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OPED: Time to consider Mike Pence's selective piety

Issac J. Bailey
Tribune News Service

Issac J. BaileyBuried under an avalanche of breaking news this month, Vice President Mike Pence gave an impassioned defense of religion.

"The overwhelming majority of Americans enjoy their faith, and we have all different kinds of faith in this country," Pence said during an event broadcast on C-Span. "My Christianity is the most important thing in my life. I try and start every day by opening the good book. My wife and I try to have a prayer together before I leave every morning. I can honestly tell you my faith sustains me in all that I do."

He was responding to a question about a joke comedian Joy Behar cracked during an episode of "The View" on ABC in which she compared Christianity to a mental illness.

"It's one thing to talk to Jesus," Behar said on the popular daytime talk show. "It's another when Jesus talks to you."

"It's just wrong, and it's an insult, not to me, but to the vast majority of the American people who, like me, cherish their faith," Pence said. "It demonstrates how out of touch some in the mainstream media are with the faith and values of the American people, that you could have a major network like ABC permit a forum for invective against religion. It's just simply wrong."

While Pence was defending Christianity, more national news was circulating — about why a porn star believed she was finally free to speak about her alleged affair with Pence's boss, President Donald Trump. A Trump lawyer had admitted to paying her for her silence, though he claimed that neither Trump nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction. The New Yorker then published an exhaustive story about another alleged Trump affair, one with the 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year. She allegedly broke off the months-long affair because she felt guilty for sleeping with a married man — and because Trump said vulgar things about black male sexual anatomy.

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Pence had a lot to say about a religious joke by a comedian who is paid to say such things, but nothing about the immoral example his boss has set. It's in stark contrast to when Pence presented himself as deeply devout Christian on a talk show he hosted years ago and declared adultery a serious offense that said something disturbing about leaders who commit such acts.

It's why Pence's words about his faith ring hollower by the day. They sound hypocritical, situational, unprincipled. They also illustrate just how much damage white evangelical Christians have done to the religion they profess to love. They've created a new reality, one in which leaders' actions don't matter, so long as they have the right ideology and can help secure a few long-sought political victories. It underscores why liberal Christians in the South are going to have to lead the flock out of this self-imposed spiritual wilderness.

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For too long, Christianity has been presented as the domain of white conservatives, particularly in the South. Their interpretation of the Bible has been taken as the most genuine kind, even when other Christians find no incompatibility with gay marriage and the faith. Journalists and political scientists deemed these conservatives the true values voters, even though black voters cherish Christianity just as much and frequently vote for Democrats.

If religious leaders can make God-centered arguments in favor of an unrepentant man like Trump — and plenty of high-profile white Christian conservatives have — no behavior can be deemed out-of-bounds. It has put a stain on the religion that won't be easily washed away, no matter how piously people like Pence speak about the faith.

— Issac J. Bailey wrote this for The Charlotte Observer.