Despite debate surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s address at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the convention hall was packed Wednesday morning when he took the stage. Pence called the SBC “one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America.” After a few more words of praise for Southern Baptists, he shared his brief testimony of coming to faith in Christ 40 years ago.
From there, his speech became more political, noting the Trump administration’s accomplishments during two years in office, including recent peace talks with North Korea. Pence received multiple standing ovations and even a few shouts of “four more years.”
On his and President Trump’s behalf, Pence asked Baptists to “continue in your calling with renewed energy. Stand and go and speak. Stand in the gap. Because in these too-divided times, I believe that your voice, your compassion, your values, and your ministries are more needed than ever before.”
As he neared the end of his speech, he requested messengers pray, noting it wasn’t politically motivated. “And on this one, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about praying for an agenda or for a cause. I rather like what President Lincoln said in his time when he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the Union Army. Our 16th President simply replied, ‘My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.’” Pence’s request was met with loud applause.
During and after Pence’s speech, many Baptists expressed dismay with the content and tone of his message.
“Have mercy on us,” tweeted Paul Cooper, pastor of Marshall Baptist Church in Marshall, Ill. “#SBC18AM just became a political rally. Not the place for election speeches. Nothing wrong with campaigning- but not here.”
Newly elected SBC President J.D. Greear posted after Pence’s address, “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary tweeted from a different perspective. “Vice President Mike Pence speaking to SBC! Why do things like this matter? It is good for people in power to know us. We may need them at some point. Also, we need to affirm evangelicals in politics. It is a tough calling.”
On Tuesday, a messenger brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings.
Before his address, Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention. There was a loosely organized effort on Twitter to invite messengers to gather on the other end of the convention hall during the vice president’s address for a time of prayer.
A photo posted on Twitter by SBC Voices shows about a dozen people at the prayer meeting.
Those opposed to Pence’s appearance said it could give the appearance that the Convention was endorsing one political party over another, would be disrespectful to minorities who feel the current administration doesn’t represent them, and could put international Baptist workers at risk.
However, in the packed convention hall, many messengers gave Pence repeated standing ovations for his campaign-like message.