Pence and His Conservative Christian Persecution Complex

Emily Swan
Jan 18 · 5 min read
Michael Candelori /

Karen Pence, spouse of Vice President Mike Pence, took a part-time job at a Christian school that adheres to a theology of “marriage is between one man and one woman.” Liberals critized them. The Pences responded by claiming to be under attack, and speaking as though their freedom of religion is in jeopardy.

Mike Pence: “But I have to tell you, to see major news organizations attacking Christian education, is deeply offensive to us.

“We have a rich tradition in America of Christian education and, frankly, religious education broadly defined. We celebrate it. The freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution prohibits a religious test for holding a public office and so we’ll let the other critics roll off our back, but this criticism of Christian education in America should stop.”

A few thoughts.

1. “Christian” education the way Pence describes it isn’t emblematic of all Christianity. A good many of American Christians are LGBTQ+ inclusive.

2. Criticism isn’t “attack.” There was a time when a person could either insinuate or outright declare in public that being gay is sin and LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t have the same rights as other citizens, and the person saying such things could expect everyone in the room to agree with them (even if tacitly). Today the LGBTQ+ community claims modest, if tenuous, gains in civil rights, so when someone declares they do not believe LGBTQ+ people should have equal legal protections and access to services, more friends, family, and colleagues of queer people disagree and feel emboldened to state — even argue — their opposition in front of others.

The person saying homosexuality is sinful experiences the pushback as persecution (attack!), even though such dissent harms none of their rights while LGBTQ+ peoples’ rights remain sub-par and tenuous. LGBTQ+ people can still, in some states (including mine) be legally fired for their sexuality and discriminated against for housing, adoption, medical care, and other services where there are no prohibitions on straight and/or cisgender people based on their orientation or gender identity.

3. No one is questioning conservative Christians’ right to educate their children the way they see fit. Progressives might voice questions about the wisdom of conservative beliefs and we may try to show fundamentalists the harm done to LGBTQ+ people in the name of Jesus, but no one is saying they shouldn’t be allowed to hold their beliefs. No one is saying their schools should close, their churches should be shuttered, their teachers and pastors and adherents thrown in jail. No one is saying fundamentalist Christians can’t vote. No one is saying they shouldn’t be allowed to get married, to hold office, to adopt children, to rent homes, to obtain loans, to get spousal medical benefits, to buy guns, to serve in the military, to work … literally NONE of their rights are under threat.

The crux of it all:

Pence has a right to his views, so long has his right to believe what he does doesn’t negate the rights of LGBTQ+ in the public sphere — including the right to marry. And here’s the thing about Pence — he’s already shown that he’s more than happy to deny LGBTQ+ the same rights straight cisgender people hold. He’s willing to back businesses that fire queer people. He’s willing to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that marriage should be defined as one man marrying one woman. He tried amending the Indiana State Consistution in the same way when he was governor. He’s willing to go so far as to back businesses that would like to refuse services to LGBTQ+ people — and would’ve succeeded in doing so if corporate backlash hadn’t been swift and effective.

He’s the Vice President of the most powerful nation on earth. When his wife takes a job at a school that requires a certain view of marriage, it underscores not just a belief (which he can hold), but a belief he’s willing to force onto all of us.

Now, he might feel like progressives are forcing our beliefs onto him and others like him. Why should I have to respect gays as equal? Why are you making me? But here’s the thing — we’re both allowed to hold our beliefs without fear of prosecution or exclusion, so long as we don’t trample the rights of each other.

My right to marry eclipses Pence’s desire to see gay people relegated to second-class citizenship; if he can get married to whomever he wants, so can I. My right to receive services offered to the public eclipses Pence’s right to want to discriminate against me; if he can buy flowers, so can I. My right to work and receive benefits for my spouse eclipses his desire to pretend I’m not actually married; if he can obtain benefits for his spouse, so can I. My right to rent a home eclipses his desire to keep LGBTQ+ people out of his rentals should he ever have any; if he can rent a home, so can I. We can all live and work and shop and be the way we see fit, and we can all hold whatever beliefs we want … relinquishing our power to hold others back in our common space.

You see, I don’t want to deny Pence basic aspects of life. But he wants to deny me those things. And he has power. And he’s used it against people like me in the past. And he knows gay people are scared of him. And then his wife takes a job underlining their fundamentalism. She has a right to work where she wants, but she needs to have the ovaries to hear criticism of it.

I’ll criticize them all the live-long day for their stances toward LGBTQ+ people. Criticism isn’t persectution: taking away my marriage license, allowing me to be fired without restitution, allowing adoption agencies to deny me the ability to adopt, and telling businesses they can turn me away is.

And make no mistake: I was married before it was nationally legal. I have been fired for being gay. I have had housing issues because I’m gay. I’ve had my adoption options incredibly limited because I’m gay (only two small agencies in Michigan will adopt to LGBTQ+ couples because “religious” adoption agencies can deny us). And I’ve had to question whether or not a place would serve me. So this isn’t theoretical.

It’s real.

Emily Swan

Written by

Co-Author with Ken Wilson of Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, and co-pastor of Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor, a progressive, fully-inclusive church. Queer.

Solus Jesus

Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, is the place to explore a new approach to Christianity. Emily Swan & Ken Wilson are co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor (

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