Before Vice President Mike Pence hit the stage Wednesday for the second day of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the congregation of thousands sang a few worship songs. In one, this lyric stood out: “Yes, I shall see him, see him face to face / and tell the story saved by grace.” They were singing about Jesus, but when Pence emerged, he did not waste the moment to attach a celestial meaning to the work he and President Donald Trump are doing.
He told a story about three American hostages North Korea released in May after after negotiations with the administration. Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Pence and his wife, Karen, met the hostages on a runway at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Pence told the Baptists that one of the men grabbed his hand, thanked him for his prayers and passed him a white index card. On one side was a portion of the Psalm 126: “When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.” The Trump administration, Pence said, was the great liberator the men had hoped for.
“I’ll never forget that night,” Pence said.
Pence traveled to Dallas as Trump returned from his historic trip to Singapore, where he met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Pence brought with him a message that the prayers from people like the Southern Baptists are boosting Trump’s global and domestic mission. Pence talked about a “renewal” of America — “a stronger America, a stronger economy, a stronger commitment to the God-given liberties of the Constitution.”
Pence was talking to a receptive crowd as he mingled politics and faith. White evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and that support appeared solid during Pence’s speech.
“President Donald Trump is the most pro-life president in American history,” the vice president said.
He reminded the convention that he cast the tie-breaking vote in 2017 to empower states to cut Planned Parenthood funding. Some people in the crowd shouted, with four fingers held up, “Four more years!”
“This progress … is the result of the support from men and women like so many of you,” Pence said.
Pence bore witness to the “deep respect” Trump has for the country, which he called “a nation of faith.” He said both he and Trump regard faith organizations as the “cornerstone” of America.
“You and your ministries strengthen the foundation, our character and our nation every day, so today, on behalf of the president, I want to say thank you,” Pence said. “Thank you to the Southern Baptist Convention for the essential role and irreplaceable role you play in America. And I’ll make you a promise — this president, this vice president and our administration will always stand with you.”
Not everybody was happy about the speech. Some people said the message was too partisan. It also came a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at the SBC.
There was even a moment during Pence’s speech when he brought up tax reform as a way to show Trump’s appreciation and devotion to the Baptists. It all comes amid a burgeoning conversation, particularly among younger evangelists, that it’s time for the Baptists to break away from Republican politics and reconsider some of its values.
Pence is somewhat of a mascot for religious conservatives, but he is not a Baptist. He has described himself as an “evangelical Catholic.” It has been said that Pence’s political and religious views began to change about the same time. Pence voted for Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election but soon after began supporting Ronald Reagan.