not an ad-hoc endorsement of a presidential candidate or even of that particular speaker’s religious or political views. The ultimate purpose of having a prominent Commencement speaker is not to promote the speaker or his views but rather to inspire and challenge the graduates and showcase Liberty and its mission.

My prayer is that having the presumptive Republican nominee as our speaker will cause many who have never heard of Liberty to take notice of what Liberty is doing to train a generation of Champions for Christ. Perhaps, many of them will consider a Christian education over the secular alternative.


Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Chancellor and President

That explanation won’t cut it for some, but for many, no explanation would suffice at all.

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Last night was the grand finale of sorts for Encounter with Grace Campus Ministries.  There is one more left but they had everyone come last night to what turned out to be an incredible night of music, worship, and reflecting.  Brett Younker joined the band last night to lead a few songs with Daniel Bashta (who just got back from China two days ago) and the two together were great.  Brett led worship last year and for several years prior to this year and many people told me how great it was to see him back in Auburn.

Here are a few of my favorites shots of Brett from last night.

Brett Younker at Encounter

Brett Younker at Encounter

Brett Younker at Encounter

Brett Younker at Encounter

Monday Version of Encounter Tonight if You are in Auburn

Just a reminder that Encounter is tonight, Monday night. If you are an Auburn student or just someone in the Auburn area who would like to see what Encounter has been all about this semester just come by the Auburn Student Activities center around 8pm tonight.  Since Encounter announced they are moving the ministry to Hong Kong next year (Yes. It is true.), there are only a few more times to see this ministry at work and to enjoy the worship.

Below are two shots I took last week.

Encounter at Auburn University

Encounter at Auburn University

Encounter Performs Live in Auburn Student Activities Center

Encounter Live with Grace Campus Ministries at Auburn

This past Thursday I was privileged to be able do a photo shoot of the Encounter worship band performing live at the new Auburn University Student Activities Center on the Auburn University campus.  Once again, this week was a fantastic time of music and worship.  If you are a student at Auburn University and just enjoy hearing a great live band perform, I encourage you to check these guys out, they will not disappoint.  It’s free and you don’t have to do anything but listen to some great music.    You can check with Grace Campus Ministries for dates and times for the next live event (usually on Thursday nights at 8:30pm in the new student act center).

I had a hard time picking 3-4 images of Thursday to post here, so I have 6 here for you.  The entire gallery has about 100 images from Thursday night so if you want to see a little more of the band, some of the students, and the evening in general, just check out the Encounter at Auburn Sep 2008 gallery for the full shoot.  To see all the gallery images at once without having to click on each image, just click on the slideshow in the upper right corner.

I have really enjoyed getting to know the band members over the past few weeks, they really have a heart for the Lord and are about as genuine as it gets.  They play with passion and emotion because they believe in what they sing.  Talking with Daniel Bashta (the worship leader) after the concert he told me why bother doing anything if it can’t be done with passion, and that is how they play. Again, if you are an Auburn student I would really encourage you to visit the student act center one week while they are playing.  With 1,000 fellow students there, you are bound to meet someone you know.

Encounter Performs with Grace Campus Ministries at Auburn

Encounter Performs with Grace Campus Ministries at Auburn

Encounter Performs with Grace Campus Ministries at Auburn

Daniel, Worship Leader for Encounter

Encounter Live with Grace Campus Ministries at Auburn

The image just above is Daniel the worship leader for Encounter.  The entire band can be seen in the first two images and several more of that particular shoot in the gallery.  If you were at Encounter on Thursday I would love to hear your comments below about experiences you had that night.  All of the photos and lights and the music, are all for the glory of the Lord, but without the students, there wouldn’t be anything going on in the student act center at all, so I hope all those who did come had a meaningful experience last Thursday.

Encounter at Auburn University on Thursday's

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One of the things I love about college students is the electricity, energy, and excitement they bring with them. Their excitement for worship is not something I experienced in college, but it is contagious, and breeds its own energy.

The story of course is not about the band (which really rocks the house), or the leadership staff at Grace, or the lights, but the students. Being able to share the Gospel with them, minister to them in their specific environment and circumstances, and offer them a place of comfort with the Lord is something special.