Mike Pence recently gave the commencement speech at Liberty University. In his speech, he warned “Throughout most of American history; it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian; it didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible. But things are different now,” he continued, adding that “some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. Be ready.”
Let’s unpack this. His claim that throughout American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian is true. Lots of different flavors of Christians came to the early American colonies and later as the United States welcomed wave after wave of immigrants, many different kinds of people wore the label, Christian.
However, his statement that it didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible is untrue. One of the enduring myths about the pilgrims is that they came to the colonies to establish religious freedom. The early Puritans wanted religious freedom, for themselves, but practiced a great deal of intolerance towards all other Christians. Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his claim that the State could not punish people for their beliefs) He was branded a heretic. The colonies and the United States have a long history of shunning and ridiculing those who defend the teaching of the Bible. Catholics, Anglicans, Quakers, Methodist all shunned and were shunned.
The problem is the phrase “defending the teaching of the Bible.” Every group believed they had the correct teaching of the Bible. Mike Pence and the recently minted Fundagelicals graduating from Liberty University believe they have the correct teaching of the Bible. Here’s an ugly truth that most pastors, teachers, and preachers won’t tell you: No one group has the correct teaching of the Bible. We are all wrong. We all make mistakes. That’s why we have methods for examining our teaching and doctrine. Our interpretations of scripture are critiqued. A critique isn’t an attack; it isn’t persecution; it is a method to test the validity of that interpretation, for Mike Pence and Fundagelicals critiques are attacks.
Pence says that the loudest voices for tolerance have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. Here again, is a piece of Christian mythology that Fundagelical beliefs are “traditional.” They are traditional in the same sense that watching Santa Clause Conquers the Martians is Christmas tradition. It wasn’t there on the first Christmas; it was added in the 20th century, and it’s only a tradition for some people. Fundagelical “traditional” beliefs like their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, anti-abortion stance, and anti-Muslim stance, were not part of early Christianity; they were added in the 20th century; they are only believed by some Christians.
Pence is preparing Liberty students for ignorance. Instead of allowing their interpretations to be challenged and critiqued, thus discarding invalid arguments and leading them to stronger more reasonable beliefs, he teaches them that their beliefs are under attack. Pence is telling them not to seek the truth but to accept one group’s interpretation as the truth.
Pence pointed to the recent criticism that his wife received for teaching at a Christian school that doesn’t allow LGBT+ people as student or faculty. Pence framed this as an attack against his wife’s Christian beliefs and Christian education. These criticisms were neither. If Mike Pence were the pastor of a Fundagelical church, the vast majority of people in the United States wouldn’t care if his wife taught at a Fundagelical school. However, Mike Pence made a decision to enter into public life; he was elected as Vice-President of the United States and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. He was elected to represent all the people of the United States; he swore to uphold a document that guarantees equality to minority groups. The criticisms against his wife were criticisms against his role as an elected representative of all the people. Was his wife working at a school that discriminates against minorities counter to his role as a representative to all the people? If Mike Pence’s Christianity prevents him from acting in a non-discriminatory manner, can he truly take an oath to defend the Constitution that guarantees equality for all? If he and his wife believe in a Christianity that only allows them to serve some, should they take a job that requires them to serve all?
Pence, as a Fundagelical, questions the Christianity of Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and liberal Progressives. Apparently, he can’t stand when they question him back. The criticism and critiques become, in his mind, shunning and ridicule.
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
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