Par for the course in the days of the Trump administration: Many of President Donald Trump’s cabinet officials and otherwise affiliated administration officials are targets of constant protest and vitriol. Taylor University, a small, Christian liberal-arts college located in Upland, a town northeast of Indianapolis, Indiana, invited Vice President Mike Pence to speak at their commencement ceremonies. However, his invitation, once made public, became a lightning rod of controversy because Vice President Pence is the right-hand man of President Trump.
Taylor University president, Dr. Paul Lowell Haines, said in a press release, “Taylor University is pleased and honored to welcome to our campus and its 2019 Commencement exercises, Vice President Pence.” Dr. Haines added, “Mr. Pence has been a good friend to the University over many years, and is a Christian brother whose life and values have exemplified what we strive to instill in our graduates.” Officials at Taylor University said that they anticipate a “larger-than-usual” graduating class and a bigger crowd and will distribute admission tickets for commencement ceremonies.
An online petition circulated and claimed that Pence does not live by Christian values and does not represent the Christian values at Taylor University. Sixty-one of one hundred thirteen faculty members voted in favor of a “motion of dissent” to oppose Pence’s invitation to Taylor University’s commencement. When asked, university spokesperson Jim Garringer said that the university stands by its invitation. Garringer pointed out that some of the petition’s signers no longer attend the university, which enrolls less than 2,000 students at a time. Garringer said, “Mr. Pence has been a friend of Taylor’s for a number of years. As a governor of Indiana, he’s been quite familiar to us and we feel the faith that he espouses is orthodox and felt he was an appropriate choice.”
It is important to note that about one hundred protesting students at Notre Dame University, also located in Indiana, walked out of Pence’s commencement address last year. Also, not only is Pence a devout Christian, once hosting a conservative talk-radio show in Indiana before he ran for Congress, but he was a governor of the Hoosier State before accepting the vice presidential nomination in 2016. Pence also served six terms as an Indiana congressman before becoming the governor. He is a staunch pro-life politician and this year, spoke at the March for Life rally held in Washington, D.C. to remind people of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision decades ago.
Pence is an outspoken advocate for the defense of religious freedom, having survived a media barrage over Indiana’s religious freedom protection law prior to his vice presidential nomination. Pence is in the ear of many influential evangelical Christian leaders, such as radio host Erick Erickson, who was once anti-Trump and has since endorsed Trump’s re-election campaign. Members of the media once mocked Pence’s professional rule to always have another man with him when he is going to meet with a woman in a professional setting. The “Pence rule,” as it was called, was too old-fashioned for the media, but in light of the #MeToo sexual allegation revelations, it appears to be a sound rule to live by.
Yet, Pence’s credentials appear to rub some of the alumni and current students at Taylor University the wrong way, despite evidence to the contrary that Pence’s values appear to align with evangelical Christianity.