There are so many things that Vice President Mike Pence could be deeply offended by. That the man who talked him into running on his ticket in 2016 has turned out to be the worst President, hands down, in the history of this country. Mike Pence could be deeply offended that he is impotent to do anything about the government shutdown that is driving thousands of government employees to food pantries just to get enough food into their families and themselves. He could be offended that the various parties who should be working 24-7 to solve this are instead playing a game of political chicken, while the people affected are in danger of losing their homes and livelihoods. He could be deeply offended because his proclaimed Christian values are regularly violated, ignored, and even mocked by President Trump, a man who has no obvious commitment to any values other than himself.
These are things that Mike Pence should be deeply offended by—I also take offense at all of the above. But it turns out that what deeply offends Mike Pence is something quite different. It deeply offends me that Mike Pence is offended by it.
It all began with the news that Karen Pence, a teacher and artist who happens to be married to Mike Pence, was going back to the classroom, taking a part-time position as an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School in northern Virginia; she taught there previously for several years while Pence served in the House of Representatives. No problem—good for her. Furthermore, given the Pence’s frequent and vocal identification with a certain sort of conservative (some—me, for instance—might say “toxic”) Christianity, it is no surprise that Immanuel Christian School exemplifies their sort of belief system. Indeed, it is embedded in the school’s hiring practices and their screening of prospective students.
For instance, the employment application for Immanuel Christian School requires the applicant to affirm a number of things, including that marriage means “the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture,” also including the following list,
Heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female
as examples of conduct that is in violation of “bona fide qualifications for employees.” Additionally, the parents of prospective students (K-8) must sign a parent agreement agreeing to cooperate with the school in a number of ways, including the following:
I understand that the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to contumacious behavior, divisive conduct, and participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school.
Not surprisingly, all of the above generated a lot of critical response on social media and on news outlets. The Huffington Post was the first to report details about Immanuel Christian School in an article last Tuesday entitled “Karen Pence is working at a school that bans LGBTQ kids and employees.
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign was quoted in the article as asking “Why not teach at a school that welcomes everyone, instead of choosing one that won’t serve LGBTQ kids or kids of LGBTQ parents? . . . the Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.” The criticism heated up over the next couple of days.
In an interview with EWTN last Thursday, a segment presented as “the news from a Catholic point of view,” Mike Pence weighed in on the criticisms and controversy surrounding Karen Pence’s employment.
I have to tell you, to see major news organizations attacking Christian education, is deeply offensive to us. We have a rich tradition in America of Christian education and, frankly, religious education broadly defined. We celebrate it. The freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution prohibits a religious test for holding a public office and so we’ll let the other critics roll off our back, but this criticism of Christian education in America should stop.
Mike Pence is “deeply offended” by news organizations (the “liberal media,” as his interviewer prompted) attacking Christian education. I also am deeply offended, but for a different reason. I am deeply offended because what the Pences and Immanuel Christian School promote and embody is not Christian at all.
To use a significantly overused phrase, let me be perfectly clear. I am not deeply offended that Karen Pence chose to work at a school whose expressed values match hers and those of her husband. I am offended by what the Pences believe and what this school promotes—but although I cannot count all the ways in which I think their values are wrong, I am not the values police. What deeply offends me is that what the Pences believe and Immanuel Christian School promotes is called Christianity at all. Toxic, exclusive, homophobic, judgmental, and exclusionary? Sure. Self-righteous, smug, holier-than-thou, rigid, and unforgiving? Absolutely. But “Christian”? Not on your life.
In other words, I am deeply offended that Mike Pence is deeply offended over perceived attacks on something that he calls Christianity and Christian education—something that Jesus would be more likely to weep over or respond to by throwing tables around rather than support or even recognize as vaguely related to what he lived and taught. Mike Pence’s Christianity teaches people to be racist, homophobic, judgmental, and exclusive. It teaches young people to behave as students from Covington Catholic High School did at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington yesterday as they mocked a Native American elder, setting social media ablaze.
That this twisted and cramped religious and moral framework has come to mean “Christian” for millions of people deeply offends me. It is undoubtedly more responsible for driving people away from the Christian faith than the activities of all atheists combined. Pence’s “Christianity” is what atheist authors, bloggers, and activists invariably rail against—as they should. That this has come to mean “Christian” is the reason why for years I was very hesitant to publicly identify as a Christian.
But over the past several years I’ve become more and more open about my Christian faith—a “coming out,” so to speak. My blog posts are regularly shared on Facebook sites such as “I’m Not That Kind of Christian” and “Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented”; I’m pleased to find there and from the success of this blog that thousands of like-minded persons of faith are tired of having the name of their faith and adjectives describing it abused by people like Mike Pence and schools like Immanuel Christian School. Call what the Pences and Immanuel Christian School stand for whatever you like, but it isn’t Christianity. Not even close.