Karen Pence, Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, Part of a Christian Ministry?

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, speaks at National Harbor, Md., February 22, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)
On the intolerant critics of the second lady

Karen Pence is a believing Christian woman. She took a part-time job at a private Christian school. And this, believe it or not, is a scandal. Don’t believe me? Her job has already merited not just one, but two critical Washington Post stories. There’s the obligatory CNN report, accompanied by a piece of commentary that argues the school is “like a real-life setting for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’”

Sounds terrible. Has she joined a fringe Christian cult? Have the Branch Davidians descended on Northern Virginia? Are teachers kept in a form of sex slavery to produce children for the principal? Let’s let the New York Times set the lurid scene:

Karen Pence, the second lady of the United States, returned to teaching art this week, accepting a part-time position at a private Christian school that does not allow gay students and requires employees to affirm that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Hmm, something doesn’t seem right. I’ve been involved in Christian education for much of my life. I attended a Christian college, my oldest kids attended a dozen consecutive years of Christian schooling, I served a term as chairman of their school’s board, and I’ve represented Christian institutions for more than two decades, and I’ve never once seen a Christian institution declare that no gays are allowed.

Instead, many thousands of Christian schools have statements of faith and codes of conduct that require teachers and sometimes students and parents to agree with the school’s theological doctrine and comply with a code of conduct. They don’t say, “No gays allowed.” They say, “Here is what we believe, and here is how you must behave.”

And sure enough, that’s exactly what Immanuel Christian School does. It’s a ministry of the Immanuel Bible Church, it has adopted the church’s essentials of the faith, and it has created a “parent agreement” that contains the following relevant language:

I understand the biblical role of Immanuel Christian School is to partner with families to encourage students to be imitators of Christ. This necessarily involves the school’s understanding and belief regarding biblical morality and standards of conduct. I understand that the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to contumacious behavior, divisive conduct, and participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school. (Lev. 20:13 and Romans 1:27.) I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman. My role as spiritual mentor to my children will be taken seriously.

Let me translate this from Christianese: You must conduct yourself in accordance with historic, orthodox Christian teaching about human sexuality. And, let’s be clear, any person — regardless of their sexual orientation and whether they suffer from gender dysphoria — can both agree with and comply with the moral statements above. There are countless same-sex-attracted Christians who do. There are many thousands of Christians with gender dysphoria who do.

Why? Because these Christians share with other orthodox Christians the notion that their fundamental identity is not defined by their sexuality or perceived gender identity but rather by their faith in Christ. Galatians 2:20 puts this perfectly: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

This verse has been put to song, memorized, and imprinted on the hearts of Christian young people for 2,000 years. Simply put, this is Christianity 101, and if the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN find it problematic enough to report that Christians are Christians, then it’s rather clear that institutional support for gay marriage under civil law is now veering into institutional hostility against Christian orthodoxy and against the basic free exercise of the Christian faith.

This particular blue checkmark belongs to a Washington Post editor and Politico senior writer:

This one belongs to a CNN White House reporter:

And if you want a real chuckle, check out this quote from Elizabeth Shakman Hurd in the New York Times story about Pence:

“Given the exclusionary nationalism in this administration and sorts of politics taken on various things, it would not be at all surprising for the second lady to associate herself with some prominent fashion with an institution like this,” Professor Hurd said. “It raises important issues about education and diversity, and what kind of forward-facing public officials we want representing our country at home and abroad.”

How is a statement of faith rooted in ancient religious orthodoxy at all relevant to Trump? If the school followed Trump’s beliefs, it would reject Christian sexual morality and embrace adultery.

Immanuel is a church ministry applying the church’s theology. No one is forced to attend the church. No one is forced to attend the school. It’s a voluntary association that is protected by the First Amendment and rooted in the faith that guides the lives of tens of millions of Americans.

What’s next? The belief that public figures should not teach Sunday School? Serve in domestic or foreign missions?

I disagree with people who believe that extramarital sex can be morally appropriate. I disagree with people who believe that biblical marriage is anything but the lifelong union of one man and one woman. But there is no scandal at all if people who dissent from Christian orthodoxy form churches, organizations, and schools and hire like-minded people to advance their shared faith. It’s no scandal at all if they exclude people who disagree with their mission and purpose.

Is the Democratic party wrong if it excludes Republicans? Is a Muslim mosque wrong if it wants to be led by an imam and not a rabbi?

Not only is this not scandalous, but it’s also the exercise of a fundamental First Amendment right. If Lois Romano or Kate Bennett or any other Karen Pence critic wants to argue against Christian theology, then have at it. Most Christians I know welcome the dialogue. But if they want to condemn a woman for the free exercise of her Christian faith? If they want to argue that there’s something inherently wrong with orthodox Christians’ associating, worshipping together, and teaching their children? Well, then they’re exhibiting a deep intolerance that’s at odds with pluralism itself.


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