One of the first promises Donald Trump made to evangelicals as a candidate was to the pastors of America: We’re going to get rid of that [Johnson amendment],” he promised. Now, a year and a half into his administration, it’s somewhat fitting that he and Vice President Mike Pence have made a priority of keeping their dialogue with churches going.
Today, Vice President Pence did that in spectacular fashion at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The largest evangelical denomination in America, the SBC hosted as many as 11,000 delegates in Texas. And to them, the administration’s second-in-command had a simple message: We “will always stand with you.”
The vice president took the opportunity to talk about the progress the Trump administration has made on issues of importance to the SBC – and evangelicals in general: protecting life, preserving religious liberty, helping the persecuted church, standing with Israel. But those gains, he reminded them, can’t be sustained without engaged, churchgoing Americans.
“Today, we only ask the men and women of this convention to continue in your calling with renewed energy. Stand and go and speak. Stand in the gap. Because in these too-divided times, I believe that your voice, your compassion, your values, and your ministries are more needed than ever before.
But you should also know that we recognize that the most important work in America doesn’t happen in the White House or anywhere in Washington, D.C. for that matter. We know the most meaningful work, the most transformative work happens where you live, where your ministries impact: in the hearts and minds of the American people.
The truth is no podium that President Trump and I will ever stand behind will be of greater consequence than the pulpits you stand behind every Sunday morning. (Applause.) No policy we enact will ever be more meaningful than the ministries you lead. And no action we take will ever be more powerful than your prayers.”
As he touched on the country’s divided times, several in the room probably thought about the division right there in that room. Just yesterday, one SBC messenger made a motion to disinvite the vice president, insisting that, “By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members, suggesting that to be faithful to the gospel, we ought to align with a particular administration.”
Fortunately, wisdom prevailed, soundly defeating the ill-conceived resolution. But it is a clear indication that there are some within the church that are either too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced, or — as Jesus described in John 17 — being in the world but not of it. We can’t influence if we retreat. We don’t have to agree with everything this president has said or done, and we don’t, but it is foolish and even detrimental to persecuted believers around the world to fail to acknowledge that this administration is being used to set the table for the church to do its work unhindered. The vice president, Mike Pence, is an unabashed believer who’s championing their cause in the White House. Look at the doors this administration is opening for religious liberty and free speech. Now is not the time for shutting doors – now’s the time to rush through and seize this moment of opportunity.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.