Renée Graham

The Passion of the Pence

Credit: Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe file photos

Vice President Mike Pence is a man whose ironclad belief in his own piousness is surpassed only by his devotion to a mendacious and depraved president.

Anyone still asking how Pence — who describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order” — can serve this White House, in spite of President Trump’s moral failures as a leader and human being, is missing the point. Pence is no different from Trump; both employ the same toxic swill of lies, fear-mongering, and self-pity to incite their base and push their divisive worldview.

He’s Trump without the potty mouth.


Pence last Saturday even got to have his own version of a Trump rally, with an equally friendly audience at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school in Virginia cofounded by Jerry Falwell, and now run by his Trump-toady son, Jerry Falwell Jr. Pence warned graduates to “be ready” to be mocked for their faith.

“Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian,” he said. “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.”

What’s different is people are speaking up against those using the Bible as an invisibility cloak for their bigotry.

“Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs,” Pence said. “As you go about your daily life, just be ready, because you’re going to be asked not just to tolerate things that violate your faith, you’re going to be asked to endorse them. You’re going to be asked to bow down to the idols of the popular culture.”

If Pence is speaking about the LGBTQ community or women’s reproductive rights, no one wants or needs any religious endorsement. We want full recognition of our civil rights, and know-nothing moralists out of our business.


It’s a safe guess that Pence is still smarting after South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Christian and openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, called out his fellow Hoosier for using religion to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion. Pence’s wife Karen has also been criticized for teaching at a Christian art school that bans LGBTQ students.

That’s not an attack on religion. It’s opposition to blatant discrimination.

Pence also said “the freedom of religion is under assault,” and referenced recent mass killings in houses of worship. Tellingly, he failed to mention that the accused shooters at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year and two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques earlier this year allegedly claimed they were motivated by Trump’s ugly rhetoric.

Pence’s speech was a dog whistle filtered through a veil of religious freedom. And you can bet evangelicals heard Pence loud and clear — only the Trump administration will protect your ability to deny a same-sex couple a wedding cake or to strip a woman of the right to make her own health decisions.

Let this also be clear: Pence is speaking to the white evangelical Christians who helped propel Trump into the White House and whose support has remained high. With eyes on various prizes, especially overturning Roe v. Wade and same-sex marriage, white evangelicals will tolerate anything Trump does so long as he nominates judges in lockstep with their specific values. They’ve waited for their savior’s return; for now, Trump will do.


Besides, he gifted them Pence, who is one of their own. A lousy Indiana governor, Pence was doomed to political obscurity until his selection as Trump’s veep made him a poster boy for failing up. Now he’s doing what this administration does best — churning irrational fear among white people that they are endangered by those who dare believe they are worthy of the same rights others have always enjoyed.

This weekend, Pence is scheduled to deliver a commencement speech at Taylor University, a small Christian school in Indiana. Thousands of students, alumni, and parents have signed an online petition asking that Pence’s invitation be rescinded. His presence would make the university “complicit in the Trump-Pence administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear,” the petition states.

Christianity that embraces love and rejects division is not a religion the vice president or Trump-supporting white evangelicals recognize. Of course, the same should also be said for the cruel, craven man in the White House who Pence defends and worships like a messiah.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.