Jeb Bush at Liberty U: Christianity a ‘Liberating Influence’ on Earth

Bush to speak at the world's largest Christian university on Saturday.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a Long Island Association luncheon with LIA President and CEO Kevin S. Law at the Crest Hollow Country Club on February 24, 2014 in Woodbury, New York.

Photographer: Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Probable Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Saturday will refer to a well-known Gospel verse as a "subversive moral idea" during a commencement speech at Liberty University, defending the Christian faith as a powerful force for human progress and connecting his religion to the themes of his burgeoning campaign.

While Bush will take on some of President Obama's policies in the address, much of it will focus on faith, an important topic for an all-but-declared candidate who needs to find some common ground with his party's powerful evangelical wing.

"As for the suggestion that Christianity is a static faith, that sure isn’t how it reads in the original," Bush will say, according to excerpts of the speech that his aides released on Friday. "I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than ‘the last shall be first, and the first last."'

He not-so-subtly links religious values to his campaign, funded by a super PAC called Right to Rise.

"In works hardly even noticed by the popular culture, so many young Christians today are showing the way—moved not by pity for what is, but by a vision of what can be," Bush will say, according to excerpts from the speech. "For all who would serve the poor and homeless, you set the standard with your belief that everyone matters, and everyone has the right to rise."

Bush will also take aim at the Obama administration, saying it backs a "coercive" use of federal power.

"What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it," Bush will say. "Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith.  Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience. And in a free society, the answer is, 'No.'"

Bush will deliver the commencement speech at the private college in Lynchburg, Va., which claims to be the world's largest Christian university. Senator Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign there earlier this year; at last year's commencement, the speaker was another potential 2016 contender, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. While Bush is speaking to Liberty graduates,  other contenders in his party are at the Republican Freedom Summit in South Carolina. 

"It's a wise move for Jeb," Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an interview. "Liberty University is a huge constituency. It's a massive audience, and will have ripple effects."

Here's the rest of the speech excerpts, as provided by Bush's team: 

“Today, by the thousands, Liberty is sending forth across America civilized, confident, true-hearted men and women – which happens to be just what America needs.”

“This doesn’t always come as a welcome reminder in some quarters, but it is true all the same:  Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.”

“[I]t’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow, and outdated.  We can take this as unfair criticism, as it typically is, or we can take it as further challenge to show in our lives the most dynamic, inclusive, and joyful message that ever came into the world.”

“As for the suggestion that Christianity is a static faith, that sure isn’t how it reads in the original.  Offhand, I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than ‘the last shall be first, and the first last.’”

“No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again.  And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it.  Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

“Every day in the life of this nation, uncounted people are comforting the lonely, aiding the ill and discouraged, serving the weak and innocent, giving hope to the prisoner, and in every way they know, loving mercy and living with integrity.  And all of that doesn’t happen by chance either, or because anyone has ordered it, or because there’s a federal program for it.  The endless work of Christian charity in America is what free people do when they have good news to share.  It’s how free people live when they have a living faith.”

“In works hardly even noticed by the popular culture, so many young Christians today are showing the way – moved not by pity for what is, but by a vision of what can be.  For all who would serve the poor and homeless, you set the standard with your belief that everyone matters, and everyone has the right to rise.“

“[S]ome moral standards are universal.  They do not bend under the weight of cultural differences or elite opinion.  Wherever there is a child waiting to be born, we say choose life, and we say it with love.  Wherever women and girls in other countries are brutally exploited, or treated as possessions without rights and dignity, we Christians see that arrogance for what it is.  Wherever Jews are subjected to the oldest bigotry, we reject that sin against our brothers and sisters, and we defend them.”

[A]s usual the present administration is supporting the use of coercive federal power. What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it.  Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith.  Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience – and in a free society, the answer is No.”

“It strikes me that most of the criticism directed at believers in our day is drawn from hostile caricature.  That’s just the easy way of avoiding honest discussion.  It is a posture that only deepens distrust, instead of inviting understanding.  So often we hear language that divides us, when what we need is the language of good will.”

“As for you graduates, getting on with life is the theme of this day.   And if your future prospects have anything to do with the sheer number of people wishing you well here this morning, then you couldn’t ask for a better send-off.”

“May all the work you have finished here mark just one milestone in a long, purposeful, and happy journey.  At each new turn, may you find God’s loving-kindness before your eyes, and may you always be His instrument.  And from this place, to wherever you are bound, in the words of Isaiah, may you ‘go out with joy and be led forth with peace.’”

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