Determined to portray Vice President Mike Pence as a dedicated homophobic threat to LGBT Americans, media pounced on the opportunity when, after Pence gave a speech reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr. at Holy City Church of God In Christ in Tennessee, the pastor discussed homosexuality in part of his sermon. NBC News titled its article, “Pence attends homophobic sermon streamed on White House YouTube channel,” whereas Business Insider lamented, “Mike Pence spoke at a homophobic church service where the pastor blamed ‘the devil’ for same-sex attraction.”
The event was dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., held with the majority-black congregation, led by Bishop Jerry W. Taylor. Pence spoke of King, saying, “I know in my heart of hearts, if we rededicate ourselves to the ideals that he advanced, if we strive to open doors of opportunities for every American and if we more faithfully follow the one that he followed, will see our way through these divided times.” As the bishop moved into his sermon, he focused on the crumbling foundation of the family.
In the full two-hour stream from the White House’s YouTube channel, Taylor’s comments on homosexuality occur in the last 30 minutes, alongside condemnation of abortion. “We have to encourage young men and women to get married,” he said. “It’s a demonic spirit that causes a woman to want to lie with another woman. It’s a demonic spirit that causes a man to be attracted to another man.”
“Wish we could say we were surprised that the vice president spoke at a church event where the bishop spouted vile things about LGBTQ people,” LGBT activist group GLAAD responded. “But here we are.” The LGBT organization added this event to its list of Trump administration “attacks” on LGBT people.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Charlotte Clymer also lamented that the vice president’s appearance at Sunday’s event was another example of Pence using his “perception of faith as a cudgel against vulnerable communities.” Clymer argued, “Christ clearly taught us to love one another.” The White House has not yet commented on the controversy.
Churches Don’t Have to Conform to LGBT Messaging
There is no indication the vice president knew of the sermon’s content beforehand, but it remains an important question of whether he should have chosen not to participate in the overwhelmingly positive event if he had. It is simply uncontroversial that a great many traditional Christians view homosexuality exactly as it is described in the Bible. It does not indicate they discriminate against gay men and women nor even view us negatively as people. But despite the ongoing outrage expressed by LGBT leaders and the media, their religious view remains.
It is striking that the media refer to this church, which began in the home of the bishop in 1987 and is a popular church for members of the black community in the area, as “homophobic,” as though it were dedicated to anti-LGBT messaging. It could just as easily have been referred to as the “anti-choice” church for the bishop’s opposition to abortion. The fact that the religious congregation views secular issues from a religious perspective does not, in any way, make them “hateful” or “anti.”
Yet the media portrays the vice president as though he chose the church because of its anti-LGBT messaging. His words on unity, love, and community were entirely ignored because journalists overreacted to hearing theology about sexuality they found offensive. The vice president is no more responsible for the bishop’s sermon than he would have been on any other occasion, yet the LGBT left feels entitled to demand he disavow a congregation over sentiments the mob finds unacceptable.
Truth be told, as a gay man, I do not care what the vice president, or anybody for that matter, thinks about homosexuality, especially from a religious perspective I do not hold. Clymer’s insistence that the event perpetuates stereotypes of intolerance within the Christian church is even more astounding. How is a religion supposed to function when it is expected to edit itself for the satisfaction of individuals and communities who do not wish to belong to it? Why do they care so very much?
Something I greatly admire about Pence is his disregard for others’ opinions about his faith. When he walked into that congregation, he saw men and women of faith and gave a moving speech on the legacy of a civil rights icon who devoted his life to spreading a message of hope, unity, and compassion. The values of family, the Bible, and sexual morality are neither relevant nor damning in this situation. As observers, it is not our role to condemn Christians in their own house of worship.
The LGBT Community Tramples Diversity of Opinion
Many in the LGBT community tend to require others to express absolute acceptance and celebration of their narrow view of themselves. They choose to perceive disagreement as “attacks” and judge others for seeing the world differently. Rather than take the time to put aside politics and join together to share King’s message, they reduced a service to a few mere sentences they could exploit for headlines and outrage. The media simply refuse to allow harmony among people with divergent views.
One part of the event not highlighted or quoted in media stands out. One of the passionate speakers who introduced Pence, praising his humility as a brother, said, “One thing I love about this man of God is, if you don’t know, he is one of the most persecuted Christians in America. The biggest criticism that he gets all over television and everywhere else is that he actually believes the Bible. … They hate him for believing the Bible.”
He spoke of meeting Pence and his wife and how they prayed together. He praised him for holding a weekly Bible study in his home. He continued, “But as the vice president of the United States, he came here as a brother in Christ. He didn’t come here to campaign, he said he just wanted to come to worship and celebrate my hero, Martin Luther King Jr.”
Rather than continuously look for the bad in others to validate their prejudices, it is my hope that the left and especially LGBT Americans can evolve to see the whole of a person rather than just clips here and there. Pence has been remarkably gracious, patient, and consistent in his engagements across the spectrum during his time as vice president, and he does not deserve the constant judgement on his assumed personal beliefs.
Taylor is also praised as a passionate leader uniting his community and creating a better world. He too does not deserve to be reduced to a caricature of how the left views Bible-believing Christians.