Jun 13, 2018, 4:58 PM ET

Pence gives campaign-style speech to Southern Baptists


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Vice President Mike Pence gave an often boastful campaign-style speech Wednesday to the closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, winning several standing ovations even as some evangelicals criticized his appearance.

Pence repeatedly made clear that the SBC — the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. — is viewed by him and President Donald Trump as a vital part of their conservative base heading into the midterm elections. He called the SBC "one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America."

Pence devoted much of his speech to touting the Trump's administration's achievements since taking office.

"It's been 500 days of action ... 500 days of promises made and promises kept," he said.

He enthused about Trump's meeting this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and received a big ovation by mentioning the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a longstanding goal of many U.S. evangelicals.

Pence drew more loud applause when he declared Trump "the most pro-life president in American history" and noted that he has appointed many conservatives to federal judgeships.

While most of the crowd of roughly 10,000 at the convention in Dallas seemed pleased with Pence's speech, some audience members could be seen sitting with their arms folded during the ovations.

On Tuesday, as the annual meeting opened, one delegate from Virginia introduced a motion asking that the invitation to Pence be withdrawn and replaced by a time for prayer. Other delegates proposed that the SBC adopt a new policy to avoid speeches by politicians at future annual meetings. But those proposals were defeated or sidetracked.

The Rev. Wade Burleson, an outspoken Baptist pastor from Enid, Oklahoma, alluded to those concerns in a tweet.

"The SBC is changing," Burleson tweeted . "More than a few voiced their objections to politicians, even strong Christians like Mike Pence, speaking to the SBC. It's always wise to keep the Gospel a priority."

There was strong criticism from Michael Wear, a Washington-based consultant who led evangelical outreach while in President Barack Obama's White House office of faith-based initiatives.

"I am saddened Pence wld be so triumphalistic, so unabashed, so jingoistic," Wear tweeted . "I'm more saddened that there would be people in the audience, messengers of the gospel (unless they're outside guests), who would so revel in rubbing their politics in the faces of their brothers & sisters."

Aside from Pence's speech, the most sensitive issue confronting the annual meeting related to multiple recent cases of sexual misconduct within the SBC community — and ensuing discussion about the role of women in a denomination with a doctrine of male leadership in the church and in the home.

On Tuesday, with little opposition, delegates adopted resolutions condemning any sexual misconduct by SBC ministers, urging more action to prevent "all forms of abuse," and encouraging victims to contact civil authorities to seek protection and support.

On Wednesday, the issue resurfaced when Jeffrey Bingham, interim president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered the seminary's annual report, including an update on events surrounding the termination of former President Paige Patterson.

One of the SBC's most prominent figures, Patterson was ousted because of his response to two rape allegations made years apart by students. He also was accused of making improper remarks about a teenage girl's body and contending that women who are in abusive relationships should almost always stay with their husbands.

Bingham said his goal is "to create a safe environment and a campus culture that protects and cares for the victims of abuse" As a step in that direction, he said all staff and faculty will have retaken and completed a course on sexual harassment over the next six weeks.

He indicated that the decision to oust Patterson was difficult for the board of trustees' executive committee.

The committee "is made up of 12 godly men and women," Bingham said. "I have seen the agony on their faces. I have seen the tears in their eyes as they have had to make decisions."

As the annual meeting drew to a close, delegates rejected a motion calling for those executive committee members to be dismissed from the seminary's board. Thomas Hatley, who introduced the motion, contended that the committee acted hastily and unfairly in firing Patterson after he had been granted the status of president emeritus.

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  • Lee Thompson

    If religious groups want to become politically active as a 'religious' faction, they should have to lose their tax exemption status.

  • Former Earthling

    Pence is the 2nd most annoying public speaker behind Trump.

  • concernedvoter

    Pence is trying to sit on the Sidelines as the back up for the Crazy right for when Trump fully implodes but we all know he's just as crooked as Trump.. and a Religious nut to boot..

  • concernedvoter

    We all Tried to warn the GOP but now they're finding out what happens when they let the leader of their Tea Party Run our Country.. Now its become a cancer within their Party and eating away at our Country and its allies..

  • fortem

    We need to tax the Baptist church's income if they are not going to separate church and state. They have become a political party.

  • catmom

    Pence and apparently Southern Baptist condone everything trump is doing. They condone his divisive rhetoric, his obnoxious behavior and the way he treats people. I don't know Christians who would condone trump's behavior. It seems to go against the things they claim to believe. Pence is no better than trump.

  • Lee Thompson

    And the faithful lapped it up . . . no surprise.

  • Colinalcarz

    I’m fine with churches taking positions on moral issues but not individual candidates. The SBC has crossed the line.

  • beingcurious

    The SBC ecstatically embraces an immoral administration. Did they watch the Bush and Stern interviews with Trump? Do they care? Some Christians. I respectfully tip my hat to those who refused to stand and clap for Pence, as well as those who argued for separation of politics from religion.

  • fmd160

    Did Trump write his speech?

  • TexasVulcan

    Is the SBC a tax-exempt organization? Exactly what "good" do they (not the churches themselves) do for the community? What business do they have engaging in politics?

  • Prophet With Honor

    A small schism developing?

  • Harry Fiber

    what is this stupid story about? Not talking about Trump meeting with Kim?

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    No Church or religion in Govt.

    What a great idea. Too bad GOPers and in particular Trump and Pence, are intent on doing the opposite. The say they want small govt but yet they want that same govt to force the rest of Americans to think exactly as they do.

    And to think America was settled by people fleeing this exact same thinking. 400 years ago.

  • Ira Cohen

    Dear Christians Stop for a minute and ask yourselves the obvious question: "What would Jesus Christ the Savior tell you about these political preachers and political speeches in your church, especially defending the great fornicator and liar Donald Trump?
    You can't cherry pick your faith, i.e. abortion rights vs adultery, greed vs. love and caring for the poor, coveting they neighbor's wife and so forth, supporting racist bigots (God loves all, you do remember that?),