Thousands of people met in Dallas earlier this week for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, which took place on June 12 and 13. Among the speakers scheduled to address the nearly 10,000 delegates (known as “messengers”) was Vice President Mike Pence — which resulted in controversy that ultimately overshadowed much of the two-day meeting.
Garrett Kell, a Virginian pastor, proposed removing Pence’s address from the Wednesday schedule and replacing it with a time of prayer. “By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members that to be faithful to the Gospel is to also align with that administration,” Kell said.
Kell later clarified his motion was “not about VP Pence personally or any particular policy” but was because he thinks it “unwise to have ANY sitting politician address the convention.” Kell pointed out the divisive nature of politics can “distract people from talking about Jesus and His call to take the Gospel to every person everywhere.”
Mr. Pence may well be a believer, but mixing politics and Gospel ministry works against unity, love, and Gospel progress.
This is a tone deaf move. Yes, we should pray for him and other leaders as God calls us to, but he shouldn’t be speaking at the convention. https://t.co/BN32CWaSao
— Garrett Kell ن (@pastorjgkell) June 11, 2018
— Garrett Kell ن (@pastorjgkell) June 12, 2018
However, the motions were all defeated, and Pence addressed the messengers on Wednesday as planned.
During his address, Pence spoke about the 2017 First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and praised Southern Baptist faith — but he spent most time and attention on the achievements and accomplishments of the Trump administration.
One Twitter user pointed out how often Pence mentioned Trump compared to the words “God,” “Jesus,” or “Christ”:
In his SBC convention speech yesterday, @VP used:
President 61 times
Trump 12 times
Donald 6 times
— Ryan Burge 📊 (@ryanburge) June 14, 2018
Pence praised Trump for his handling of the North Korea hostages and summit, the passage of the tax cuts, his judicial nominations, and “securing our borders.”
“It’s been 500 days of action, 500 days of accomplishment, 500 days of promises made and promises kept,” he declared, ending his remarks with Trump’s campaign slogan to “make America great.”
Read Pence’s full remarks here.
According to Grant Ethridge, one of the convention committee chairmen, the White House initiated the request to have Pence speak — in what now appears to have been an effort to deliver a Trump stump speech to the evangelical community.
And some attendees certainly approved of Pence’s presence. One attendee told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “It was very refreshing to hear the vice president quote Scripture, quote Billy Graham, and ask us all to pray for the nation.”
However, other attendees felt Pence’s political posturing and campaigning during a time for worship and reflection was shameless and inappropriate, finding the politics an unwelcome distraction from the true reasons they were gathered there.
— Todd Benkert (@toddbenkert) June 13, 2018
So far at #SBC18 Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, military service, & God Bless America.
Maybe we can also say the Apostle’s Creed next time? #
— JT English (@jt_english) June 12, 2018
Pence should not have chosen to treat the event as if it were some sort of Donald Trump campaign rally. He was there to address his brothers and sisters in Christ, not to champion the administration; instead of focusing on Christ, he focused on Trump. All efforts should have been made to keep the focus on faith, separate from political parties and agendas.
Furthermore, the vice president’s remarks seem to have damaged a convention otherwise focused on unity. The church has been rocked by the allegations that high-profile Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson covered up sexual abuse, and much of the annual meeting attempted to address the treatment of women, including adopting a resolution condemning all forms of abuse. Other resolutions proposed immigration reform and addressed racial reconciliation.
Based on the response from church leaders, they too are concerned with the optics of Pence’s speech and the distraction from the church’s message, and it seems unlikely that Pence or any other politician will be invited back any time soon.
Ed Stetzer is the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois and also tweeted, “I believe that this was the last SBC annual meeting where the messengers will hear a political speech. #SBC18 @SBCAM18″
I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our … https://t.co/BT1SgUXWgj
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) June 13, 2018
J.D. Greear is the newly-elected Southern Baptist Convention president and North Carolina megachurch pastor and tweeted: “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. 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.”
Co-sign, also. https://t.co/rSJhhDFqPE
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 14, 2018
Dr. Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
However, this does not mean that Pence cannot or even should not attend future annual meetings at all. Perhaps next year, Pence should attend and sit in the pews to listen to God’s word, rather than stand at the pulpit and preach Trump’s agenda. As the scripture says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.”
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.