Pence’s Speech to the Southern Baptist Convention

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Voting to retain Pence as speaker. Holly Meyer / The Tennessean

Vice-President Mike Pence has concluded his speech at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yesterday there was a motion to replace the speech with a time of prayer, but it was easily voted down. John Fea has the details here. In defense of the decision to welcome Pence, the chairman of the business committee said this:

On a personal note, if President Obama’s White House had contacted us and I was chairman of this committee, we would have exercised the same judgement and welcomed them to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Some are skeptical of this, but I believe him. Yet it completely misses the point. Everyone knows that SBC is a conservative institution. If Vice-President Biden had spoken at the convention, it would have rightly been understood as an act of hospitality and toleration on the part of the SBC. It would have been a way of saying the convention was open to dialogue with its opponents.

Welcoming political power with which the convention is already so closely aligned is a very different sort of move, one that speaks not of Christian hospitality but of crass conflation of conservative theology with conservative politics. So it looks bad, and it looks far worse when you account for the moral posture of the current administration. President Obama was a decent man. So was George W. Bush. No serious person can say the same of President Trump. Welcoming a representative of an anti-Christ administration to the stage can be defended on its own terms, but let’s not pretend it’s the same sort of act a welcome to a previous administration would have been.

After watching Pence’s speech, it seems the convention’s time might have been better spent in prayer and repentance. Here are the thoughts I jotted down as the speech unfolded:

Introducing Pence, Steve Gaines says, “I am so grateful to have a vice-president who not only loves people but also loves the Lord Jesus Christ.” Pence receives a big ovation from the crowd.

Pence says he wants to begin by bringing greetings from President Trump. Loud applause and cheers. “Four more years!” someone yells. Five minutes before, they were singing worship songs.

Pence talks about all the good Southern Baptists are doing and then segues into his own 1978 conversion experience. “I gave my life to Jesus Christ. It’s made all the difference.”

He says Southern Baptists have always worked for renewal, and our nation is in a moment of renewal, “a new beginning of greatness in America.” The greatest privilege of his life, he says, has been working for President Trump. “500 days of promises made and promises kept.” Loud applause.

Pence is going through the litany of the Trump administration’s “accomplishments.” Yesterday’s summit agreement about nothing gets big applause.

Pence keeps referring back to Trump, the great leader. He has this patented way of communicating that he is Trump’s toady and exercises no independent thought or moral judgment. He’s completely shameless. SBC leaders knew Pence would use this speech to talk about how great Trump is, right? They knew this would be a political speech.

I’m surprised how much of this speech is about North Korea.

Now as he tells a personal story he appears to be trying to cry but can’t quite get there.

Pence says strong American leadership is crucial for the resolution of the Korean conflict, but says he and Trump both know that the “effective fervent prayers” of righteous people are needed. This is a reference to James 5:16.

“Unlike his predecessors, this President kept his word” when he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. This line gets a roar and a standing ovation.

Now touting the tax cuts. More cheers. This is just a regular campaign speech with a few religious lines thrown in.

“Under President Donald Trump America is back and we’re just getting started.” Loud cheers.

Pence is emphasizing the Trump Administration’s efforts to protect “religious liberty.” Appointing conservative judges, protecting Christians in the Middle East.

“I couldn’t be more proud to stand with a President who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. President Donald Trump is the most pro-life President in American history.” This earns a general standing ovation across the convention hall. For anyone outside the Trumpist bubble, it’s very hard to believe that Trump or Pence care about the unborn when they are so cruel to the born.

Mike Pence says all Trump’s wonderful accomplishments would not be possible without the support of people like you (meaning Southern Baptists). Pence says Trump has “deep respect” for people of faith. “We respect how you care for the most vulnerable” Pence says, like how you try to help the people Trump and I are trying to oppress. Oh wait, he didn’t say that last part.

Pence is, inevitably, making a fool of himself. Hypocrisy on an almost unfathomable scale. Pence says “in divided times” Southern Baptist values and compassion are needed more than ever. He concludes with a call to keep practicing compassion, “especially for the most vulnerable,” and to “pray for America.” Then he quotes the classic text of Christian nationalists: 2 Chronicles 7:14.

I like the call for compassion, but I wish Pence wouldn’t support racism, sexual assault, tearing families apart, and lawlessness in general. I take the old-fashioned view that what a person does matters. But apparently I’m a snowflake for thinking that. This whole spectacle brings to mind another passage of scripture:

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

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