WASHINGTON –The last time Vice President Mike Pence spoke at Liberty University, he used the backdrop of one of the world’s largest Christian schools to vouch for candidate Donald Trump’s faith credentials during the 2016 campaign.
When Pence returned to the school Saturday to deliver the commencement address, his remarks were more personal.
Pence, who has been facing criticisms of his own religious views recently, warned graduates that they have to stay strong against the challenges they’ll get from Hollywood, the media and the secular left.
“Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs,” Pence said. “Be ready.”
With his wife, Karen, sitting on stage as he spoke, Pence recounted the “harsh attacks” he said they endured when she returned this year to teaching art at a Christian elementary school where she’d worked when he’d served in Congress. Unlike her previous stint, this time Karen Pence faced scrutiny after news reports pointed out that the school bans gay students and teachers.
“Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian,” Pence said. “It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible. But things are different now.”
Pence said the graduates will be asked not just to tolerate things that violate their faith, but to endorse them.
Pence didn’t specifically mention this, but he’s been a target on the presidential campaign trail, where Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg has gotten attention for questioning how Pence can square his faith with both his support for Trump and his opposition to gay marriage.
And the commencement address that Pence is scheduled to deliver next week at a Christian school in his home state has divided Taylor University. An online petition started by a Taylor alum complains that the address will make the school “complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.”
By contrast, Pence received a warm welcome Saturday at Liberty University where president Jerry Falwell Jr. is a strong supporter of Trump. Introducing Pence, Falwell called him “one of the most engaged and influential vice presidents in my lifetime,” despite facing the “unrelenting scrutiny of a hostile press.”
Four Liberty University alumni work in Pence’s office. Six of Saturday’s graduates had been students in Karen Pence’s classrooms.