Former President Jimmy Carter will be Liberty’s University’s commencement speaker this year, his first visit to the Christian college after a history of feuding with its founder.
“I am pleased to speak at Liberty University’s commencement,” Carter said in a news release. “I look forward to reaching out to this young generation of future leaders. I hope to inspire them as so many have inspired me throughout my life.”
The former Democrat will be the third president to speak at the conservative Christian university’s graduation ceremony. Former President George H. W. Bush addressed the 1990 graduating class and President Donald Trump spoke at last year’s graduation.
“It is one of the greatest honors of my life to welcome President Carter to our commencement stage,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said in the news release. “I have tremendous respect for him as a statesman and a true Christian.”
“While Christians may disagree about what role government should play in serving those in need, the Liberty University community along with all Christians worldwide are united in the belief that we, as individuals, should provide food and shelter to the poor,” Falwell Jr. continued. “President Carter, both during his time in office and since, has followed the teachings of Christ by serving the poor and loving his neighbors. I am thrilled that he will be sharing the story of his life of faith in action to our graduates and their families.”
Falwell Jr. shared in his statement that he first met Carter at Trump’s private inauguration prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, last year.
“(Carter) stopped me afterward and told me he thought I did a good job,” Falwell Jr. said in statement in January 2017. “He said he saw my name on the program before I spoke, and he thought it was great that I’d be here to read scripture. He was very kind.”
In 1980, Carter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan, who had the support of Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the famed television evangelist and the university’s founder.
After the 1980 election, Falwell criticized Carter for giving an interview to Playboy magazine when he was a presidential candidate.
A few years later, Carter, a Baptist, said he felt Falwell was questioning his faith, accusing the reverend of questioning whether a Christian could have initiated the Salt II and Panama Canal treaties.
“There is nothing any television evangelist can do to shake my faith,” Carter said at the time, United Press International reported at the time. “Jerry Falwell can — in a very Christian way — as far as I’m concerned, he can go to hell.”
Falwell responded in a statement, “I have too much respect for President Carter as our former head of state and brother in Christ to believe he would tell anyone to go to hell,” UPI reported.
Falwell’s spokesperson told UPI that he could not recall Falwell making the comments Carter referred to.