Vice President Mike Pence vowed to prioritize policy issues that matter to evangelical Christians during his address Wednesday at the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in Dallas.
Speaking to the SBC, the country's largest evangelical denomination, Pence also touted actions taken by President Donald Trump that have been seen as victories for evangelical Christians — moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and "empowering states to defund Planned Parenthood."
"I know with your strong support and prayers, with Donald Trump in the White House and God’s help, we will make America safe again, we will make America prosperous again, and to borrow a phrase, we will make America great again,” Pence told the crowd, adding that the administration "will always stand with you."
Pence's appearance drew opposition from some church leaders who argued his attendance would give the impression that the evangelical denomination is aligned with the Republican Party.
Virginia pastor Garrett Kell objected to Pence's speech and asked church leaders to replace it with a time for prayer.
"What binds this convention together is the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Kell. "Because of that, this convention ought to be marked by things that we share in common, not things that faithful Christians can disagree with. 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. We must do all that we can to preserve the purity of the gospel -- and this invitation works against it."
Kell also suggested that minority members of the church may feel "hurt and bothered" by Pence's appearance. Kell's motion was ultimately defeated.
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Grant Ethridge, who chairs the SBC's Committee on Order and Business, asserted that Pence's appearance was not a political statement by the church and that the SBC "aligns itself with no political party."
"The White House reached out to us. In keeping with our SBC history, we've had many government officials address our convention. We have many other government officials who will be addressing the convention today and tomorrow," Ethridge said. "If President Obama's White House had contacted us and I was chairman of this committee, we would have exercised the same judgment and welcomed them to the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe we respect the position regardless of whether or not you supported or voted for the person. Therefore, we strongly urge the messengers to extend a biblical, Christ-like welcome to the vice president of the United States."
Pence's speech comes with the convention already in the spotlight following the firing of prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson from a Texas seminary over his treatment of women. Patterson had been slated to give the keynote address at the convention, but withdrew.
The SPC is also grappling with the fallout of multiple sexual misconduct cases.