Pence, Populist Evangelicals, and the Politics of College Commencements

Anxious Bench | 4/22/2019 | Staff
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On April 11, Taylor University announced that Vice-President Mike Pence would be the speaker at its 2019 commencement. Paul Haines, the university’s president, said, “Mr. Pence has been a good friend to the University over many years, and is a Christian brother whose life and values have exemplified what we strive to instill in our graduates.”

Dissent came immediately. Alumnus C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books, wrote, “Mike Pence’s values are compatible with those of Donald Trump, whose false statements are off-the-charts in comparison to any politician in recent memory, who casually boasts of grabbing women’s genitalia, who has a long and well-documented history of racist behavior, who keeps immigrant children fenced off like animals in a zoo, and so on.” Historian John Fea wrote, “Pence has defended or remained silent about nearly everything Trump has done. Trump has used him as a pawn to win white evangelicals and keep them in the fold.” During an already-scheduled faculty meeting, Taylor’s professors voted 61-49 to oppose the invitation, though they had no authority to actually rescind it.

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News coverage emphasized the 61 over the 49. Articles in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and Sojourners seemed to suggest that Haines is an out-of-touch administrator pushing Pence against a unified student body, faculty, and alumni base. As Smith wrote, “As a TU alum, who regularly spends time on the campus talking to faculty and students, I was completely taken aback by this announcement.”

That’s probably because Smith has been hanging out in what one observer has called the evangelical “faculty lounge.” This lounge includes professors at religious universities like Taylor, Calvin, Seattle Pacific, and Westmont, which have long been bastions of an intellectually respectable, cosmopolitan evangelicalism. The lounge also makes room for clergy, missionaries, activists, and educated laypeople who, as Fred Clark describes...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Anxious Bench
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