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IB Media Team Report

Will the church embrace immigrants?
After illegal border crossings declined in 2017 to a more than 40-year low, the numbers began climbing again in 2018. This included a record-setting number of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico traveling in September in a caravan toward the border.

Earlier in 2018, when the Trump administration attempted to deter immigration, migration declined. The government’s zero-tolerance policy ramped up criminal prosecution of anyone entering the United States illegally. But when 3,000 children were separated from their arrested parents, the policy came under attack, including a public letter of protest written to the administration by evangelical leaders.

“As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

An executive order officially halted family separations in June, but immigration policy is still in limbo, a fact highlighted by a December court decision that grants those crossing the border illegally the right to seek asylum in the U.S. With its current trajectory, migration is expected to grow in 2019—increasing the challenge for the church to offer a biblical response to an increasingly volatile problem.

Is Pence courting evangelicals?
With the first Trump term at its midpoint, several questions face evangelicals: How do they view the president now, in light of increasing scrutiny over his ethical and legal behaviors and the pending special counsel’s report? And, in contrast to Trump, how do evangelicals feel about Vice President Mike Pence?

Self-described as both evangelical and Catholic, Pence has managed to stay above the fray mostly, while appealing to Republicans’ traditional faith-base. “We know that what you do in the ministries of your churches make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation…” Pence told Southern Baptists in June. “You’re the cornerstone, not just of your communities but, in so many ways, of our country.”

Some wonder if Pence has his own presidential ambitions. In May, the New York Times reported while “[the President is] mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party” his “supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.”

The Times also noted that while the two previous Vice Presidents “have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda,” referring in part to his networking with evangelicals on Trump’s behalf—and perhaps his own.

New justices differ on key issues
In a year that saw a vicious, partisan fight over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life record, many were surprised by that new justice’s decision in a life-related case.

The Court announced Dec. 10 it would not review decisions by lower courts in Kansas and Louisiana that require Medicare to remove Planned Parenthood as a patient provider. Controversial new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined more moderately conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal justices in refusing to consider the lower court rulings.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Court pick, joined conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in filing written dissents of the High Court’s decision. Kavanaugh’s move has caused many to speculate that he may be a more moderate influence on the Court than originally thought.

In the nearly three months since Kavanaugh joined the Court, he and Gorsuch have differed on rulings concerning abortion, immigration, and the environment, USA Today reported. “There’s a pattern here that you can’t ignore,” Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, told the newspaper. “It corresponds with our prediction for Kavanaugh, which is that he would be more like Roberts.”

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

The Briefing

SBC WRAP-UP: Greear, Pence, #MeToo draw SBC’s focus
At an annual meeting that saw what chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty called an “extra heavy volume of business” on its opening day, the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as convention president and heard an address by Vice President Mike Pence.

Local county condemns abortion, declares ‘unborn sanctuary’
The Effingham (Illinois) County Board passed a resolution declaring the county a “sanctuary for the life of unborn human beings.” It’s an issue causing an uproar among residents. The board passed the resolution Monday. It means the county is taking the stance condemning abortion, except if both mother and child are at risk.

4 in 10 LGBT Americans identify as Christian
Approximately four out of ten LGBT Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated, roughly equaling the percentage that identify as Christian, according to a new survey. A poll conducted May 24 to June 1 by BuzzFeed News and Whitman Insight Strategies of 880 LGBT Americans found that 39 percent of respondents did not have a religious affiliation.

Under pressure from VP, aid is sent to Christian, Yazidi communities in Iraq
The premier U.S. aid agency is poised to send millions of dollars directly to Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq under a rarely used, streamlined funding arrangement after coming under pressure from Vice President Mike Pence.

Meet the World Cup stars who love Jesus
World Cup fever will be consuming the planet for the next month. As you learn the stories of the hundreds of athletes from nearly three dozen countries, hear them talk about their faith in their own words.

Sources: Baptist Press, WCIA news, Christian Post, Washington Post, Christianity Today

The BriefingSenate lets states defund Planned Parenthood
For more than 40 years, the federal government has made funds available through Title X grants for organizations that provide family planning services. Through this program, the federal government can fund healthcare organizations directly or award grants to states, which choose money recipients. Days before President Barack Obama left office, he ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to block 13 conservative states from denying Planned Parenthood Title X funding. The Senate voted to rescind that order March 30.

VP Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ angers Internet
One line from a Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence is garnering reactions from many on social media. Ashley Parker’s profile of Indiana’s former First Lady cites a 2002 Mike Pence interview with The Hill. In it, the former Indiana congressman and governor said he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen. Pence also said he wouldn’t attend an event where alcohol would be served without her by his side.

Reprimand of Air Force colonel sparks protest
U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Madrid was reprimanded in 2016 for his Christian religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Air Force originally cleared him in 2014 of charges that he made unsubstantiated derogatory comments against homosexuality to an openly gay airman. But when Madrid was placed under the command of Maj. Gen. John E. McCoy two years after the case was closed, McCoy accused Madrid of having lied during the investigation and disciplined him without any new evidence.

Judge grants man right to become genderless
A 27-year-old video game designer has become the first American to gain legal designation as “genderless” following a ruling by an Oregon judge. The game designer known as Patrick Abbatiello who is now legally designated agender, also got legal approval to become mononymous — meaning only having one name instead of a given name and a surname — and is going by the name “Patch.”

Polar bear ‘prays’ next to cross
Jessica Andrews was scanning through dozens of photos she took of a polar bear roaming around her backyard when she came across one that stopped her in her tracks. The large animal was squatting beneath a white cross, its paws together and raised skyward as it looked up in a seemingly reverential pose.

 Sources: World Magazine, Indy Star, Baptist Press, NBC News, Toronto Sun

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a blog post/podcast from Albert Mohler.

Four  prominent Southern Baptists are taking public—and differing—positions on President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.  Commentary from both Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer was published in the Washington Post, while Ronnie Floyd and Albert Mohler are speaking out on their blogs.

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has begun commenting on actions by the new administration, after a relatively quiet December. He wrote a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell responding to the president’s order on refugees that the Post has exclusively on its opinion page.  In the Jan. 30 letter, Moore references the Resolution on Refugee Ministry passed by messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “’Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner.’ Southern Baptist churches throughout the United States lead the way in carrying out this calling,” Moore wrote.

Moore also expressed concern for the safety of Southern Baptists who, “are among the many Americans living in majority-Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors.” He also called on the president to reaffirm his administration’s “commitment to religious freedom” and “adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, the former Executive Director of LifeWay Research who now serves as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, had his own op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26, “Evangelicals, we cannot let alternative facts drive U.S. refugee policy.” Stetzer agreed with the president on a need for a greater focus on national security however, he said, “I’m concerned that the president is operating on generated fear rather than facts. We need a better way.”

Stetzer’s better way is to “reject false facts,” “recapture a vision of what it means that all are made in God’s image,” and to “fight for those without a voice.”

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Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published, “Navigating through the refugee issue from a biblical perspective,” to his blog, RonnieFloyd.com. In his post Floyd declared, “If we do not look at it biblically, we enter into dialogue without authority and clarity.” He advised: Love the refugee, fix the immigration system, and pray diligently.

He too referenced the 2016 Resolution on Refugee Ministry, “…one line in this resolution that realized the biblical responsibility of government: ‘RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm…’”

Floyd, who served on Trump’s religious advisory board during the election, wrote, “This line was included in the resolution because as followers of Christ, we must understand the tension that occurs because our government has a responsibility it is mandated to fulfill.”

He concluded by asking Christians to stress balance in their reactions to what is taking place. “Believing and operating with biblical balance, we know the Church must realize biblically that the government’s duty is to protect its citizens. Simultaneously, we must affirm the responsibility of the Church to minister to refugees who are brought inside the borders of America.”

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Albert Moher

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, devoted the January 30 edition of The Briefing to the controversy. He sought to clarify misconceptions many have concerning the executive order by pointing out the seven countries on the identified in the order are known terrorist threats. He noted several other countries have much larger Muslim populations and do not appear on the list.

“The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure,” Mohler said.

Mohler compared previous immigrants who came not just to live in America but to be American, to the teachings of classical Islam. “It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.”

He cautioned, “The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.” He pointed to the situation in Europe as an example of this reshaping.

Floyd calls Trump prexy ‘our moment’

National Prayer Service in Washington DC

SBC Pastors Ronnie Floyd (center left) and David Jeremiah (center right) exit the platform and prepare to greet President Trump at the conclusion of the National Prayer Service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Fox Phoenix screen capture

“Right now we’ve got a shot to really make a difference,” Ronnie Floyd told his congregation on Sunday. “God has given us a moment. It’s time to pray more than we’ve ever prayed in our country…to pray more with stronger conviction that every life matters to God.”

Floyd was just one of the notable Southern Baptist pastors participating in inaugural ceremonies for incoming President, Donald Trump. The pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas was one of the evangelical advisors to Trump.

Noting the current discord in the nation, Floyd said, “This is not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about spiritual warfare; right and wrong. It’s not about what it appears to be about, it’s not about flesh and blood.

“You don’t announce you’re going to put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court and expect the world to receive it,” Floyd said in a video posted at his website.

Southern Baptists were prominent at the National Prayer gathering on Saturday following the inauguration, both in their placement in the program and on the platform among the 26 religious leaders invited to participate in the event.

Floyd and David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., sat on the dais of the National Cathedral, just behind the Episcopal celebrants who were leading the service and in front of the choir loft. Jeremiah read from Romans 5, the passage about character, endurance, patience, and hope. And Floyd read Psalm 23 from the King James Version.

Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham was one of the speakers in the “prayers of the people,” reading a scripted prayer on behalf of “those who serve.” And a granddaughter of Billy Graham, Franklin’s daughter Cissie Graham Lynch, read a similar prayer in a procession that included a rabbi, representatives of several Protestant denominations, and several Eastern religions.

Ramiro Peña, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, wrapped up the litany of prayers with The Lord’s Prayer. In an unofficial count, Southern Baptists outnumbered other faiths among clergy participating in the inauguration and prayer service. The interfaith service held an an Anglical cathedral had distinctly evangelical touches. Melania Trump led a standing ovation for the solo singer of “How Great Thou Art,” and the service concluded with “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, sang from memory.

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

He instructed them, “God says in Psalm 50:15 ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.’”

– Staff Report, with info from Baptist Press, RonnieFloyd.com, FirstDallas.org, and C-SPAN.

Inauguration news round-up

ib2newseditor —  January 20, 2017

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Time: Trump held a very Godly inauguration
Christianity has been a part of the presidential inauguration since George Washington laid his hand on a Bible for the very first swearing-in. So, it was not unusual that Donald Trump sought to involve faith in his inauguration. But the ways in which the 45th President invoked God in unusually blunt ways in his inaugural address were. He quoted a Psalm of David from the Bible to buttress his policy. “The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.’”

S. Baptist involvement in the inauguration
The participation of at least five Southern Baptist pastors in inaugural activities for President Donald Trump continues a tradition of prayer, Scripture, and references to God surrounding presidential inaugurations dating back to George Washington. In addition to Friday’s activities, a Saturday, Jan. 21 National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington will feature Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, Texas pastors Jack Graham and Ramiro Peña and California pastor David Jeremiah.

Muslims angry imam to participate in prayer service
A popular Washington-area imam’s decision to issue the Muslim call to prayer at Trump’s inaugural prayer service has sparked a heated debate among American Muslim community leaders and activists over the appropriate ways to engage with a president, who they say has repeatedly disparaged Islam. Mohamed Magid, a Sudanese-American imam, is the only Muslim leader listed on a lineup packed with Evangelicals and other faith leaders who are scheduled to participate in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral.

SBC Pres. Gaines pens Christian response to inauguration
Today Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As you know, Mr. Trump won a highly volatile election last November. Some see him as a candidate of much-needed change, readily resonating with his Reaganish slogan, “Make America Great Again!” Others see Mr. Trump as a less than desirable candidate for the highest office in the land. What are Southern Baptists to do?

Three S. Baptists nominated for cabinet positions
Three Southern Baptists — Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and Sonny Perdue – have been nominated to serve in cabinet positions for the Trump administration. Price, a regular attendee at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has been nominated as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Pruitt, a member of Tulsa-area First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., has been nominated as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, was announced Jan. 18 as Trump’s choice for agriculture secretary.

Presidents who mentioned God in inaugural address
Every U.S. President has mentioned God in their inaugural address, even if speaking of the Lord in their own way, fitting with the times. With thanks to Bill Federer in America’s God and Country, consider this sampling of mentions.

Sources: Time, Baptist Press Washington Post, Baptist Press (2), Christian Post

Trump to be sworn in on Lincoln, family Bibles
When President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath of office on Inauguration Day, his hand will rest on his family Bible and the President Abraham Lincoln Bible, used most recently as part of President Barack Obama’s first and second inauguration ceremonies. Trump’s Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York.

Pence to be sworn in with Reagan Bible, hand on 2 Chronicles
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Vice President Elect Mike Pence will be the first public office holder since the 40th president to be sworn into office using the Reagan Family Bible.During the oath, the Bible will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is the same passage that was used during Reagan’s inaugurations. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will deliver the oath to Pence during the ceremony.

FBC Dallas’ Jeffress preaching prayer service
First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, will preach at a private service held at St. John’s Episcopal Church before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 300 people, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, are expected to attend. Jeffress noted the title of his sermon in a tweet: “When God Chooses a Leader.”

The religious leaders praying at the inauguration
Six religious leaders — including a rabbi, a cardinal, and a diverse group of Protestant preachers — will participate, more than for any previous president, said Jim Bendat, an author and historian of inaugural ceremonies. Each will have 60 to 90 seconds to offer a reading or lead a prayer.

Moore: Pray for Trump no matter how you voted
With the inauguration of a new president of the United States, now is a time to pray for President Trump and to remember our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority. The Apostle Paul charges us to offer prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for “all people,” and includes in that list “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2). This very act of praying is itself a counter-cultural act.

Sources: The Tennessean, Christian Post, Dallas News, Washington Post, NY Times, Washington Post