Vice President Pence speaks to the Southern Baptist Convention: 'Our administration will always stand with you'

Wednesday , June 13, 2018 - 12:50 PM

Julie Zauzmer

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

DALLAS - Vice President Pence delivered a hybrid of a campaign speech and a sermon before thousands of representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, boasting about the Trump administration’s actions on everything from North Korea negotiations to tax cuts in his speech to the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

Pence, who is an evangelical Christian himself and generally popular in this conservative evangelical denomination, spoke in the language of the campaign trail but also in the language of a sermon.

“Today on behalf of the president, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the Southern Baptist Convention for the essential and irreplaceable role you play in America,” he said. “I’ll make you a promise: This president, this vice president and our administration will always stand with you.”

Some attendees at the Baptists’ annual meeting had protested in advance that Pence should not have been invited; several delegates made motions that were denied or delayed Tuesday that Pence’s time slot should be filled instead with prayer or that all politicians should be barred from addressing the annual meeting.

Reaction to Pence’s speech was mixed. While many applauded while Pence spoke - particularly when he spoke about abortion and Israel - others sat with hands folded. Key leaders in the denomination complained afterward that he had focused too much on partisan politics.

J.D. Greear, the North Carolina pastor elected president of the denomination Tuesday in a decisive vote, reacted immediately after the vice president’s speech. “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal,” he wrote on Twitter. “We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention - but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”

Brian Kaylor, a Baptist pastor who is not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and who researches the intersection of politics and religion, said Pence’s heavy focus on praising Trump was a surprising deviation from previous Republican leaders who have addressed the convention over the years.

“This speech will define this gathering for them. It was so over-the-top partisan,” Kaylor said.

He said previous Republican presidents and vice presidents addressed political issues, and praised their own administrations’ successes, “but it’s framed differently. . . . This was all about Trump. Trump is the singular strong leader, Trump is the one doing this or that. I was surprised how strong he came down on the tone.”

Many attendees agreed, tweeting:

“So @VP’s very political speech, focused on praising Trump and “America First,” is not going over well with some at #SBCAM18.”

- Kedron Bardwell

During the speech, when Pence opened with greetings from Trump, the room erupted in applause and one loud shout of, “Four more years!” Pence drew the most sustained ovations when he mentioned the Trump administration’s action of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and when he described Trump as “the most pro-life president in American history,” two extremely popular issues among evangelicals.

Pence also hit on other topics of interest to the religious audience - the Trump administration’s desire to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt churches from campaigning for candidates; the fight against the Islamic State - and also subjects with less obvious religious aspects. He touted Trump’s tax reform law and the low unemployment rate, and spent the lengthy beginning of the speech talking about the recent meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“While strong American leadership has accomplished much,” Pence concluded that segment, “[Trump] and I both know that the righteous and fervent prayers . . . can accomplish much more. So let’s all pray. Let’s pray for peace for the Korean people and the world.”

Toward the end of his address, Pence sermonized more, dwelling on the mass shooting last year at a Southern Baptist church in nearby Sutherland Springs, Texas. The faith of the survivors inspired him, Pence said.

He called the Southern Baptist Convention “one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America.”

Immediately after Pence’s address, Texas pastor Kie Bowman began the convention sermon - a prominent spot that was supposed to go to Baptist leader Paige Patterson. Patterson was fired last month from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when it came to light that he had allegedly not reported a rape that he was told of to authorities, and he eventually abdicated the sermon slot. But his absence has loomed large at this convention, where delegates voted Tuesday to adopt resolutions against abuse of women and extramarital affairs.

Many attendees are still angry that Patterson was fired. On Wednesday afternoon, the convention will debate a motion to fire the seminary board of trustees that fired Patterson.

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