*Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House*

PenceJournalist Tom LoBianco has published a religious biography of Vice President Mike Pence.  I have not read the book, so I cannot endorse it.  But I can say that I spent significant time on the phone with LoBianco as he conducted research for the book.

He writes:

As part of my general research for this book, I relied on a handful of insightful books (and highly recommend them for anyone interested in understanding Mike Pence better).  I’ll start with Pence’s two favorite books: the Bible, and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.  Additionally, I relied on John Fea’s tour of evangelical history and the Trump campaign, Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, as well as Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson’s review of the start and disbanding of the Moral Majority, Blinded by Might.  And for all Hoosier-philes, I highly recommend James Madison’s The Indiana Way.  I also feel like I found my own  bible in this process, Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story.

Get Those Kids a Toothbrush, Soap, and Blankets!

Watch Mike Pence dodge the question and try to blame it all on the Democrats.  It is sad and pathetic to watch this Christian man put politics over conscience.  Notice how Pence tries ignore Tapper’s questions by bringing up long-term and big picture solutions.

If Trump wanted to help these kids, he could do it and do it now.  And where is court evangelical Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse?  Doesn’t Graham’s ministry help kids like this?  Why isn’t Samaritan Purse’s in El Paso TODAY with shoe boxes full of supplies.

Here is what Franklin is tweeting about these days:

But apparently not in El Paso.

Here is Franklin picking a fight with Madonna:

And while kids are living in unsanitary conditions on the border, Franklin is railing against the “secularists”:

And he wants everyone to know that Kathie Lee Gifford is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

Court evangelicalism paralyzes people like Graham.  He can’t help these kids because he has to remain loyal to the POTUS.  Let’s hope and pray he changes his mind and makes a phone call to Trump asking for permission to bring his relief agency to El Paso.

And while we are at it, let’s try to solve our immigration problem in a way that makes such detention camps unnecessary.

Taylor University President Lowell Haines Has Resigned After Serving Three Years

Taylor

Some of you may recall the controversy surrounding Taylor University’s decision to invite Mike Pence to deliver the 2019 commencement address.  We covered the controversy here and here and here and here.

We just got word that Taylor University president Lowell Haines has resigned.  I have no idea if this is related to the Pence controversy.

I did find it interesting that Haines lists, among the accomplishments of his three-year tenure at Taylor, the fact that he invited Pence, Tim Tebow, Christian singer Michael W. Smith, and the head basketball coach of Ohio State to speak on campus.

Here is the press release:

Upland, IN, June 24, 2019 – Taylor University Board of Trustees Chair Paige Cunningham, J.D., Ph.D., announced today that President Paul Lowell Haines, Ed.D., J.D., has resigned from Taylor University, effective August 15, 2019.

“We are saddened by Dr. Haines’ decision, but we are deeply grateful to him and to his wife Sherry for their personal commitment to the vision and historical, evangelical, orthodox Christian mission and purposes of Taylor University and to the institution’s foundational positions and policies. These policies, with the full support of the Board of Trustees, have been strengthened on his watch,” said Dr. Cunningham.

Cunningham added that Dr. Haines’ resignation was neither solicited nor encouraged by the Board of Trustees. He continues to enjoy strong support from the Board and remains supportive of and optimistic about the University’s future.

“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of our lives to serve our beloved alma mater in various capacities over the last 44 years, and especially the opportunity during these last three years for me to lead as President,” said Haines, a 1975 alumnus of the University. “We have been humbled by the faith placed in us, and the love, support and prayers of the Taylor community.” 

Haines returned to Taylor after a long career as a higher education lawyer with the international law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, during which he served the University for more than 15 years as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. Prior to attending law school at Indiana University-Bloomington, he served at Taylor from 1977-1987, where he rose to the position of Vice President for Student Development. Haines also holds a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

“My wife Sherry and I love Taylor and the Taylor community, as no other place and people,” Haines added. “We leave with a strong sense of accomplishment, knowing that remarkable progress has been made over the last three years, but also a clear awareness of God’s new purpose and direction for our lives. We will always be grateful to Taylor University and to its people. That will not change. And we stand ready to assist the Board and the University’s new leadership team in moving Taylor forward as it remains true to its founding principles and purposes.”

Under Haines’ leadership, Taylor University received two number one rankings and one number two ranking in the Midwest Region of the US News & World Reportsurvey of America’s Best Colleges, achieved its ten-year reaccreditation following a stellar reaccreditation review by the Higher Learning Commission, and improved enrollment, resulting in the 2018 freshman class being the largest entering class in Taylor’s 173-year history. 

Among many other accomplishments, Haines completed “Forging Ahead Faithfully,” the University’s Strategic Plan. In addition, the University experienced advances in financial and fundraising goals, academic and athletic offerings, leadership diversification, facility improvements and renovations, marketing and communication programs, and Town of Upland initiatives. 

Haines honored, worked with and regularly brought to campus his predecessors as well as a number of nationally recognized personalities and speakers, including author and social critic Os Guinness, Interstate Battery Board Chair Norm Miller, Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, Ohio State University basketball coach Chris Holtmann, GRAMMY award winner Michael W. Smith and Vice President of the United States Michael Pence.

According to Cunningham, the Board will work with Haines and the cabinet to ensure a smooth transition, and will be making announcements about future leadership in the coming weeks. 

“Most importantly, the University’s leadership, beginning with the Board of Trustees, will remain true to the Lord and our calling and will have the resolve, faith and strength of purpose to carry Taylor forward into the future,” Cunningham said. “We look forward to building on the Strategic Plan developed by Dr. Haines and the executive leadership team as we continue to pursue Taylor’s unique position in Christian higher education.”

Check Out This Week’s “The Holy Post Podcast”

Holy Post.jpegI chat with Skye Jethani about the evangelical persecution complex.  Here is a summary of the episode:

In a number of recent commencement speeches at Christian colleges, Vice President Mike Pence has been warning graduates about the hostility of our culture toward Christians. Historian John Fea is back to talk about what Pence gets right, and what he gets wrong, about the persecution of evangelicals in the U.S. Plus, Fea shares his theory about why regular church attendees are the most likely to still support Trump. Also this week, an evangelical activist is guilty of “astroturfing” Muslims. Airports try to ban Chick-Fil-A and Hollywood studios boycott states passing abortion restrictions. And is conservative politics killing white churches?

Listen here.

Mike Pence at Taylor

Taylor

Mike Pence gave the commencement address earlier today at Taylor University.  Taylor’s invitation to Pence has been controversial.  I wrote about it in a piece at Religion News Service.

As expected, dozens of students and faculty walked out of the room before Pence took the lectern.  The Washington Post has the best reporting I have seen so far.  Read Isaac Stanley-Becker’s piece here.

The Indianapolis Star has published the full transcript of Pence’s remarks.  The speech is very similar to the one he gave last week at Liberty University, but it has a slightly less culture war feel.  Pence did not reference Trump as much as he did at Liberty and he dropped some of the persecution language that I wrote about in this Washington Post piece.  Nevertheless, I stand by my original Religion News Service piece.  (See link above).

Here is the transcript:

Thank you so much. To President Haines, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family, distinguished guests: It is an honor for us to be here at the Kesler Center for the commencement ceremony of Taylor University Class of 2019. Congratulations.  You made it!  

And I want to thank you, President Haines. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for those warm words. I only wish that my parents could have heard them. My father would have enjoyed it, and my mother would’ve believed it. But would you all join me in thanking President Haines for the extraordinary leadership he’s provided here to Taylor University? We are all so grateful.

And it’s great to be here with so many friends of ours. Met a lot of them backstage.  It’s always good to be back in Indiana. And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from a friend I just spoke to on the phone on my way over to Taylor, shortly after we landed.  He asked me to pass along his regards.  So allow me to extend congratulations to the graduating class of 2019 from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. 

It is a joy to be back home again here in the Hoosier State with all of you with somebody who is the most special person in my life. You know, I always wait to introduce the highest-ranking official last.  She’s a Marine Corps mom.  She’s a champion for military families.  She even teaches art at a Christian school.  Would you join me in giving one more welcome to the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence?  

Karen and I are really honored to be back on this beautiful campus.  It really is amazing to think: For more than 170 years, Taylor University has faithfully carried out its mission “to develop servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love and truth to a world in need.”  We heard those themes again from the podium already today.

And the class of 2019 is emblematic of that mission, and you are a remarkable class.  You come from 29 different states, 21 different nations, and I learned on the way here that more than 300 of you are graduating from Taylor University today with honors.  Congratulations to you all.  Well done.  

And among you are scholars, accomplished musicians and artists, and exceptional athletes.  In fact — in fact, I heard that all 18 of Taylor’s Trojan teams have been recognized as “Scholar-Athletes” by the NAIA.  Give yourselves another round of applause. That’s great.   

And behind all of these incredible achievements, of course, are some really special people.  Like a young woman who began her career at Taylor as an education major — but over the course of her time here, she was pulled in a different direction.  She’s gone on several mission trips abroad to minister to children in need.  She’s dedicated her time and talent, alongside her parents, to care for refugees.  And today she volunteers at least three days a week at an afterschool program here in Upland.  And today, she will become Taylor University’s first ever major in Orphans and Vulnerable Children.  Join me in congratulating Rachael Rower on a great academic career.  Where are you, Rachael? We’re proud of you.

And I also was told that Rachael is engaged to be married in just under a month.    So I guess I have to recognize another member of the class her fiancé, Joey Ferguson. Well done, Joey. You outkicked your coverage. God bless them both.

And, you know, I was told there’s another member of the Class of 2019 that I just have to mention, because I’m told he’s left an indelible mark on just about everybody he’s met here at Taylor.  He’s a great student, of course, and apparently a really good soccer player.  Good photographer.  Hard worker.  Clear thinker.  And that, even more than his rich Irish accent, is his deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s impressed everybody he’s met.

In fact, this young man is joined today, I’m told, by his parents, who had never been to the United States of America before today, but they just flew in to see this Taylor graduate walk across this stage. So congratulations to Charbel Salako. Where are you?  And to Charbel’s parents: Welcome to America!  What a great day.

And I know this is a great day for all of you in the Class of 2019. And it should be fun — because winners have fun, and you’re all winners today.

And you know that you didn’t get here on your own, though. The leaders here at Taylor University poured themselves into you — this administration, this incredible staff, and, of course, the men and women of Taylor’s faculty.

You know, it’s probably pretty safe to say that these professors didn’t go easy on you.  They pressed you over the last four years.  They challenged you, too.  They made you better.  They made you smarter.  They made you more ready.  So would you join me in thanking all the great faculty here at Taylor University for all they have done for you?  

And while I serve as your Vice President — and before that, as the president said here, I served as governor of this great state — the highest position I’ll ever hold is actually spelled “D-A-D.”  You know, Karen and I are the proud parents of three college graduates and that’s worth a round of applause.  Got them all through. 

So honestly, we understand, on a very personal level, the sacrifices that your families have made to help you reach this moment.  And we understand just how proud they are, as they sit all around us today.  And it’s an emotional day for them, I promise you.  They’re remembering not — not just the times that you were here at Taylor; they’re remembering all those days that led up to it.  They drove you to school, got you to do your homework before you went to bed.  And even while you were here, they encouraged you through late nights before final exams, and — and they wrote a few checks along the way, too.  

And they prayed — I know they did — for each and every one of you, every day that you were here.  So before we go any further, would all the moms and dads who are here — all the parents who are here — would you all just stand up so we can show you the appreciation that all these great graduates feel for all the support and love over the last four years?

Men and women of the Class of 2019, today you will graduate from an extraordinary university. You’ll begin your journey. New careers. New endeavors. And you know, they say timing is everything. And to this great class, I just want to tell you, straight up: You picked a great time to graduate from Taylor University. The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of optimism and opportunity.  You’re beginning your careers at a time of a growing American economy and restored American stature at home and abroad.

You know, as Vice President, it’s my honor, more than I can say, to serve alongside a President who has stood so strong for our national defense.  And on this Armed Forces Day, we honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard who defend our freedom every day. And to all the veterans who are here with us today, thank you for your service.

And I couldn’t be more proud to be part of an administration that has stood strong on the timeless values that have made this nation great, and stood without apology for the sanctity of human life.

But for all those accomplishments, you deserve to know that your timing really is great.  Because under the leadership of President Trump, we’ve been busy getting this economy moving again. We cut taxes. We rolled back regulation. We’ve unleashed American energy.

And as I stand before you today, the economy that awaits you — businesses large and small — have created 5.8 million new jobs in just over the last two years.  Unemployment is at a near 50-year low. And get this: Today, there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work.  That’s great timing, Class of 2019.  

Not that Taylor grads are going to have any trouble finding a job. You know, I actually heard that 97 percent of Taylor graduates secure work or graduate school placement within the first six months of graduation. It’s a testament to this extraordinary university.

You know, the many Taylor grads I’ve worked with over the years are some of the smartest and most dedicated men and women I’ve ever known.  In fact, I’m proud that we got a Taylor grad serving on the staff of the Office of the Vice President at the White House, even as we speak.

So when you leave this remarkable place, I promise you, you’re going to find an America filled with promise. And I know the men and women of this Class of 2019 are going to thrive. Because you have the support of your families.  You have a foundation of a great and unique education.  And because, here at Taylor, it was all built on a foundation of faith — a foundation that cannot be shaken.

You know, it really is beautiful that, before you leave here today, you’ll be handed a diploma; you’ll also be handed a Bible and a Servant’s Towel.  And I believe these elements hold the keys to the success and fulfillment in the lives that await you.  And I know what I’m talking about.

You know, like many of you, I was raised in a church home. But by the time I got to high school, I lost interest in religion. I was one of those people who still went to church, but I was just going through the motions — you know, holding form of Christianity, but denying its power. 

By the time I went off to college — a little school down south of here — I just went my own way.  But when I went to school, I started to meet people — maybe like you have here — that I could tell where different.  Some people that had something I lacked. And it wasn’t just confidence or an easy familiarity; it was something they had that I knew I didn’t have.  The only way I could describe it was peace and a joy about everything in their lives.

In fact, I was so moved by their example that I started attending a Christian fellowship group on campus.  And I had this friend who ran the group.  He was a senior; I was a freshman.  And we became good friends.  And I talked to him a lot about faith issues.  And he spent a lot of time with me and was very patient.

But I noticed, you know, as I got more involved in the local fellowship group, that I decided I was going to go ahead and get involved.  And he was wearing this really cool little cross everywhere he went.  So I started asking him where he got it — you know, because I wanted to get one, too.  Frankly, I started to pester him about it. It was back then before you had these things that you’re always looking at, and we had these catalogues you order things from — you had to call on the phone. Your mom and dad will explain that to you.

And I kept bothering him about the catalogue. I said, “Hey, be sure and get me that catalogue because, you know, I want to order that cross.”  I said, “I’ve decided to go ahead and do the Christian thing. So, you know, I want to — you know, I want to start wearing a cross.”  

I’ll never forget — John looked at me one day and said some words that I’ll never forget.  I said to him, “Don’t forget about that catalogue.”  And he turned around, and he looked at me, and he said, “Mike, remember: You got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.”    To be honest with you, I didn’t know what he meant.  But I knew there was truth in it.  I wrestled with those words.

Then a little while later, I found myself at a youth Christian music festival that the group went to down in Wilmore, Kentucky.  We sat on a hillside for two days, listening to some great contemporary Christian music and messages in between.  And it was on a rainy night, sitting on that hillside back in 1978, that I heard some words I’d heard my whole life in Church — but I heard them different.

I’d always heard that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But on that Saturday night, I heard it different.  Sitting on that hillside, I realized that it also meant God so loved me that He gave His only Son to save me from my sin. And overwhelmed not with guilt, but with a heart overflowing with gratitude, that night I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  And it’s made all the difference in my life.  

So now I want to say, not so much as your Vice President or a fellow Hoosier, but as a brother in Christ: If what you’ve seen and heard and learned in this place has also taken hold in your hearts, I want to encourage you to go from here, and live it out, and share it, and put feet on your faith as you carry and minister over the course of your lives.  Because America needs men and women of integrity and faith now more than ever.

You know, the truth is that we live in a time when religious belief is under assault.  We’ve seen unspeakable acts of violence against religious communities.  Synagogues in Pennsylvania and California.  Mosques in New Zealand.  Churches in Sri Lanka.  And three historically black churches burned to the ground in Louisiana.

And on a much lesser scale, but more prevalent, we see a change in our culture as well.  You know, throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian — but things are different now.  Lately, it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs.

So as you prepare to leave this place and build your life on the Christ-centered, world-engaging foundation poured here at Taylor University, be prepared to stand up.

You know, as Dr. Milo Rediger wrote in “Anchor Points” so long ago, he said, quote, “we’re looking for young people [here at Taylor] who are willing to stand up and be counted for God.”  And as you stand up, be prepared to face opposition.

But be confident.  For the Bible says, “God has given us a spirit not of timidity, but of power and love and self-control.”  So go show the world every day that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time.    Our nation and our world needs it.

And know also that freedom of religion is enshrined not just in the Constitution, but in the hearts of every American.  And I promise you: We will always stand up for the freedom of religion and for the right of every American to live, to learn, to worship according to the dictates of your conscience.  That’s a promise.  

And finally, as you prepare to depart on your lives and careers, I hope that you will take one other piece of that foundation poured here at Taylor University along.  I hope that you will aspire to serve.  To be, as that towel will ever remind you, a servant leader.

You know, I believe public service is a noble calling.  But wherever life takes you, take a servant’s attitude.  Consider others more important than yourselves.  Live your lives as He did: not to be served, but to serve.

And if you need examples, you can just look around the people that are sitting with you.  A lot of young men and women here have already learned:  The fulfilled life is the life of service to others.

Like a public health major who grew up in Illinois who is graduating today.  Like many of you Taylor students, she traveled overseas to give her time and talent to help those in need.  But, as the story goes, during her J-term of her sophomore year, she was serving on a mission trip in the Middle East, and this young woman started to feel what she called “a little tug from God.”

Since then, that little tug has turned into a calling, and a calling that she’s answered.  And after graduation, this incredible young woman will move to the Middle East and serve as a Women’s Health Coordinator for the non-profit One Collective.  So would you all join me in showing our appreciation for the great example of 2019 graduate, Claire Heyen.  Well done, Claire.  We’re proud of you.  

So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is: Never stop believing, never stop serving, and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, with gentleness and respect. Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love these days maybe more than ever before.

And as you do these things, in increasing measure, I promise you, you’ll be blessed.  You’ll be a blessing to your family, to your coworkers, and you’ll be a blessing to this nation.

You know, America has always been a nation of faith.  As our first Vice President, John Adams, said, and I quote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  So just know, as you strengthen the foundation of faith in your life; as you carry that faith from here, in service to your fellow Americans, you will be strengthening the foundation of America itself.  

So thank you for the honor of addressing you. To all of our graduates, I say: Have faith.  Have faith in yourselves, proven by what you’ve accomplished to get you to this very day.  Have faith in the principles and the ideals that you learned here and the noble mission that has always animated Taylor University.  And have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you — because He never will.

Congratulations, Class of 2019. You did it. God bless you. And God bless America.

“Dear Mike Pence: The real persecution of Christians isn’t here in America”

Pence Liberty

This was just published at the Washington Post.  Thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey for asking me to write it today:

Vice President Pence on Saturday warned the graduating class of Liberty University to be prepared to suffer for their faith. “The truth is,” he told an audience of over 40,000 attending the commencement ceremony, “we live in a time when the freedom of religion is under assault.”

Pence said that Liberty graduates should expect to be “ridiculed” for their biblical beliefs, much in the same way that his wife, Karen Pence, was criticized for taking a job teaching art at a Christian school that opposed same-sex marriage.

Pence needs some perspective.

According to one estimate, in 2016, a Christian was killed for his or her faith every six minutes. Today, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is rampant, especially in the Middle East. The Islamic State has forced nearly 5 million Syrian Christians to flee for their lives.

Read the rest here.

Commencement at Liberty University

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address on Saturday at Liberty University, a school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Court evangelical and Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. was the master of ceremonies (Why didn’t he wear a robe like most college presidents?)  At one point in the ceremony he made his wife stand up to model the black and orange flame (as in Liberty Flames)-patterned dress she was wearing.  Falwell convinced her to wear it because she was the “hottest first lady at any college in the country.” Again, context is everything here.

Surgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson also spoke. He urged the graduates not to conform to the “forces of political correctness” that “want you to shut up and not express what you believe.”  He extolled the apparent Judeo-Christian founding of the country and told the graduating class that they were our best hope to “save America.”

When Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Mike Pence, he praised the Vice-President for doing such a great job despite constant attacks from a “hostile press.”  He described him as one of the greatest Vice Presidents of all time.

Early in Pence’s speech some folks in the crowd starting chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A.” This is an odd thing to chant at a Christian college graduation, but there seems to be no big difference between Christian education and patriotism at Liberty University.

Pence wasted no time turning his commencement address into a Trump rally.  He praised the Trump economy, reminded the audience that “America stands with Israel,” talked about abortion, and attacked Barack Obama for his supposed threats to religious liberty.  Like Carson’s brief speech, Pence’s speech was filled with the typical victimization rhetoric and fear-mongering that one often hears from conservative evangelicals these days.  Pence cannot seem to move  beyond the culture wars–this is how he sees the world.  It is “us” vs. “them.”  The crowd loved it.

At one point in the speech, Pence gave a moving testimony about his conversion experience. I appreciated it.  But in the context–both in terms of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s politicization of Liberty University and Pence’s connection to the Trump administration–he seemed to suggest that an evangelical conversion will naturally lead to Christian Right politics and the unrelenting support of an immoral president.  It does not.

A commencement address should be a celebration of the graduates.  A commencement speaker must put down the self and offer words of encouragement and some wise advice about life after graduation.  To his credit, Pence did some of this. But even his words of exhortation to the graduates sounded like a Trump stump speech for 2020 and a warning to watch out for the progressives lurking in the shadows ready to undermine Christian America.  This was a message of fear, not hope.  But that is how they do things at Liberty University.

I am sure we will hear similar things from Pence next week at Taylor University.

More on Mike Pence’s Upcoming Commencement Address at Taylor University

Taylor

Emily McFarland Miller of Religion News Service spent some time on the Taylor campus.  I was happy to contribute to her report.  Here is a taste:

Like most Americans, students at Taylor University have strong feelings about President Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, as well as the relationship between religion and politics.

So when news broke last month that Pence would speak at Taylor’s upcoming commencement, reactions were mixed.

Some students love the decision. Some hate it.

Others see the whole thing as divisive, according to students discussing the announcement in Professor Alan Blanchard’s Advanced Media Writing class April 16 at Taylor.

“I think that for years we have been in a school that’s very open to conversation, and I think the last couple of months — last year — has just kind of been a battle for who’s right,” said Lexie Lake, a senior in the class.

The controversy over Pence’s visit is not the only recent disagreement at Taylor.

Earlier this year, a Taylor professor started a petition against a planned Starbucks on campus because of its “stands on the sanctity of life and human sexuality.” And last year, an anonymous conservative publication popped up on campus with complaints the school had become too liberal.

Like so much of evangelicalism in the United States, the Christian liberal arts school — which always has prided itself on welcoming diverse Christian perspectives — has in recent years found itself engaged in a battle for the soul of the movement.

“It’s now pitting Christian against Christian: Who’s more Christian? Who loves God more? Who’s doing it right?” junior Tiffany Rogers said.

“Who’s doing Christianity right?”

Read the entire piece here.

A Distinguished Taylor University Alumnus Speaks Out on the Pence Invitation

Taylor

Mike Pence will be the 2019 commencement speaker at Taylor University.  We wrote about this yesterday.

This morning Steve Long, the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University and a Taylor alumnus, sent us these thoughts and gave us permission to publish them.  -JF

I went to Taylor University from 1978-1982. I grew up thirty miles from it. As an Indiana kid, I went to its basketball camp. My church went on spring break trips led by Taylor students. I’ve had doctoral students who were TU grads. I have been back only a few times since graduating, but I was invited by some faculty to be part of a symposium for the inauguration of TU’s new president. Little did I know that his vision for TU was to make it look like Liberty University. I am ashamed.

I’m saddened and disappointed by this commencement invitation, but not surprised. I was surprised in 2016 when midwest evangelicals enabled the Trump presidency. I thought I knew them. I was wrong. I remember a different Taylor University and a different kind of evangelicalism. 

Here is what I remember: When I was at TU, we were less interested in state power and more interested in mission. Many were reading Ronald Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” I spent my last semester at TU working in a medical clinic in Haiti and was encouraged to do so by faculty and fellow students. Most of us wanted to do something about poverty and global inequality. I was first confronted with nonviolence at TU when we read Mark Hatfield’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” in a Chemistry class. He was a Republican who because of his faith came out against the Vietnam War. It was that book that prepared me well to hear Stanley Hauerwas when I went to Duke. I remember a TU and an evangelicalism that was vibrant, concerned with issues of poverty and violence. I was also there during the transition from the Carter to Reagan presidency and I think that Reagan’s cooptation of evangelicals, like Trump’s, set the rot in the evangelical movement. Reagan and Trump said to evangelicals, “Come let us build a (Trump) tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” Evangelicals said, and are still saying, “Yes.” 

Of course, my memory is kind. Some of the rot was already there and I was not paying attention. I double dated with an interracial couple during my time at Taylor. I think they were the only one on campus. I recall how devastated he was when he received an anonymous letter telling him that interracial dating was against God’s law. I thought it was a fluke and did not take it seriously. I was not paying attention. I did not know that the origins of the Religious Right that has now taken over the administration of TU and most of evangelicalism was its opposition to the Civil Rights legislation that required Bob Jones to permit interracial dating. The Reagan administration sided with Bob Jones. Cal Thomas, who was an early leader in the Religious Right and close associate of Jerry Falwell Sr., later left the movement convinced that the seduction of power had led it to abandon truth. He wrote, “Christian faith is about truth, [and] whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Pence has proven himself immoral in so many ways since joining the Trump administration, but the one thing that stands out most prominently for me is his willingness to be complicit in the bold deceits emanating daily from the White House. Who is the “father of lies?” Have evangelicals forgotten?

I had a friend who came out as gay. We dared not tell anyone. There was a cruelty to gays back then that is slowly receding. (I am grateful to see that some TU alum will hold an alternative “Gay Bash” during the commencement). Has TU and evangelicalism drastically changed in the 37 years since I graduated? I don’t know. Maybe my memory is too kind. I’m encouraged that so many students, faculty, and alums have spoken out against president Haines’ invitation that makes TU complicit in the racist, homophobic, xenophobic and cruel Trump administration. But in the end, we know, donor wealth and political power will trump mercy and kindness.

Taylor University and Mike Pence

taylor4

As some of you have heard, Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Indiana, has invited Mike Pence to be its 2019 commencement speaker.

Not everyone is happy about Taylor’s decision. Taylor alumni have started a Change.org petition claiming that the Pence invitation makes “our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.”

Chris Smith, a Taylor graduate and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books (which is based in nearby Indianapolis), wrote a piece at the Sojourners website condemning the Pence invitation.

Amy Peterson, an author, evangelical missionary, and adjunct professor at Taylor, also condemned the decision.  Her piece at The Washington Post provides some context and quotes students and alums who are unhappy about Pence’s upcoming address.

Back in March 2018, several disgruntled Taylor employees, including a philosophy professor, a biblical studies professor, the men’s soccer coach, and the university marketing director started an underground newspaper with a mission to expose what they believed to be Taylor’s move in a “liberal direction.”  At the time, Taylor president Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust” and “hurting members of our community.”  We wrote about this incident here.

Peterson’s Post article notes that the Taylor faculty voted 61-49 on a motion to dissent at Pence being invited.  (At least two Taylor sources I have consulted confirmed this vote).

Progressives are going to condemn Taylor for inviting Pence because, among other things, the Vice-President holds a conservative position on marriage, condemns homosexuality and has recently mixed-it-up with gay presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.  But this kind of criticism lacks nuance. Most evangelical schools have traditional positions on marriage and believe that homosexual practice is unbiblical. Progressives are going to need to deal with the fact that a significant portion of the United States population share Pence’s views in the area of sexual ethics.  I hope they will see the need to work with evangelicals to cultivate a more inclusive and pluralistic society in which deeply held religious beliefs are respected.  Both Pence and many progressives seem unwilling to take on this project, preferring instead to dig in their heels and continue to lob grenades in the culture war.

The real issue is Pence’s willingness to carry water for Donald Trump.  He has stood behind a president who is a liar, has paid hush money to an adult film star, has faced dozens of charges of sexual harassment, has separated children from families at the Mexican border, disrespects American institutions, boasts of his materialism, understands religious liberty as something that only pertains to his evangelical base, seems incapable of seeing anything beyond himself, inspires white supremacists, and has generally governed our country with no moral core.  Pence has defended or remained silent about nearly everything Trump has done.  Trump has used him as a pawn to win white evangelicals and keep them in the fold.

Gabby Carlson’s piece at the Taylor University student newspaper, The Echo, quotes both Taylor Provost Michael Hammond (a historian who studies evangelicalism and the Civil Rights movement) and Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism.  Hammond said:

Commencement is a special day for Taylor University…Above all else, we want to honor our graduates with their diploma and towel. There is always something to be gained from listening, even when we do not expect to find agreement with the speaker. This is an opportunity for our community to hear one another, working through our opinions and differences together.

And here is Blanchard, referencing what he said at the faculty meeting in support of the Pence invitation:

I suggested a benefit exists from listening to people speak on our campus with diverse views. Even if we do not see eye to eye, and even if the person speaking is the vice president of the United States…It’s a hallmark of our country to foster the idea and the ideal of free speech. I think our faculty meetings generally are a testimony to our ability to speak freely, agree or disagree on issues, but at the end of day show respect and love for one another.

I am fully on board with campuses inviting all kinds of people, of all kinds of political persuasions, to speak.  (I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour last Fall and the students and faculty welcomed me and gave me and my message a warm reception).  But there does seem to be something different about a commencement address, especially at a Christian college.  The choice of a commencement speaker at a small Christian college like Taylor University reflects the beliefs and ideals that animate life at such a college.  Commencement speakers send a message–to graduating seniors, to alumni, to parents, to donors, and to the larger community–about what a school values.  A commencement address should not be a venue for displaying a school’s commitment to a “free marketplace of ideas,” nor is it a place where a school shows its commitment to ideological diversity by hosting speakers with controversial political and social views.  Taylor University had the entire 2018-2019 academic year to show its commitment to diverse viewpoints on campus.  Commencement is a time to celebrate a Christian college’s Christian mission.  Does Mike Pence, the chief water-carrier for Donald Trump, represent Taylor University’s mission?

I find it ironic that president Lowell Haines, who decried “discord” back in March 2018, has decided to invite Pence.  Haines is fully aware that many in the evangelical community, most of his own faculty, and many of his students, see Pence as a morally problematic figure.  He had to know that the invitation would provoke a firestorm on campus.  Yet he invited him anyway.  Indeed, as Provost Michael Hammond noted above, “commencement is a special day” for Taylor graduates and the larger community.  Then why invite Pence?  If Pence does end up speaking, Haines and his staff, who I assume care about the campus climate, will be forced to spend the next several years trying to heal a self-inflicted wound.

Or here is another way we might look at this. Perhaps Lowell Haines and his staff are fully aware of the fact that the choice of commencement speakers always sends a message about the things that a Christian college values and cherishes. And perhaps this is exactly why he invited Pence.

Several of my sources at Taylor University view the Haines presidency, and the invitation of Pence, as an attempt to solve some of Taylor’s financial woes by taking a more pronounced turn to the Right.  One alumnus, writing on a private Facebook page, described a phone conversation he had with one of Haines’s right hand men, Vice President for University Advancement Rex Bennett:

For some reason, Rex Bennett (VP for University Advancement) actually took my call, and we talked for nearly 30 minutes.  We actually could have talked longer, but I needed to get off the phone and help my with some things.  During this phone call, Mr. Bennett was respectful to me and did listen to my concerns, but he also, sadly, confirmed that Taylor wishes to actively exclude and marginalize the LGBTW and immigrant/refugee communities.  He also stated that he does not expect a situation in which Taylor will reconsider the Pence decision.  After this conversation, I learned that Mr. Bennett is actually a very close friend of Pence.

Christian colleges are faced with difficult choices in these days of divisiveness and fear.  One type of Christian college will defend Christian orthodoxy (yes, even in the area of marriage), respect the civil rights of all Americans (including those in the LGBTQ community), support creative solutions to defend religious liberty in a pluralistic society, welcome the stranger, respond to the culture with a posture of hope, and pursue the common good.  These schools will provide a prophetic voice against the kind of America that Donald Trump and his court evangelicals (including Mike Pence) want to create.

Another type of Christian college, which seems exemplified best by court evangelical Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Pence will also speak at its commencement this Spring), is to defend orthodoxy, reject creative attempts to defend religious liberty in a pluralist society, and support (at least at the level of the administration) what I believe to be the anti-Christian policies of Donald Trump.  After the Pence invitation, I will now need to be convinced that Taylor University is not following this path.

As I once wrote in The Washington Post, we are starting to see new alignments in American Christianity.

Mike Pence is Liberty University’s 2019 Commencement Speaker

Liberty U

Expect the Liberty University commencement to be an early 2020 Trump campaign stop.

Press release:

Liberty University will welcome Vice President of the United States Michael R. Pence to deliver the keynote address at its 46th Commencement on May 11.

Pence made the announcement himself to Liberty students on Friday morning via a video conference from Washington, D.C., to the university’s Vines Center, which was serving as a satellite location for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

“It is great for us to be back at CPAC 2019, the largest gathering of conservatives anywhere in America,” Pence said. “I’m honored to be joined here by thousands of conservatives in our nation’s capital, but I also want to give a shoutout to all those great conservatives watching across the country, especially all of our friends joining us live from Lynchburg, Va., at Liberty University — I’ll see you in May.”

Commencement will mark Pence’s second visit to campus. He spoke in Convocation on Oct. 12, 2016, as then-Indiana governor and Republican vice presidential candidate.

Thank God for Big Government (Socialism?)

Lincoln socialist

Was this man a socialist?

Mike Pence recently railed against socialism.  Here is a taste of a Newsweek article about what he said at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference:

Vice President Mike Pence continued the Republican attacks on what they claim is socialism infiltrating the Democratic Party, making the dubious claim Friday that it was “freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery and won two World Wars.” Pence, speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, did not mention what started slavery in the United States.

“It was freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery, won two World Wars and stands today as the beacon of hope for all the world.”

If it was freedom that ended slavery then presumably it was also freedom that allowed it, with a provision written into the Constitution that specifically referred to slaves and the “three-fifths compromise,” whereby they were counted as less than free people. Moreover, Southern states continued to argue for the freedom to keep slavery in place as the country descended into the Civil War. It was also not capitalism, which Pence appeared to be referring to, when he said it was freedom that ended slavery. Indeed, many historians have noted the explicit links between slavery and the birth of American capitalism. 

Read the rest here.

What the Union did to the South after the Civil War was not described as “socialism,” but it was an attempt by a powerful federal government to seize what the South (and the Supreme Court in Dred Scott) believed was private property, namely slaves.  Southern slaveholders were fighting for their own liberty and “freedom” to own slaves.  Lincoln used government power to take away this liberty.  For Lincoln, morality trumped the South’s “freedom” to hold another person in bondage.  This was the ultimate example of the United States government seizing private property and redistributing it (through emancipation).

Alan Jacobs: “Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move”

Pence

Baylor University scholar Alan Jacobs reflects on Mike Pence and the journalists who cover him:

VP Mike Pence says, “Criticism of Christian education in America must stop.” No it musn’t. Nobody and nothing is above criticism. Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move. It would simply be a good thing if the critics made some effort to understand what they’re criticizing, though of course that’s not going to happen. I can’t imagine a cohort less likely to inform itself about conservative Christianity than the cohort of American journalists.

My caveat: There is a growing number of excellent journalists covering the religion beat who do try to understand conservative Christianity.

James Fallows on Yesterday’s “Surreal” Oval Office Exchange

In case you missed it, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had a showdown in the Oval Office with Donald Trump about his border wall.  James Fallows of The Atlantic called it “surreal.”

Fallows has two questions about what happened:

  1. “Did Donald Trump realize that Chuck Schumer was mocking him, to his face, with his ‘When the president brags he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble’ line?
  2. Did Mike Pence register any emotion whatsoever, during the 15-minutes plus of extraordinary exchange?

Read the entire piece here.  Read more Atlantic coverage of the meeting here.

 

Mike Pence Invites a Messianic Jew to Pray at His Rally

Pence and Jacobs

Mike Pence invited a Messianic Jew to pray at a recent campaign rally.  Here is Matthew Haag’s piece at The New York Times:

As he began his prayer, it became immediately clear that the rabbi, Loren Jacobs of Congregation Shema Yisrael in suburban Detroit, would not be considered a Jew by any of the four major denominations of Judaism. In his prayer, he mentioned the “saving power” of the Lord and concluded, “In the name of Jesus, amen.”

Rabbi Jacobs believes that Jesus is the Messiah, a conviction that is theologically incompatible with Judaism. Some Jews believe that the movement the rabbi represents, Messianic Judaism, is not only antithetical to Judaism but also hostile to their religion because its goal is to persuade Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and by doing so convert Jewish people to Christianity.

Rabbi Jacobs, a leading figure in the denomination colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, quickly came under criticism on Monday for appearing to represent Jews at the rally and for leading the only prayer by a religious figure at the event for the 11 people and six others injured in the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday.

Read the rest here.

There are two ways to interpret this:

  1. Pence really believes that Messianic Jews are real Jews and by inviting Loren Jacobs to pray he thought he was making some kind of gesture of compassion to those killed in Pittsburgh.  If this is the case, he is completely clueless.  The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on this in 1989.
  2. Pence knows that Messianic Jews are actually Christian dispensationalists and the invitation to Jacobs was an attempt to appeal to his Christian Right base.

Whatever the case, it shows that Pence is using the Pittsburgh tragedy for political purposes.

It should also be noted that Jacobs specifically prayed that members of the Republican should win in 2018.  (Although he also prayed that if they lose they would accept God’s will).

Would Pence Be Worse?

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Historian Neil Young does not think so.

Here is a taste of his Huffington Post piece, “No, President Mike Pence Would Not Be Worse Than Trump“:

…But pretending this would amount to a greater danger than Trump poses to American democracy and global stability is foolish alarmism disguised as rational diagnosis. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly in line with the sort of nihilistic cynicism that has taken over American politics and not dissimilar to the pessimistic fatalism that Trump stokes and enjoys.

An outlook that can’t distinguish the political challenge of a possible Pence presidency from the very real existential threat to the republic that Trump poses is useless for guarding against the disaster taking place in Washington right now.

The American presidency has never been inhabited by the likes of Donald Trump. He constantly and increasingly imperils our system of democracy. His flouting of the Constitution sets hazardous precedents that weaken the rule of law. His volatile and irrational temperament, combined with his disregard for international alliances and friendliness with autocrats and dictators, jeopardizes the safety of all of us.

Pence’s politics, while thoroughly conservative, fall in line with the basic Republican orthodoxy of the last 40 years. That’s an agenda worth resisting, for sure, but it’s one that Democrats will be well equipped — even emboldened — to block, especially if they claim a majority in the House this fall, as appears likely.

Read the entire piece here.  I am mostly with Young here, although I do think Pence is more conservative than Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.  All of these presidents, to varying degrees, held some views that were compatible with the Christian Right and they appealed to this wing of the party.  But none of them were products of the Christian Right.  On the other hand, Pence’s entire political agenda seems driven and informed by the Christian Right.  He is one of them.

Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas Continues to Play Fast and Loose With American History

Eric Metaxas is one of the court evangelicals in attendance tonight at the White House.  Here he is with Mike Pence:

Metaxas at Party

Earlier tonight, Metaxas tweeted this:

Metaxas Tweet

I am thankful to several folks who sent this tweet to me.  Eric Metaxas blocked me from seeing his Twitter feed after I wrote a multi-part series criticizing his fast-and-loose (and mostly erroneous) use of American history in his book If You Can Keep It.  You can read that series, and Metaxas’s dismissal of it, here.

Just a few quick responses to this tweet

1. There were some founding fathers who might be described as “evangelical.”  They included John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman and Samuel Adams.  But just because a given founder was an evangelical does not mean that he was indispensable to the American Revolution or that his evangelical faith informed the quest for independence from Great Britain.  I have written extensively about the myth of an evangelical founding in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  But perhaps Eric Metaxas is suggesting, as he did in If You Can Keep It, that there was a direct correlation between the First Great Awakening (an evangelical revival in the 1740s) and the American Revolution.  I critiqued that view here.  The bottom line is this:  The American Revolution would have happened with or without American evangelicals.

2. Evangelicals were very active in the abolitionist movement, but so were non-evangelicals.  The question of whether abolitionism would have happened without evangelicals is a debatable point.  For a nuanced picture–one that treats religion fairly–I suggest you read Manisha Sinha’s excellent book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition.  We also interviewed her on Episode 16 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

3.  The idea that the Civil Rights Movement would not have occurred without evangelicals is absurd.  While there were certainly black preachers involved who might be labeled “evangelical,” most of the clergy who led the movement were deeply shaped by the Black social gospel.  White evangelicals in the South defended segregation.  White evangelicals in the North did not have a uniform position on civil rights for African-Americans.  The white evangelicals associated with magazines like Christianity Today did little to advance the movement.  Some good stuff on this front comes David Chappel in A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chappel’s student, Michael Hammond, has also done some excellent work on this front.  Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History also provides a nice introduction.

4. If you are a fan of the Reagan Revolution, I suppose you could make the argument that conservative evangelicals had a lot do with it.  The 1980s was the decade in which evangelicals made an unholy alliance with the Republican Party.  There are a lot of good books on this subject.  I would start with Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.  I also write about this story in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Don’t get me wrong–evangelicals have played an important role in the shaping of our nation.  I recently wrote about this in a piece at The Atlantic.  You can read it here.

The Court Evangelicals are Out in Full-Force Tonight

In case you have not heard, Donald Trump is having a big dinner right now for evangelical leaders.  It looks like a court evangelical extravaganza.

Click here to see what court evangelical Robert Jeffress is saying about it at the Christian Broadcasting Network.  Jeffress makes it all sound like a political calculation.  We need Trump and Trump needs us.

Court evangelical Johnnie Moore is there:

Court evangelical Gary Bauer is there:

Court evangelical Jack Graham is there:

Court evangelical Greg Laurie is there:

So are James Dobson, Jentezen Franklin, Samuel Rodriguez, and Ronnie Floyd:

Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas is yucking-it-up with fellow court evangelical Mike Pence (more on Metaxas in my next post.  Stay tuned)

Metaxas at Party

It also looks like court evangelical Tony Perkins got an invitation:

Trump finally said something nice about John McCain. I guess he did not want to come across as an unforgiving man with court evangelicals in the room:

Court evangelical Darryl Scott is there:

It wasn’t very hard to learn which evangelicals came to the White House tonight.  Many of them proudly tweeted to their followers and congregation as they relished in the power of the court and solidified their celebrity.

Some of you may be wondering what I mean by the term “court evangelical.”  I wrote a an entire chapter about these Christians in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpThat chapter builds off of several shorter pieces, including:

Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity,” Washington Post, July 17, 2017

The term “court evangelical” has even made it into the Urban Dictionary.

Perhaps the court evangelicals should go back to their hotel rooms tonight and read 2 Samuel 12. (There is a Gideon Bible in the drawer).  Nathan was one of King David’s court prophets.  In other words, he had a “seat at the table.”  When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed on the battlefield to cover up David’s sins, Nathan rebuked his king.  He told David the story of a poor man whose beloved “little ewe lamb” was stolen by a self-centered rich man who had plenty of lambs but wanted the poor man’s only lamb to serve his guests.  When David’s anger “was greatly kindled” against the rich man in the story, Nathan said to the king, “You are the man!”

Will there be a Nathan in the room tonight?  Somehow I doubt it.

Pence’s Space Theology

Buzz-Aldrin-notes

Buzz Aldrin’s notes from Apollo 11

Marina Koren has a really interesting piece at The Atlantic on Mike Pence’s use of religious language in describing space exploration.  Here is a taste:

 

And when Pence speaks of space exploration, he speaks not only of the frontier, but of faith. His speeches sometimes sound more like sermons.

Here Pence was at the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council, in October of last year:

As President Trump has said, in his words, “It is America’s destiny to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.” And today we begin the latest chapter of that adventure. But as we embark, let us have faith. Faith that, as the Old Book teaches us that if we rise to the heavens, He will be there.

And then, in April of this year, at a gathering of space-industry professionals:

And as we renew our commitment to lead, let’s go with confidence and let’s go with faith—the faith that we do not go alone. For as millions of Americans have believed throughout the long and storied history of this nation of pioneers, I believe, as well, there is nowhere we can go from His spirit; that if we rise on the wings of the dawn, settle on the far side of the sea, even if we go up to the heavens, even there His hand will guide us, and His right hand will hold us fast.

And earlier this month, at a press conference about Trump’s proposed Space Force:

Just as generations of Americans have carried those who have taken to the skies in the defense of freedom borne upon their prayers, I want to assure all of you, who will be called to this enterprise, that you can be confident. You can be confident that you will go with the prayers of millions of Americans who will claim on your behalf, as generations have claimed before, those ancient words, that if you “rise on the wings of the dawn, if [you] settle on the far side of the sea,” even if you go up to the heavens, “even there His hand will guide [you], His right hand will hold [you] fast.” And He will hold fast this great nation in the great beyond.

Read the entire piece here.  I am always struck by the way Pence incorporates evangelical language into virtually every policy announcement he makes or social issue on which he comments.  Yesterday I was talking to a reporter who is writing a biography  of Pence. We discussed how the Vice President’s faith became central to his political career after he embraced the narrative of the Christian Right sometime in the 1980s.  (As a college student, Pence had an evangelical conversion experience at a Christian rock festival in 1978).

Koren starts-off her piece by comparing the way JFK, LBJ, Bush 1, and Bush 2 talked about space exploration with Pence’s language on the subject.  JFK talked about space exploration in terms of the liberal progress.  LBJ compared space exploration to the settlement of the American colonies.  George H.W. Bush compared astronauts to Columbus and the travelers on the Oregon Trial.

The language of Manifest Destiny–whether applied to the American West, the globe, or space– has always been saturated with Christian, religious, spiritual and providential themes.  As Koren shows, when Pence talks about “rising to the heavens” he is tapping into the language of evangelical astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, Jeffrey Williams, and Jim Irwin.

And speaking of space exploration and evangelicals, there were also fundamentalists who were fascinated with UFOs.

McIntire UFOS

What Mike Pence Said Twenty Years Ago About Character and the Presidency

Pence Show

CNN found several Mike Pence columns written in the 1990s.  Get the context here.

One of these columns, published at the website of Pence’s old radio show, was titled “Two Schools of Thought on Clinton.”  Here is a taste of that piece:

With the news on August 17th that the President of the United States lied to the American people (and very likely under oath) about an illicit relationship with a college student, readers are no doubt wondering “where to from here?” The two schools of thought can be summed up in the choices presented through various and diverse sources, namely, move on or move out.

The “move on” crowd’s argument goes something like this; ‘the President admitted he made a mistake, you have your pound of flesh, now let’s move on with the serious issues facing the country’. While this approach is appealing even to some of us who have little regard for the policies of this Administration, it’s just not as simple as all that. The ‘Move On Crowd’s argument is predicated on the notion that presidents, just like the rest of us, ought to be entitled to a little privacy. This argument fails on two grounds; (A) President Clinton made this issue public when he denied it eight months ago and (B) President Clinton is not, by definition, ‘like the rest of us’.

On the first count, the President has admitted to having taken advantage of a college intern working at the White House (that’s a public building) who was on the White House Staff (that’s public employment) on many occasion in and around the Oval Office (again a public building). Also, the President lied about the affair in public and (very likely) under oath in Jones vs Clinton. He also may have used the power of his PUBLIC office to cover up the whole sordid matter. This was not a private matter and cannot legitimately be argued as such. A truly private matter in this realm might be an affair between the President and a friend not working in the White House for whom no favors were granted and no cover-up attempted. That, it seems to me, could be argued as part of one’s (immoral) private life. Ms. Lewinski is a part of the President’s public life not his private life.

On the second count, that the President is ‘just like the rest of us’, he is the most powerful man in the world. If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet. Seriously, the very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the Chief Executive that we place on our next door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous. Throughout our history, we have seen the presidency as the repository of all of our highest hopes and ideals and values. To demand less is to do an injustice to the blood that bought our freedoms.

So we get to the other, and in my view, only school of thought remaining. For America to move on, and we must, the Clintons must move out of the White House. Either the President should resign or be removed from office. Nothing short of this sad conclusion will suffice to restore the institution of the presidency to its former and necessary glory.”

Pence, of course, is not the first pro-Trumper who wanted Bill Clinton removed on the grounds that his character was not befitting of the office.  I chronicle a few more of them in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Trump Beleive me