Vice President Pence to graduates: Be prepared to be ridiculed for being Christian – USA TODAY
A Taylor University freshman and a recent grad share their perspectives on Mike Pence chosen to give commencement address.
Jenna Watson, email@example.com
WASHINGTON âThe lastÂ time Vice President Mike Pence spoke at Liberty University, he used the backdrop of one of the worldâs largest Christian schools to vouch for candidate Donald Trumpâs faith credentials during the 2016 campaign.
When Pence returned to the school Saturday to deliver the commencement address, his remarks were more personal.
Pence, who has been facing criticisms of his own religious views recently, warned graduates that they have to stay strong against the challenges theyâll getÂ from Hollywood, the media and the secular left.
âSome of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs,â Pence said. âBe ready.â
With his wife, Karen, sitting on stage as he spoke, Pence recounted the âharsh attacksâ he said they enduredÂ when she returned this year to teaching art at a Christian elementary school where sheâd worked when heâd served in Congress. Unlike her previous stint, this time Karen Pence faced scrutiny after news reports pointed out that the school bans gay students and teachers.
âThroughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian,â Pence said. âIt didnât even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible. But things are different now.â
Pence said the graduates will be asked not just to tolerate things that violate their faith, but to endorse them.
Pence didnât specifically mention this, but heâs been a target on the presidential campaign trail, where Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg has gotten attention for questioning how Pence can square his faith with both his support for Trump and his opposition to gay marriage.
And the commencement address that Pence is scheduled to deliver next week at a Christian school in his home state has divided Taylor University. An onlineÂ petitionÂ started by a Taylor alum complains that the address will make the school âcomplicit in the Trump-Pence Administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.â
By contrast, Pence received a warm welcome Saturday at Liberty University where president Jerry Falwell Jr. is a strong supporter of Trump. Introducing Pence, Falwell called him “one of the most engaged and influential vice presidents in my lifetime,” despite facing the “unrelenting scrutiny of a hostile press.”
Four Liberty University alumni work in Penceâs office. Six of Saturdayâs graduates had been students in Karen Penceâs classrooms.
In 2016, when release of a video showing Trump boasting crudely about grabbing womenâs genitals threatened to bring down his campaign, Pence traveled to Liberty University to urge people of faith to rally for Trump.
âShortcomings are no excuse for inaction,â Pence said.
After Trump took office, he chose Liberty University for his first commencement address. As Pence did this year, Trump in 2017 encouraged graduates to stay tough under criticism. And he also thanked attendees for their support.
âBoy, did you come out and vote,â he said. âBoy, oh, boy, you voted, you voted.â
About 81% of white evangelicals voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. Â Thatâs a greater share than supported George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012.
A recent Morning Consult survey shows why Penceâs message Saturday that Christians are under attack might resonate with his audience.
The April survey asked people if they felt respected by various types of groups including late night comedians, people who work on Wall Street, national journalists, and college professors at elite universities. Â Less than 30% of white evangelical Protestants felt respected by any of those groups. But nearly two-thirds said that Trump respected âpeople like them.â
âThere is that feeling that Trump quite smartly identified and has made one of the central parts of his appeal,â saidÂ Daniel Cox, a research fellow in polling and public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute. Â âHe respects conservative Christians even if he is not exactly one of them in terms of how heâs lived his life.â
Pence referenced the Biblical figures of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is warning graduates that they are going âto be asked to bow down to the idols of the popular culture.â
The three men refused to worship a golden idol and were thrown into a fiery furnace. But after King Nebuchadnezzar saw them walking around in the flames unharmed, accompanied by the son of God, he had the men removed and said their God should be worshipped.
âJust know this:Â If, like Shadrek, Meshach and Abednego you end up in the fire, there’ll be another in the fire,â Pence told the graduates, who applauded the reference.
Speaking ânot so much as your vice president but as a brother in Christ,â Pence encouraged the students to âstand firmâ and be prepared to share the reason for their hope, doing so âwith gentleness and respect.â
âBecause our nation and our world needÂ that message of grace and love,â Pence said, âmaybe more now than ever before.â
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