The Southern Baptist Convention wrapped up its 2018 Annual Meeting yesterday in Dallas, Texas. Messengers and leaders of America’s largest protestant denomination have a lot to stew on as they head home. This year’s meeting did not lack for controversial topics, one of the most divisive being Vice President Mike Pence’s speech.
As is customary, messengers see the agenda for the two-day meeting before the convention starts. The first order of business is to vote to approve said agenda. When the messengers saw the agenda for the first time, Pence’s name was not on it. An unexpected offer from the White House to have Pence speak at this year’s meeting left the messengers with little time to decide about the last-minute addition. Some, like Garrett Kell of Alexandria, Virginia, did not think the idea a good one. He cited the potential for division, a concern for the safety of missionaries abroad, and the need to clarify the centrality of the Gospel at the meeting as his reasoning.
The messengers voted on whether or not they would like Pence to speak to the group. The vote was about a third against Pence speaking and two-thirds in favor. The meeting moved on…
Why was Pence’s speech so controversial?
The nature and content of Pence’s speech didn’t include anything novel. He stuck closely to messages he’s given at other largely Christian events such as the March for Life and the National Day of Prayer. He brought greetings from “a good friend of mine,” one who is committed to “protect faith and restore freedom across this country.” Of course, he was speaking of President Trump. Pence then proceeded to spend the better part of 37 minutes using current political events to illustrate why Trump is a friend and ally of the SBC. Really, nothing new. So why did so many people feel the need to take to Twitter to voice concern over the speech—including the SBC’s new president, J.D. Greear?
Essentially the speech was a campaign speech. To the point that one attendee lamented, “So apparently I’ve now attended my first political rally ever, sadly it’s at the SBC Annual Meeting. Grieved at the division this will cause. Please know many in the room did not want this. I respect Pence, but the convention is not the place for politicking.”
So apparently I’ve now attended my first political rally ever, sadly it’s at the SBC Annual Meeting. Grieved at the division this will cause. Please know many in the room did not want this. I respect Pence, but the convention is not the place for politicking. #SBC18 #SBCAM18
— Nathan Montgomery (@montynem) June 13, 2018
In an increasingly escalating voice, Pence said there was only one way to sum up Trump’s administration: It’s been “500 days of action; 500 days of accomplishment; 500 days of promises made and promises kept!” At this the convention hall seemed to swell with cheers. Apparently, though, not everyone was cheering. Another attendee reported, “Twenty minutes ago this room was united around the gospel, worshipping with hands in the air. Now, half the room is clapping/standing while the rest sits on their hands. Unnecessary fracturing regarding non-gospel issues only hurts our mission. This is sad.”
20 minutes ago this room was united around the gospel, worshipping with hands in the air. Now, half the room is clapping/standing while the rest sits on their hands.
— rob collingsworth (@rcollingsworth) June 13, 2018
So what, exactly did Pence say?
Among the topics Pence addressed, the great majority had to do with the actions the Trump administration has taken thus far to “make America great again.” Briefly, Pence covered the following foreign and domestic causes:
Rebuilding the military – including working to secure the border and removing dangerous gang members and criminals.
The North Korea Summit – Pence attributed the success of the summit to Trump’s leadership and the courage of the late Otto Warmbier’s family. Pence asked for continued prayers for peace as the two nations continue to work things out.
The fight against terrorism – Pence assured the crowd that ISIS is on the run and applauded the President’s decision to withdraw from the “disastrous” Iran Nuclear Deal.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem – To much applause, Pence said, “Unlike his predecessors, this president kept his word to the American people and to our most cherished ally when…we opened the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.”