House Speaker Paul Ryan introduced the Republican nominee for vice president, Mike Pence, as a “man of faith” at the party’s national convention July 20. When the Indiana Governor took the stage he declared, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”
Pence peppered his acceptance speech with phrases familiar to Christians: “I have faith that God can still heal our land” and “Pray daily for a wise and discerning heart.”
Is Pence the man evangelicals have been looking for this election cycle?
In 1994, Pence told the Indianapolis Business Journal, “I made a commitment to Christ. I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.” While that may sound odd to Baptist ears, it’s not as rare as some may think.
When Republican candidate for president Donald Trump announced his selection of Pence as his running mate, Trump pledged he and Pence would do away with the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954 when then Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, later president, successfully restricted tax-exempt religious organizations including churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.
It’s said Johnson’s fervor for the amendment came from is desire to silence pastors in his state who were opposing his re-election bid. Many believe the amendment is a violation of citizens’ First Amendment rights
In his speech, Trump said he “could not have won this nomination” without the support of evangelical voters. He called them “unbelievable.”
Referring to the Johnson amendment, he stated, “You are just absolutely shunned if you’re evangelical, if you want to talk religion, you lose your tax-exempt status.We put into the platform, we’re going to get rid of that horrible Johnson amendment. And we’re going to let evangelicals, we’re going to let Christians and Jews and people of religion talk without being afraid to talk.”
After sharing about amendment’s history, Trump stated, “We’re [he and Pence] going to undo it, so that religious leaders in this country, and those unbelievable people, and not because they backed me in such large numbers, but so that religion can again have a voice, because religion’s voice has been taken away. And we’re going to change that. OK? All right.”
Delegates to the Republican National Convention approved a platform, which some are calling the party’s most conservative ever, that includes this promise.
Will evangelicals who oppose Trump get on board because of this promise or the Pence addition to the ticket? Some are saying not so fast.
Pence was under fire last year when he signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Critics claimed the bill discriminated against the LGBT community, while supporters claimed it protected the rights of religious believers to practice their faith. Corporations, major sporting events, and individuals threatened to boycott the state. A few days later, Pence signed an amendment to the bill which also protected sexual orientation and gender identity rights. Some viewed Pence’s actions as a betrayal and questioned his commitment to religious freedom.
A recent Pew survey showed the majority of white evangelicals now support Trump because they dislike presumptive Democrat nominee for president Hillary Clinton. Whether Pence will win over the #NeverTrump evangelicals who say they will leave the checkbox for president blank or write in a name won’t truly be known until November.