What Mike Pence got wrong at Liberty University

There are people across the world and in the United States who face genuine discrimination for their faith. Pence trivialized their plight by suggesting that he is somehow a victim.

In this file photo, then-Republican vice-presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, speaks at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Oct. 12, 2016. Pence spoke at the commencement on May 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(RNS) — This past weekend, Vice President Mike Pence, offering the commencement address at Liberty University, issued a warning to graduates of this Christian university: be prepared to be “shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible.”

Truth be told, it is Christians like Pence who do the most shunning and ridiculing. His message at Liberty was both bad theology and bad politics.

Pence’s faith affiliation, for instance, is what helped propel him to the vice presidency; he is not a victim. When Pence is ridiculed, it is not for the religion he claims, but for the political stances he takes that have led to discrimination against others.

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This is, after all, a political leader who helped create an HIV/AIDS outbreak in his own state after cutting prevention efforts, cuts he made to accommodate his theological belief that those most likely to suffer from the disease are expendable.

There are people across the world and in the United States who face genuine discrimination for their faith. Pence trivialized their plight by suggesting that he is somehow a victim.

The Easter bombings of Christian churches in Sri Lanka remind us of the peril Christians face in different parts of the globe. China regularly persecutes Christians. In the aftermath of the Iraq War, Christians were largely erased from that nation.

Human rights, including the freedom to worship, should be the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy, but the Trump-Pence administration cares more about trade with China than the human rights situation there. The plight of Muslims in China, now being forced into concentration camps, is barely acknowledged by the White House.

In India, a nationalist Hindu government persecutes both Muslims and Christians, particularly Dalit Christians. In Myanmar, there has been a genocide of Muslims. The United States turns a blind eye to these atrocities.

What Pence failed to tell Liberty University graduates was how religious freedom has actually increasingly come under assault in the United States during the Trump years. The president regularly assails Muslims and even ordered a selective ban on refugees from several Muslim-majority countries. He has repeatedly spread anti-Semitic messages on Twitter. Hate crimes against Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities have skyrocketed under Trump-Pence.

Hate crimes against gays and lesbians have also increased. Pence has opposed equality for gays and lesbians, claiming that it is not discriminatory to do so because he is merely following “God’s will.” Pence warned the nation about marriage equality, saying: “Societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”

As a Christian minister who follows Jesus’ Greatest Commandment — to love God and love my neighbor — I find it challenging to reconcile Pence’s theology with God’s teachings. Pence deserves to be ridiculed when he offers political stances that denigrate others, leaves the least of these to suffer without shelter or health care and accelerates the pace of climate change by ignoring the obligation of God’s people to protect creation.

Young people in the United States and across the globe are crying out for a more just world. This weekend, I will deliver the invocation for the commencement exercises at Pacific University, and my prayer will be that we come together in pursuit of the common good.

Imagine if the vice president of the United States did the same instead of seeking to divide Americans along religious lines during a moment of history in which we all face real peril.

(Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, serves as director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and university chaplain at Pacific University in Oregon. He is on Twitter @revchuckcurrie. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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