I’ve liked Pence from the beginning. From my little study in Arcadia, Indiana, I used to hear him on the radio, speaking winsomely for conservatism, and the best of Christian values. A rising star, if there ever was one. Then it was on to the House of Representatives, where again he shone as a beacon of light, resisting the status quo not only of congress, but of his own party. He appeared a man of principle in every way.
But, funny things happen, and we’re all susceptible. Maybe it was the way he came to the governorship. He was projected to win in a landslide. He ran in campaign not as the conservative congressman, but as a man who loved “Hoosier values.” It was his own version of Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” campaign. Full of feel good, but low on substance. But then Richard Mourdock, our candidate for senate, got tripped up in a debate, saying something to the effect that a child conceived in rape was nevertheless a part of God’s good plan. He spoke the truth, though quite inelegantly, and the Left pounced with a vengeance, making it seem as if Richard Mourdock somehow endorsed rape. Preposterous. But it worked. And his fellow Republicans ran for the hills, including, understandably, Pence. But was it right to run? Did Mourdock say anything inherently wrong? Did he flub his lines? Yes, definitely. But, abandoning Mourdock made Pence appear weak, and so it happened that he won not by a landslide, but a bare majority.
And so it went that Pence played out his term not wanting to make a mistake. Rather than boldly pursuing his agenda, as he had in congress, he flinched here, and diverted there. Not that there wasn’t much for which to be thankful. Behind the scenes, he promoted the pro-life agenda. But, he seemed incapable of speaking frankly and boldly.
Then came RFRA (Religions Freedom Restoration Act), a rather innocuous act meant to preserve and protect the First Amendment liberties of all people, with an eye towards the discrimination against Christians who were choosing to run their businesses like Christians. We think of Baronelle Stutzman, a kindly woman who sold flowers to all people, and even hired gay people, but was fined out of business because she did not want to use her artistic skills to celebrate a gay wedding. We think of Melissa Klein, a florist, who loving baked cakes for all, but did not want to use her artistry to create cakes for something she considered sin. The RFRA law was benign, carving out a little place for people of conscience.
A firestorm ensued. The NCAA threatened to pulls its games out of Indianapolis. The CEO of Apple joined in the attack, and the bandwagon effect went into full spring. Pence appeared on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos to try to stem the tide, but he was ill prepared, and repeated the line that Hoosiers don’t discriminate. Never did he say what was really at stake. Never did he challenge the premise of the question. Our champion appeared, instead, like a deer in the headlights. Not surprisingly, in retrospect, Pence soon caved. But it was worse than a cave. He conceded the premise of his detractors, that somehow RFRA was discriminatory, that somehow it needed to be “fixed.” And with that he threw Baronelle Stutzman and all lovers of liberty under the bus.
Now, granted, who could have stood courageously in Pence’s shoes? Few, if any. But, thing is, that is what leadership is about. If few know the value of religious liberty, of the first amendment, of the rights of conscience, it is incumbent upon us to speak.
And, poor Pence, has not spoken. Really, he’s not spoken since he became governor. He has done good things, to be sure. But, in our present day, and in our age of duress, we need more. We need people who will speak, explain, encourage, and promote the liberties they say they support. It is no longer enough to be for something. We have to put ourselves on the line, to speak boldly and courageously. If bakers, florists, inn owners, fire chiefs, and even CEO’s are losing their jobs because the first amendment has been breached, then so also we must be willing to do the same. True leadership means placing ourselves on the line. Liberty demands our sacrifice and our all. And it begins with the simple act of speaking. Will Pence find his voice as Trump’s VP? Who knows? The record would suggest he won’t, but I’m rooting for him.
And for our nation.