Last weekend, I drove down to Virginia. My baby sister was graduating (or, walking. She finished her degree last December and is now a Registered Nurse. Woohoo!) from Liberty University in Lynchburg. That's right. Falwell's school. Or, as the student's apparently call him "Jerry."

Before I talk about the weekend's events, I have to brag on the girl. The BSN my sister just earned from this school is one of the hardest you can get through. Their students usually have a 98% rate for passing boards, and judging from the middle-of-the-night calls I'd field it was no picnic getting through. Not to mention she did the whole thing in two and a half years (not four) while training horses on the side. Oh, and all the while a few of the faculty who didn't like her dabbling in four-legged pursuits were trying to get her kicked out. Lots of drama for another story. But my little tow-headed sister blazed past them all and is free with a near-perfect GPA! (Near-perfect, because her Bible professor only allowed credit for service at his church. What is wrong with these people?!?) I sure couldn't have done it.

The whole weekend was a study in fundamentalist politics. Falwell is famous for his ... ahem ... vocal authority on what God thinks and how God feels. The baccalaureate service held the evening before graduation turned out to be a fundamentalist political rally. The speaker, who worked for the Reagan administration, gave a regular stump speech, pausing at the end of every sentence for rousing cheers and applause. It took every ounce of self-control I could muster not to storm out of the sanctuary. God's house indeed. I will hold myself to a single example, since this is already turning out long. He talked about the evils of abortion in America - no surprise there. And went on to shout about how the Republican party was going to "set place at the table" for the millions impoverished children that would be born if Roe vs. Wade were repealed.

Whose table would that be, Sir?

I was stunned when my sister leaned over and told me that John McCain was going to give the commencement address the next day. Her friend Jared shook his head in disgust. My dad intoned that McCain is a Rhino. My blank look caused him to explain ... between wild applause about a secular government's right and duty to define marriage in Christian terms ... Republican In Name Only. Wagging heads all around.

Now, I don't know much about politics or politicians. Every time I learn something new about the government I was born under, I go into fits of hysteria or depression: both states I try to avoid residing in. Growing up far away from the media and milieu has a lot to do with my blissful ignorance. The first time I heard John McCain interviewed on NPR, I thought I was listening to a democrat. So why on earth would a fundie school give him a platform? Especially after the choice words the two men publicly exchanged last year, including McCain's assertion that these "agents of intolerance" are "corrupting influences" in American politics, and accusing Falwell (and Robertson) of "the evil influence that they exercise over the Republican Party."

Wait!! He retracted? Falwell is throwing him a dinner? A presidential bid, anyone?

I have never been to a political event (well, a smattering of protests.) I am not one for stump speeches and rallies. I turn off the radio when anyone in Washington starts talking, and skim the transcripts later if I must. I’ll admit I was a little bit excited to see a real live politician give a speech during a cease-fire of sorts (although I think there were just a handful of people in the standing-room-only stadium who weren't fuming about it – protesters and all.)

On the whole, I was sorely disappointed. McCain’s speech was carefully crafted (and is being delivered to an equally pissed-off audience at Columbia this weekend.) He came off as a puppet – uncomfortable, parroting through his teleprompter with strange pauses and oddly placed sincerity. (As a side note, how sad that after spending five years as a POW – two in solitary – McCain is forced to turn it into a neat-cornered parable for dubious political ends by his speech writers.) Of course, if I had just been handed an honorary doctorate by a recent nemesis, I would have been a little stiff as well. Not only did Liberty pass out honorary doctorates like candy last weekend, but giving McCain one seconds before his speech (did he see it coming?) seems to take that “heaping coals” edict a little too far. Insidious, I think, was the word I used later.

The message was relevant and timely: that disagreement and dissent in American politics are needed, and that it is the responsibility of true patriots to maintain open dialogue about their differences with one another. I have a feeling it fell (and will fall again) on deaf ears. Those who live in the far reaches of their side of the political battle lines have selective hearing when being asked to listen.

I feel bad for the Liberty and Columbia kids who are graduating this weekend. Instead of sitting through speeches that encourage them, and that address issues they care about at barely-adults who have barely a lick of real-world experience yet, they are being subjected to political rallying by superiors who are supposed to have their best interests at heart. But I guess ultimately, it's as good a platform as any. McCain and Falwell got the buzz they wanted. And the students mostly slept through it anyway. I sat through my commencement speech four years ago, and I can't remember a word that was said.

Web Extras:
Jon Stewart Grills McCain on speaking at Liberty
Test your Knowledge of Fundamentalist Rhetoric of All Kilts


beholdhowfree said...

You don't remember our graduation speech? It was John Piper, and he spoke about the Church's response to 9/11. he said we failed miserably at being sensitive to Muslims and we took the chance as Christians to say "i told you so." I also remember that we shared the stage in a Bacclaureate service - you prayed and I sang.

maria said...

I remember it was Piper, I just don't remember what he said. And I DO remember the Bacclaureate service ... with you!! I think I still have the prayer I wrote on my computer. :)