With Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives holding hearings that might become a full-bore impeachment of President Donald Trump, attention is suddenly being paid to Vice President Mike Pence.
Even if the House impeaches Trump, it’s unlikely the Republican-controlled Senate would vote to remove him from office.
Still, if it did, Pence would become president.
That idea itself disconcerts some people who lean left, not least because Pence is a conservative Christian of the born-again stripe.
In one alarmist view, Pence is more dangerous than Trump. Pence is a religious whack job who believes God speaks directly to him. Trading Trump for Pence would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Seeking to clarify Pence’s political and religious beliefs, Chauncey DeVega of Salon recently interviewed Associated Press White House reporter Tom LoBianco, whose political biography of Pence, “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” is just out.
LoBianco’s responses to DeVega, published in Q-and-A format in Salon on October 6, are both sharply drawn and balanced — a combination that’s rare when the national, secular media debate the beliefs of a controversial, conservative, evangelical politician.
I disagree with Pence about nearly everything political and many things spiritual.
But I do get irritated that the media frequently portray Christians who hold traditional evangelical beliefs as if they’re raving lunatics — which is neither charitable nor accurate. It helps nothing.
That’s what impresses me about LoBianco. His comments are truly discerning.
However, allow me to digress and say a few words about mis-portrayals of Christians.
Ancient Romans branded Christians as cannibals because the Christians said they ate flesh and drank blood. It was true — Christians did say that. But what they meant was that, as they celebrated communion, the bread and wine they consumed became for them the body and blood of Jesus. They weren’t killing children and eating them.
Like many organizations, from college fraternities to scientific societies, Christianity has always had its own internal language. This is important to recognize if you care about representing Christians — in this case, evangelicals such as Pence — fairly.
For instance, skeptics today light their hair on fire whenever some prominent Christian says he received a word from the Lord, as in, “God told me (something or other).” They claim the Christian is displaying runaway megalomania.
This hair immolating is a contemporary riff on what the Romans did long ago.
When Christians say, “God told me,” rarely do they mean they heard an audible voice from on high that thundered down some inviolable edict. If they do mean that, a compassionate brother or sister has them led away by folks in white coats.
Rather, when Christians say, “God told me,” they’re nearly always referring to an experience that’s quite subtle, uncertain and open to correction.
The speaker means he was walking in the park or praying or sitting in church and had a powerful, arresting thought. He seemed to understand something important in a way he hadn’t understood it before. He experienced an epiphany.
He hopes that was the Holy Spirit who lives within him trying to tell him something.
But because the Spirit is divine, invisible and mostly silent, and because we humans are fallen, corporeal and endlessly talkative, it’s hard for us to hear him. His voice is faint.
Responsible Christians recognize that any given “word from the Lord” might not be from God, but instead, as Ebenezer Scrooge would have put it, merely “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”
That being so, Christians gingerly mull these communications. They bounce them off other, wiser Christians. They measure them against Scripture. Or they just wait to see what, if anything, happens next. (They call this latter move “putting the word on a shelf.”)
In short, they temper their “word from the Lord” with humility. The word, whatever it is, constitutes little danger to anybody else.
But to understand all this, if you’re from outside the faith, you have to actually make the effort to get to know various brands of Christians and understand what they’re talking about. You can’t take everything they say at literal value, which is what first-graders do.
Anyway, thank you for your indulgence. Now, back to LoBianco and Pence.
In LoBianco’s observation, the vice president is neither an intellectual zero dominated by Trump nor, to use another common caricature, a ruthless, hyper-religious Iago conniving his way toward the Oval Office so he can turn America into a theocracy.
LoBianco says he found no one who knows Pence well who thinks he’s a potential theocrat. Pence doesn’t believe he’s predestined to be the president.
“When I talked with Mike Pence’s friends about his faith, they would bring up that he’s always checking in” with God and his fellow Christians, LoBianco tells DeVega. “Pence is always praying about what God wants for him. So maybe there is a plan or something that God wants — but Pence is always checking to see what that is.”
That sounds pretty normal for a Christian.
One former Pence friend, a minister, told LoBianco that Pence’s problem isn’t that he’s too religious but that, on the contrary, he’s too ambitious. His ambition sometimes overrides the better virtues of his faith.
That’s the kind of insight I like to see in a news article. That kind of insight rings true.