The Bible describes Jesus as feeding the hungry, helping the poor, loving the children, healing the sick, and shaming and rebuking the rich because of the hardness of their hearts.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate, has repeatedly stated that he is a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order. As a resident of Indiana during the four years of the Pence administration, I’d like to examine if he has followed the example of the Jesus who taught, “This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you.”
Mike Pence is a religious ideologue.
His beliefs, actions, and policies run first through the distorted filter of his religious beliefs. He seems to lack the pragmatism that should be common in an elected official.
You might categorize Christians into two groups:
“Christians” — those who wear their “Christianity” on their sleeves. They use religion to hurt, marginalize, and exclude others. They talk about religion and are generally antigay, antiwomen, anti-immigrant, antiminorities, anti-any religion other than theirs.
The other group is what I call real Christians — those who follow the teaching of Jesus, including that “love your neighbor as yourself” stuff that he talked about all the time.
In my opinion, Pence is in the first group — he is a “Christian.” He talks about religion constantly, but his actions are not consistent with the message of Jesus. He may pray when problems occur, but he probably won’t do anything about them. He has spent his entire career demonizing and discriminating against LGBT people, who he considers to be sinners.
He frequently lies in the name of religion and to further his ambitions. You can see this in his defense of Trump’s many reprehensible behaviors: his bromances with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other autocrats; his boasts about sexual assault plus allegations of such behavior by at least 10 women; his refusal to release his tax returns and admission that he hasn’t paid much, if anything, in federal income taxes; his attacks on NATO, military families, Muslims, Mexicans, and more — the list goes on and on.
Pence recently encouraged a Florida audience to ignore “whatever is in the news” ;until Election Day and to continue defending Trump, The Indianapolis Star reports. I have a difficult time seeing how ignoring allegations of sexual assault can be considered Christian.
He views religious beliefs as more important than equality and civil rights; that is, you may discriminate against anyone (especially LGBT people) if you do it in the name of religion. I don’t know about you and your beliefs, but I don’t recall that Jesus said anything about discriminating against others.
When Pence signed Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, the outcry from Indiana, around the country, and around the world was loud and swift. In Indiana, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, several other mayors from around the state, and the majority of business leaders called for the law to be amended or repealed. When interviewed on ABC by George Stephanopoulos, Pence refused to say whether the law could be used to discriminate against LGBT people, even though that was its stated purpose. You can view the video here. A few days later, under pressure, he relented and signed the RFRA “fix.”
After he was forced to sign the “fix,” he hired a public relations firm to repair Indiana’s reputation. A study showed that the state lost $60 million in revenue because of RFRA. After spending $365,500 of a $750,000 contract with the firm, his administration canceled the contract. State officials have never shared what we got for the money or why they canceled the contract. Many Hoosiers speculate that the PR firm suggested that the best way to show we don't discriminate against LGBT people would be to actually not discriminate. That is unacceptable to Pence.
Besides being anti-LGBT his entire public career, Pence has governed in other ways that many consider un-Christian. He was opposed to needle exchanges because he believed they supported drug abuse. In 2015, several rural counties in Indiana experienced an unprecedented spread of HIV because the governor opposed the distribution of clean needles. Eventually he allowed clean needles, but many involved in the crisis felt that the governor could have acted faster and done more.
His record concerning women is abysmal. He believes and governs in a way that says women have no rights and can't make decisions about their bodies and health. Again, misplaced conservative religious values guide his policies. He has fought against Planned Parenthood because a small percentage of its work is performing abortions, he has tried to defund the organization and close clinics. He has advocated and signed antiwomen laws including a recent one (struck down by the courts before it could go into effect) prohibiting some abortions and requiring aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. In response, some women organized “Periods for Pence,” letting him know whether or not they are pregnant, since he seems to be so concerned about women's reproductive lives.
He tried to institute a state-run media outlet (yes, in the United States) so citizens would get the “correct” (as defined by Pence) spin on the news. When news of this plan broke, Indiana residents went ballistic. Pence finally killed the program.
Pence started his term with a large budget surplus. He tried to keep a big surplus — in my opinion, so he would look good in an eventual presidential run — so he was reluctant to spend money on needed programs. Budgets were cut to such a degree that many state workers quit because they could not get anything done. The roads got so bad that one interstate bridge sank and was closed for months. There were detours and accidents. He finally had to agree to spend some money so we would have at least usable roads in Indiana. Our slogan is “Crossroads of America.” We barely have usable roads.
Pence lost in court when challenged on another very un-Christian move, as he fought the settlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. A federal court blasted him as it overturned Pence’s orders.
Pence’s policies have hurt LGBT people. They have hurt minorities and women. What would Jesus say to a follower who hurts people in his name? What would he say to someone defending and apologizing for a misogynist, racist, and otherwise bigoted candidate in his name?
Pence called for Christian forgiveness of Trump for his “locker-room talk” and other failings, but offered no such forgiveness for Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server or deleting personal emails. He applies Christian love and forgiveness only to those he considers to be on his side, especially if the election of one such person would put Pence a heartbeat from the presidency.
Pence had to leave the ticket for reelection as governor seat to join Trump in the presidential race. At the time that he left, he was lagging in polls regarding the Indiana race. Hoosiers are glad Pence is gone, but we also don’t want him to become a national “leader” who he can inflict his misguided beliefs on the rest of the country.
JJ MARIE GUFREDA is the author of Left-Hander in London: A Field Guide to Transgenders, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals - In the Family, On the Job and In the Pew and is a playwright and performer. Her new productions are, Left-Hander in London – The Earthquake and Left-Hander in London – The Cabaret. JJ is the president of the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and is a frequent speaker on diversity, religion and political issues. She is the president of GEI and has been in consulting for over 30 years. JJ is married and has three children and four grandchildren.