An Indiana Wesleyan University Insider On Mike Pence’s Recent Commencement Address

Pence at IWU

About ten minutes ago I posted a link to a video of Mike Pence’s 2016 commencement address at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU).  Earlier today I got some more context about Pence’s visit from an IWU insider.

Mike Pence was the commencement speaker here at Indiana Wesleyan University last spring.  It was a pretty standard commencement address with some religious fare tacked on the end for the evangelical audience.  But the surprising thing about Pence’s appearance to me was how much of a ruckus it stirred among the students.  There was a sizeable contingent who were deeply troubled by the university extending an invitation to Pence.  The reasons students cited fell into three major lines of complaints, each of which the students rooted in their faith: 1) Pence’s signature on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was seen by students as discriminatory, unloving, and un-Christlike.  2) Pence’s refusal to allow Syrian refugees into Indiana was seen by students as a horrible Christian witness and counter to the biblical mandate of welcoming the stranger; 3) Pence’s passage of legislation that redistributed funding for public schools meant to lower-income communities like we have here in Marion saw sharp cuts in school budgets. Students saw this as anything but caring for the least of these. (Our county in Indiana already has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the state, so diminished public funding for the schools didn’t go over well).

University administrators were bracing for a protest during the commencement address. They actually warned the faculty that they had heard rumors that some students were planning and reminded us that CSPAN was going to be filming so we should stay calm if anything occurred.  In the end, the students were very respectful.  Because of all the drama in the run-up to the commencement there were some who wanted to make sure they showed support for Pence and gave his address an immediate standing ovation.  I’d estimate that about a quarter of the students did not stand up.

What does any of this say about evangelicals support for Trump now that he’s picked Pence as a running mate?  I have no idea.  But I thought it was interesting that even within this evangelical university there are a sizable group of students who don’t agree with Pence’s politics on religious grounds. For what it’s worth.

5 thoughts on “An Indiana Wesleyan University Insider On Mike Pence’s Recent Commencement Address

  1. From the bill Pence signed: “A person [defined very broadly] whose exercise of religion [also defined broadly] has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” This was about LGBT people, who are not fully covered by federal anti-discrimination legislation (which states, per the 14th Amendment, can’t violate, theoretically.) Other RFRAs apply only to actions by governmental entities, but this one applied to all persons. In other words, no one can legally impinge on your religious exercise. So, a person could cite their religious beliefs as a legal justification for, say, denying service to people–on the basis of what most people under 30, including a significant percentage of evangelicals, understand to be a morally neutral marker of identity–if they claimed that to perform said service burdened their religious exercise, which “includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”

    You really can’t see why certain Christians, who worship someone who served “the least of these” and dined with sinners, would find support of such a law to be “un-Christlike”? I’m not saying I agree or disagree with them, or share their suppositions; I’m just saying their position hardly seems unfathomable.

    Like

  2. 2. Hold your nose and vote for Trump because if you don’t, Hillary will be president and evangelicals will lose the Supreme Court. Most of these evangelicals backed another candidate during the primaries.

    Yah, 2.

    I still haven’t heard enough about and from the 1s. And as you note, they weren’t in the majority, and I suspect many/most of those who were early 1s were making a strategic decision, that only a brute like Trump could cut the Gordian Knot of creeping [left/Democrat/Obama] anti-religiosity.

    [Frankly, otherwise I’m mystified that a Jerry Falwell, Jr. could be an early Trump adopter except for thinking he was the one who could win.]

    Like

  3. Lexi: I think American evangelicals are pretty divided over what to do with the Trump-Pence ticket. I have seen several responses:

    1. Vote for Trump because he will “Make America Great Again” and you largely agree with his ideas. These evangelicals backed Trump in the GOP primaries.
    2. Hold your nose and vote for Trump because if you don’t, Hillary will be president and evangelicals will lose the Supreme Court. Most of these evangelicals backed another candidate during the primaries.
    3. Vote for a third-party candidate–Libertarian, Green, or another candidate.
    4. Don’t vote in the presidential election. Exercise your right to vote by casting votes in non-presidential races.
    5. Vote for Hillary Clinton
    6. Pray that something happens in Cleveland next week that leads to the GOP picking another nominee.
    7. Pray for an independent candidate to emerge.

    I have been on sabbatical all year, so I have not really been in touch with many evangelical young people. I would not be surprised if a significant portion of evangelical college students would take similar positions to the students at IWU. Much of the evangelical support for Trump comes from baby-boomers who remember the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

    Like

  4. I’m currently a teaching fellow at IWU and am pretty upset by this link between Trump and IWU that is Mike Pence. I share the objections that you mention here but am now even more concerned about IWU after his being associated with Trump. I am hoping that IWU will now formally distance itself from Pence, but I’m not holding my breath. I should say that I am not an American, and I find the behavior of American Evangelicals quite shocking. Do you have any sense of how common the sorts of sentiments you list here are among American Evangelicals? Is this just a minority voice or are these sorts of feelings common? Is the wider public aware of the existence of this voice that disagrees with a lot of the evangelicals with power?

    Like

  5. 1) Pence’s signature on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was seen by students as discriminatory, unloving, and un-Christlike.

    Who are these people? This is positively Orwellian. Freedom is slavery.

    Like

Comments are closed.