Vice President Mike Pence had a grim message for graduating evangelicals at Liberty University: Prepare to be ridiculed for being a Christian.
Pence is known as a devout evangelical and has not shied away from talking about his religion in public speeches. His commencement speech at Liberty was no different. In his remarks, he warned students of the attacks they’d face just for being religious. Often, he said, they’d be asked to not only tolerate but also endorse values that go against their beliefs. He added that those who tout tolerance are often the least tolerant of traditional Christian values.
“Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian,” Pence said. “It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible.”
He said his remarks were personal and came from his own experience.
Although he did not directly mention his recent conflicts with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (who criticized the vice president for supporting Trump’s policies, which Buttigieg believes aren’t Christian), the vice president did discuss his feelings about a controversy involving his wife, Karen Pence.
Karen Pence, who sat in the crowd during the speech, received “harsh attacks” in January after she returned to teach art at a Christian school that bans LGBTQ teachers and students, Pence said in his speech. He characterized the incident as an “un-American” attack on Christian education and vowed to protect the First Amendment, which upholds freedom of religion.
As he warned graduating students to prepare to face opposition to their faith, Pence encouraged them to persevere and act with “gentleness and respect.”
He also told the graduates they have a friend in the Trump administration, which he boasted has taken measures to safeguard religious freedoms.
“I’m proud to report our administration has already taken decisive action to protect religious liberty, and we’ll continue to do just that,” he said. “And I promise you: We will always stand up for the right of Americans to live, to learn, and to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.”
Although Pence left the stage to a warm round of applause at Liberty University, he will be meeting a much different graduating class next week in his home state. He is scheduled to deliver a commencement speech at Taylor University, another Christian establishment in rural Indiana, where students are petitioning against his visit.
The petition, which has received more than 7,800 signatures, states that inviting Pence would make “our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.” Pence has yet to respond to the petition.
Pence isn’t the only Christian who has said he feels like he’s under attack because of his faith. According to a Morning Consult poll, 41 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they think evangelical Christians face “a lot” of discrimination. The same poll found that fewer than 30 percent of Christians believe journalists, people who work on Wall Street, and professors at elite universities respect them. As bleak as Pence’s remarks at Liberty University may sound, his words could very well strike a chord with these Christians who feel isolated.
Correction: This article originally misstated the number of signatures of the Taylor University petition. It is 7,800.