By Will Hall, Message Editor
DALLAS (LBM)—Vice President Mike Pence gave a rousing report to cheering Southern Baptists about the work of the White House on behalf of Southern Baptists as Americans and as a community of faith, sharing his testimony of salvation and an inspiring message by the three Christians freed from North Korea; but the Twitter-sphere showed not everyone was happy with his remarks.
Pence and SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in the Memphis, Tennessee, area, were together in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November 2017, to minister and offer encouragement to church families and the community following the shootings at the First Baptist Church during which 26 congregants were murdered, including Pastor Frank Pomeroy’s daughter Annabelle Renae, who was just 14 years old, and 20 church members were wounded.
The vice president’s report came amid business reports by SBC national entities and different committees and task forces, and seemed in line with those good news reports about what had been accomplished by each organization during the past year.
He received multiple standing ovations, but three instances in Pence’s message were particularly emoting: his memories of the “the tears” but more importantly “the faith” and “the hope” of the people of FBC Sutherland Springs after the tragic shootings in 2017; his description of when “I … gave my life to Jesus Christ” in 1978 after hearing John 3:16, “the very message that Southern Baptists speak so faithfully across this nation every day”; and, his recounting the freedom gained for three Christians who had been held captive by North Korea (one for nearly two years) and their note to him saying in part “we praise the Lord who has done great things for America and for us” on their return to the U.S.
Commending Southern Baptists for having always “worked to bring about renewal in America, and new beginnings,” he drew a parallel to the work of the Trump administration, saying, “I believe our nation is in the midst of a time of renewal, and we are in the midst of a new beginning of greatness in America.”
Pence cited a stronger America, a stronger economy and “a stronger commitment to the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution” to declare it’s been “500 days of action, 500 days of accomplishment, it’s been 500 days of promises made and promises kept.”
Among the highlights Pence listed, were: rebuilding of the military; securing the Southern border; enforcing the law and removing dangerous criminals off the streets; taking significant strides to denuclearize North Korea; gaining commitment from North Korea to recover and repatriate the remains of more than 5,000 American MIAs who fell in the Korean War; 3.4 million new jobs, and the historically low unemployment rates for Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and women; new policies protecting the religious liberties of “every American”; end of enforcement of the Johnson Amendment (thus extending free speech to the pulpit); appointment of conservative judges to federal courts at every level; $110 million in direct relief (around the United Nations) to relieve the suffering of Christians and persecuted religious minorities across the world; denying federal aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions.
He also emphasized that as vice president, he had the honor of casting the tie-breaking vote to allow states across America “to defund Planned Parenthood.”
There was a contentious debate by several messengers about the vice president speaking to the Convention.
Two messengers made motions to amend the Convention’s agenda asking the Committee on the Order of Business to exclude the vice president’s address.
The first attempt received loud vocal support, cheers and clapping by a notable contingent, to a request to amend the agenda and remove “Mike Pence” from the program. The raising of ballots was overwhelming to support the vice president’s participation.
The second motion was ruled out of order because the Convention had already dealt with the matter.
Two additional motions asking the Convention to prohibit political figures from speaking during future annual meetings were referred to the SBC Executive Committee.
Finally, a “point of order” Wednesday morning that denounced Pence’s appearance was rejected by the chair as “not well taken.”
The political discontent continued after the vice president spoke — via tweets from a number of SBC figures including the newly elected president, J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Greear tweeted that the vice president’s appearance “sent a terribly mixed signal” and emphasized that “Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
Trevin Wax, director of Bibles & Reference for LifeWay was even more scornful, tweeting “has there ever been a full-blown campaign speech like this one?”
Denny Burk, an avowed “NeverTrumper” who teaches at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, declared, “This is a stump speech. Incredible.”
Vice President Pence continued his theme of promises made and kept, by making a vow specifically to the Southern Baptist Convention, which he thanked for “the essential and irreplaceable role you play in America.”
“I’ll make you a promise,” he continued. “This president, this vice president and our administration will always stand with you. We will.”
Then he closed his remarks by asking a commitment from the messengers – “to continue to do what each of you do every day: preach the word, ‘in season and out of season.’ Always be prepared to ‘give a reason for the hope that you have.’
“Keep changing lives, keep ministering to the spiritual and the practical needs of the American people, especially the most vulnerable.
Finally, citing 2 Chronicles 7:14, he urged Southern Baptists to pray, not for “an agenda or a cause” but for “America” and “America matters far beyond our shores.”
“So thank you again for the honor to speak today. It’s a joy to be with you all. I know that with your support and prayers, with the strong support of leaders at every level of government, with President Donald Trump in the White House, and with 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.’
“Thank you very much. Thank you for the honor of being with you today. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”