On Thursday, the evangelical Christian school Taylor University announced it had invited Vice President Mike Pence to give its 2019 graduation speech. A tremendous uproar ensued, with students and alumni reporting that the decision made them “sick” and expressed support for “hate” and “harmful bullish*t.” The school told PJ Media it would not yield to pressure and was still proud to have Pence speak at graduation.
“The invitation stands. We are looking forward to hosting Mr. Pence on our campus next month,” James Garringer, director of media relations at Taylor University, told PJ Media on Friday.
Yet the pressure is mounting. As of Friday afternoon, 2,393 people have signed a petition on Change.org protesting the decision to invite Pence.
“Inviting Vice President Pence to Taylor University and giving him a coveted platform for his political views makes our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear,” Alex Hoekstra, a former staffer for President Barack Obama and a 2007 Taylor University graduate, said in the petition.
Others proved more angry and visceral.
“I have never been made to feel so physically ill by an email before. Taylor University, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” Claire Hadley, who graduated from Taylor in 2015, began in a long Facebook post. “I am physically shaking. The fact that the school who claims to love and support me, and each of it’s [sic] students and alum, would invite such a vile individual to speak on the most important day of the year??”
“VP Pence is no friend of mine. He does not support me. He does not support equality,” Hadley declared. “He does not uphold the values that are at the very core of the church, my own faith, and I would hope, of this University. He is rooted in hate. To stand beside President Trump would have been enough to put him on my watch list.” She argued that Mike Pence “only values you if you fit in his very narrow, white, straight, box.”
“Taylor University, I feel personally attacked,” she concluded. “Please, I’m begging you. Don’t do this.”
Lindsey Snyder, a 2014 graduate, said she emailed Taylor University President Lowell Haines. “This invitation gravely concerns me, because whether intentional or not, it is politicizing Taylor University, aligning the school with the current administration,” she reported writing. “Many current and former Taylor students are adamantly against some of Pence’s stances and will no doubt feel unsafe at their own graduation. Even if it was someone less controversial than Pence, having a political figure speak at commencement alights unnecessary and grievous conflict.”
“As a Taylor alum, I am severely disappointed,” Abi Perdue Moore wrote on Facebook. “For this and other policies marginalizing members of the lgbtq+ community (not to mention students of color), you do not have my support. Do not invite this speaker to campus; do not burden the university with the cost of security and transportation; do not send the message that Taylor is a place where only straight/cis/white men are valued as leaders and disciples.”
“I’m a husband of a Taylor alum and suggest that if Taylor is looking for a Hoosier Christian politician for the commencement they might consider inviting Pete Buttigieg,” Justin Alexander posted on the Change.org petition.
“The fact that Taylor would invite Pence as a speaker honestly kills me a little bit,” Austin Linder wrote on the petition. “I can’t imagine what it must feel like for lgbt students to have to see this man’s harmful bullsh*t be honored on the Taylor stage. Really disgusting stuff, Taylor. Really ashamed to be an alum right now.”
Not all Taylor University alumni opposed the Pence invitation, of course.
Many responded to Claire Hadley’s post, saying they were “thrilled to see a godly man like Vice President Pence speaking.” “Pence is merely espousing Biblical values and standards!!” another added. Another congratulated Taylor University for upholding traditional Christian values against liberal complaints.
“Inviting the sitting vice president of the United States, and former Indiana governor and congressman, to speak at commencement is not an attack on students, faculty or alumni with differing political views or opinions about Mike Pence,” Kevin Holtsberry, a 1994 Taylor alumnus and a former policy advisor at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told PJ Media.
“In a time when free speech and intellectual diversity is under attack, particularly on college campuses, I hope Taylor sticks to its commitment in the face of what I am sure will be unrelenting hostility from a vocal minority,” Holtsberry concluded.
Indeed, Taylor University is not relenting. In response to PJ Media’s request, Garringer sent the press release announcing Pence’s graduation speech.
“Taylor University is pleased and honored to welcome to our campus and its 2019 Commencement exercises, Vice President Mike Pence,” Haines, Taylor’s president, said in the statement. “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. We welcome the Vice President and his wife, Karen Pence, to this 173-year-old premier institution of Christian higher education, and thank them for their love and service for our nation, our state, and our institution.”
Indeed, Vice President Pence stands for traditional Christian morality and upholds people’s religious freedom to abide by such values. This means he believes marriage is between one man and one woman, and that biological sex is more real than gender identity. He disagrees with LGBT activism, but that does not mean he disrespects — much less “hates” — LGBT people.
Yet LBGT activists have conflated disagreement with violence. When bakers, florists, and photographers gladly serve LGBT people but refuse to use their creative talents to celebrate a same-sex wedding or a transgender identity, activists accuse them of discrimination and violating LGBT people’s civil rights. Activists demand that Christian schools and charities should have to hire employees who identify as LGBT, and celebrate their identities. When they heard that Mike Pence’s wife was teaching at a Christian school, outrage ensued.
Americans have the freedom to live by their beliefs, however. Christian organizations should not be forced to violate their beliefs by endorsing LGBT identities and relationships. They should treat everyone with respect, but respect does not involve the endorsement of a person’s ideas.
Disagreeing with a person does not entail “hate” or violence against him or her, and Taylor University graduates should understand that. They should also know that the Bible’s position on sexuality is at odds with that of LGBT activism.
Taylor University would have been right to invite Mike Pence, even if the university did not agree with his Christian views on sexuality. Pence is a vice president, a former governor of Indiana, and a former leader in the House of Representatives. Students should be glad to hear him speak at graduation.
Sadly, this incident illustrates yet again the trend of liberals demonizing dissent from their ideas. Conservative speech is not violence, and Mike Pence is not “rooted in hate.”
Update April 13 9:40 a.m.: More than 700 people have signed another Change.org petition supporting Mike Pence’s speech at Taylor University’s graduation.
“As students and active community members of Taylor University, we believe that the the University’s decision to host VP Mike Pence as commencement speaker should be supported,” the petition reads. “By Pence speaking at this upcoming graduation, Taylor is by no means aligning themselves with the alleged controversial views of the Trump administration, they are simply giving a voice to all opinions and planes of thought.”
“Mike Pence is also known for his personal beliefs in Christianity. If disagreements arise concerning the personal views of Pence, that does not justify calls to restrict Pence’s speaking as a whole,” the petition added.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.