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Vice President Pence Gives Campaign Type Speech To Southern Baptists

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News via AP

By DAVID CRARY ,  AP National Writer

Vice President Mike Pence gave an often boastful campaign-style speech Wednesday to the closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, winning several standing ovations even as some evangelicals criticized his appearance.

Pence repeatedly made clear that the SBC — the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. — is viewed by him and President Donald Trump as a vital part of their conservative base heading into the midterm elections. He called the SBC "one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America."

Pence devoted much of his speech to touting the Trump's administration's achievements since taking office.

"It's been 500 days of action ... 500 days of promises made and promises kept," he said.

He enthused about Trump's meeting this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and received a big ovation by mentioning the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a longstanding goal of many U.S. evangelicals.

Pence drew more loud applause when he declared Trump "the most pro-life president in American history" and noted that he has appointed many conservatives to federal judgeships.

While most of the crowd of roughly 10,000 at the convention in Dallas seemed pleased with Pence's speech, some audience members could be seen sitting with their arms folded during the ovations.

On Tuesday, as the annual meeting opened, one delegate from Virginia introduced a motion asking that the invitation to Pence be withdrawn and replaced by a time for prayer. Other delegates proposed that the SBC adopt a new policy to avoid speeches by politicians at future annual meetings. But those proposals were defeated or sidetracked.

The Rev. Wade Burleson, an outspoken Baptist pastor from Enid, Oklahoma, alluded to those concerns in a tweet.

"The SBC is changing," Burleson tweeted . "More than a few voiced their objections to politicians, even strong Christians like Mike Pence, speaking to the SBC. It's always wise to keep the Gospel a priority."

There was strong criticism from Michael Wear, a Washington-based consultant who led evangelical outreach while in President Barack Obama's White House office of faith-based initiatives.

"I am saddened Pence would be so triumphalistic, so unabashed, so jingoistic," Wear tweeted. "I'm more saddened that there would be people in the audience, messengers of the gospel (unless they're outside guests), who would so revel in rubbing their politics in the faces of their brothers & sisters."