Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Kaine testifies to a religious struggle, Pence declines to

The vice presidential seal
The vice presidential seal

Public Domain

The vice presidential seal

(RNS) Last night’s vice presidential debate featured a religion question, and it was a good one.

“Can you discuss in detail a time when you struggled to balance your personal faith and a public policy position?” asked moderator Elaine Quijano.

Democrat Tim Kaine, first up, answered the question by talking about his struggle as governor of Virginia to carry out the death penalty, which he opposes in line with his Roman Catholicism.

“It was very, very difficult to allow executions to go forward,” he said, “but in circumstances where I didn’t feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law, and I did,”

Republican Mike Pence, by contrast, veered away from the question: “And with regard to when I struggle, I appreciate, and — and — and — I have a great deal of respect for Senator Kaine’s sincere faith. I truly do.”

He then proceeded into a discourse on his opposition to abortion, a mainstay of his evangelical faith. He never got around to saying anything about when he struggles.

Which was a shame, given what happened last year with Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That act, you’ll recall, allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples — albeit Pence, as governor, insisted it was only about guaranteeing religious liberty.

Immediately after signing the legislation, Pence was inundated with opposition from all quarters, but most importantly from powerful business interests in the state, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Indianapolis Star. And within short order, Pence and the legislature redid the law to forbid the kind of discrimination it had allowed — much to the consternation of Pence’s fellow conservative evangelicals.

It would have been interesting to hear how Pence had struggled to balance his personal faith with the that public policy position. I suspect he decided he just didn’t want to talk about it.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service