On Saturday morning, Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement speech at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Dozens of students and faculty reportedly walked out before the speech began. The walkout followed a social media campaign condemning Pence — and Taylor for inviting him. As of Monday, more than 8,000 people signed Change.org petition protesting the decision. Another 6,000 signed a dueling petition supporting Pence, who received a standing ovation on Saturday.
The opposition to Pence’s speech seems focused on LGBT issues, but some students also suggested that the vice president speaking at this Christian university would bring racial divisions.
Not only did faculty join the walkout, but according to students interviewed by The Indianapolis Star, faculty designed stickers to protest Pence’s speech.
“After it was announced that Mike Pence was speaking, the Social Work department, our professors, designed these stickers for us to wear for graduation because some feel unsafe based on the decisions that the university has made,” graduating student Anna Streed said in a video. “These stickers represent that we want to include people; we value people no matter their race, sexuality, so that’s where they came from.”
Taylor University has not responded to multiple requests for comment as to whether or not the faculty who engaged in this protest would receive censure.
The controversy dates back to April, when the university announced that Pence would speak. A former Obama staffer launched the Change.org petition protesting the speech.
“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.”
“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.”
The other Change.org petition defended Pence’s invitation, and more than 6,000 people had signed it by Monday.
“As students and active community members of Taylor University, we believe that 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.
LGBT 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 that operates according to Christian doctrine about sexuality, outrage ensued.
Like the school where Karen Pence teaches, Taylor University holds to the Bible teaching on sexuality. The University’s “About” page quotes the Bible on marriage, gender, and sexuality:
All human beings are created in God’s image and are, therefore, of immeasurable value (Gen. 1:26-27). Our male and female genders are also a part of God’s original good creation, and our sexuality is to be celebrated. The God-ordained context for virtuous sexual expression and procreation is marriage, a sacred covenant between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6; Heb. 13:4). For Christians, the sanctity of the marital covenant is further reinforced by the New Testament use of marriage as a metaphor of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-33).
The biblical design for human sexuality demands sexual faithfulness for married couples (Exod. 20:14; 1 Cor. 6:13-20) and chastity for those who are single (1 Thess. 4:3-8). All premarital and extra-marital sexual activity (e.g., fornication, adultery, incest, prostitution, homosexual behavior, and all sexual activity involving children) is immoral. And all use or involvement with pornographic materials is sinful, as are all forms of sexual abuse, exploitation, and harassment (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10).
Taylor University’s Life Together Covenant requires students and faculty to avoid certain “prohibited behaviors” including “sexual immorality (including adultery, homosexual behavior, premarital sex, and involvement with pornography in any form).”
Yet it seems students and faculty who signed the statement consider the Bible’s teaching wrong and not inclusive. The use of the rainbow flag — an LGBT pride symbol — on the mortarboard suggests that Pence’s belief in the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, and his actions to protect religious freedom as governor of Indiana, are unacceptable.
For faculty at a Christian university defined by biblical sexuality to engage in such a protest is alarming. If professors do not believe in the statement of faith or the Life Together Covenant, they should not be teaching at this university. It is one thing to protest the invitation of Pence, claiming it to be a political statement unbefitting an institution of higher learning. It is entirely something else for faculty at a Christian school to side with the vocal critics of Christian doctrine, especially when they themselves have signed Taylor’s covenant.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.