On Monday, Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world, announced that Tomi Lahren, Ray Rice, and Corey Lewandowski will speak at their Convocation next week.
The invites are not without controversy, with some calling on the university to rescind its invitations to Lahren and Rice.
However, I think that hosting speakers that disagree with their Evangelical Christian worldview, Liberty exposes its students to a vast range of ideas that go outside of the echo-chamber found in most mainstream colleges today.
“We believe ‘how you think’ is just as vital as ‘what you think,’” Liberty’s website says. “A fundamental part of the college experience is being exposed to a variety of viewpoints so that students can better understand why they hold their own beliefs and be better prepared to defend them.”
Lahren, a current Fox News contributor, has faced criticism in conservative circles for her flip-flop views on abortion. She will speak on December 4.
Rice is a former NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens, who was suspended and later fired by the team after a video surfaced of him punching his then-fiancé in the face.
Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for then-candidate Donald Trump, will also be speaking that week. Lewandowski was replaced by Paul Manafort after he allegedly committed a battery against Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields.
While some students are outspoken in their opposition to the invites, many others are excited to hear from the controversial figures.
“I know Ray Rice is not a common or popular choice but the fact that Liberty invited him is a great thing. I think that in order for students to really have a wide array of view points and experiences we need to hear from all sides on every issue. It can be a powerful opportunity to teach us about forgiveness and the gospel,” Michael Cyrus, a current student, told The News & Advance.
David Nasser, Liberty’s Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development agrees. Nasser says Rice is repentant and his story will show the healing the Gospel can bring to a believer’s life and marriage. Rice will appear with Janay Palmer, who is now his wife.
“He wants to talk about how the Gospel affords him a chance to redeem his life. Certainly the consequences are still there, he’s not playing in the NFL anytime soon — or ever — but that doesn’t mean that God can’t restore a life or a marriage,” Nasser said.
As for Lahren, Liberty is no stranger to hosting pro-choice speakers. Former presidential candidates and pro-choicers Bernie Sanders and Gary Johnson spoke at Convocation in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Both men were asked about their pro-choice stance by Nasser, with the latter making it abundantly clear that Liberty proudly stands for life.
He then discussed how he tried eliminating funding from Medicaid to abortion as Governor of New Mexico, saying “The supreme court overruled me in that decision but that was the recognition that so many people abhor the notion of government funds being used for abortions.”
Nasser then reminded Johnson that the issue of life is an important one to most of the students at the university. “You see sir, for us how a woman's right to choose also includes a baby's right to choose life,” he said. His comment was immediately followed by cheers from the audience.
I was in attendance at both Convocations, where Liberty students listened to both speakers respectfully. Liberty students gained national attention for behavior which stands in stark contrast to students at many colleges in America who cannot fathom the idea of listening to someone they might disagree with.
Liberty’s convocation is held three times a week, and is “the largest weekly gathering of college students in the world.”
Liberty University is a school often commented on by media pundits and politicians, with President Jerry Falwell Jr. himself earning the ire of two time failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after he encouraged students to conceal carry.
Liberty University has always been controversial, and that’s okay. As an alumni of the university and current student at Liberty University School of Law, I have always taken pride in my school’s willingness to stand up for what is right. It’s not perfect, and I have no problem offering my criticism when necessary. However, this is not the time for it.
I do not believe hosting Rice, Lahren, or anyone else for that matter compromises Liberty’s commitment to its core motto: training champions for Christ. Liberty has always made it clear that hosting speakers they disagree with in no way equals an endorsement. These individuals will be asked to defend their differing beliefs, and it will be abundantly clear to students, faculty, and staff if they are unable to do so.
I for one hope that Lahren, Rice, Lewandowski, or any other individual that steps foot on campus sees the power of God there that has always left me in awe.