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Mike Pence trumps his boss on religious questions, but he also raises some

Posted by hkarner - 13. November 2016

Date: 11-11-2016
Source: The Economist

WHEN Donald Trump settled on Michael Pence as his running-mate, it looked as though one of the main motives was to reassure religious conservatives, and to make up for his own wobbly grasp of theology. Mr Trump may not be the first occupant of the White House to have an uncertain relationship with faith, but his attempts to present himself as minimally religious have always been inept, to put it mildly. To take one of many examples, he seemed not to understand a public question about asking forgiveness from God and rambled instead about going to church to “drink the little wine and…eat the little cracker” which he vaguely thought might be a form of repentance.

Compared with all that, Mr Pence stood out as a reassuring figure to the devout and right-wing. He has often described himself as “Christian, conservative, Republican, in that order”. Little in his recent career gives any reason to doubt the sincerity of that claim. At least for the past 15 years or so he has explicitly linked his metaphysical beliefs to some of the causes he holds most dear, including opposition to abortion in virtually all circumstances, firm backing for Israel and opposition to a Palestinian state. As governor of Indiana, he attracted nationwide attention by supporting a  a “religious-freedom restoration” law which in its original form seemed to allow businesses to turn away gay customers; he then disappointed some evangelical supporters, and brought only mild relief to civil-liberties and equality campaigners, by settling for a modified version. But according to people who studied him closely, the religious trajectory of Mr Pence also raises questions. Like his rival for the post of vice-president, Tim Kaine, he was raised in a devoutly Catholic household. He and his three brothers all served as altar boys in the church of Saint Columba in Columbus, Ohio, and at one point he apparently considered a priestly vocation. Then, as a student at Hanover College, he came under the influence of evangelical Christian friends and followed their path, without ever completely breaking with the Catholicism of his youth. In the 1990s, as a budding politician who finally entered Congress in the year 2000, his evangelical convictions deepened and he underwent an ideological change too: from the Democratic leanings of his youth (when he preferred the devout Jimmy Carter to the divorced Ronald Reagan) to religiously-inspired Republicanism. Even by the standards of Republican legislators, his evangelicalism was zealous and openly proclaimed; he would quote Bible verses to explain his policies.

More recently, says Craig Fehrman, a writer and journalist who has penned several in-depth profiles of the politician, Mr Pence has become shy and uncomfortable about pinpointing his religious affiliation; during one interview, he parried questions about that matter by calling himself  a “pretty ordinary Christian” and said he and his family were “kind of looking for a church”. He is understood to frequent an evangelical megachurch in Indianapolis while retaining warm ties with his blood family who are all practising Catholics.

His relations are not always so warm with the Catholic hierarchy. He had an open squabble with the Catholic archdiocese of Indianopolis after he withdrew state support for efforts to host refugees; the archdiocese defied his policy by inviting a Syrian family to settle in the city.

The story of Mr Pence, in short, contains some religious and denominational ambivalence. In that respect he resembles America, including God-fearing America. But he is certainly more comfortable in this area than his boss will ever be.

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