DALLAS -- Vice President Mike Pence touted the achievements of President Donald Trump's administration and expressed solidarity with Southern Baptists on Wednesday in his address to the nearly 11,000 delegates gathered for the last day of the denomination's annual meeting.
Pence emphasized that members of the nation's largest Protestant denomination play an important role within the country, and he affirmed his faith as foremost in his life.
"I'm a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order," said Pence, who called Southern Baptists "one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America."
Pence received several standing ovations during his speech. Pence touched on everything from Trump's recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and the United States' withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, to the nation's economy and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"I think there's only one way to sum up this administration," Pence told the crowd at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. "We've spent 500 days of action, 500 days of accomplishment, we've spent 500 days of promises made and promises kept."
Pence also noted the administration's efforts to make provisions for additional resources and training for the nation's armed forces; the placing of "strong conservatives to federal courts at every level"; and the reinstatement of the Mexico City policy, which denies federal aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions worldwide.
"I couldn't be more proud to stand with a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life," Pence said. "President Donald Trump is the most pro-life president in American history."
Pence's appearance at the convention drew concern from some delegates who expressed worry about appearing too closely aligned with a political party, and from others who thought it might alienate minority members of the faith.
One delegate, Garrett Kell from Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., introduced a motion Tuesday on the opening day of the meeting asking that Pence's invitation be withdrawn and replaced with a sermon of unity.
"By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members suggesting that to be faithful to the Gospel is to also align with that administration," Kell said in his resolution.
"We must do all we can to preserve the purity of the Gospel, and this invitation works against it."
Other delegates proposed the adoption of a new policy that would avoid speeches by politicians at future annual meetings.
All resolutions barring Pence's appearance were rejected.
Pence isn't the first political figure to speak at the Southern Baptist Convention. Republican Gerald Ford was the first president to address the group in 1976. President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, appeared before the denomination in 1978, more than two decades before he would leave the convention in 2000 because of the group's views toward equality between the sexes, which Carter described as "rigid."
Condoleezza Rice, a Republican, spoke to the convention in 2006 when she was secretary of state under President George W. Bush. Bush and his father, President George H.W. Bush, both Republicans, also spoke to members of the annual gathering, although the elder Bush spoke by video in 2005.
Many Southern Baptists said they were surprised but pleased at the news Pence would speak at the annual meeting, and that they believed his address proved the authenticity of his faith.
"It was very refreshing to hear the vice president quote Scripture, quote Billy Graham and ask us all to pray for the nation," said Kristi Cook, 48, of Pascagoula, Miss.
"He seems to really walk the walk and not just talk the talk," she added.
James Merritt, 65, a former convention president, said he has met with Pence on two occasions and described the vice president's faith as a "blessing.
"The thing that I believe in the most is that he gave his personal testimony, and how he gave his life to Christ," Merritt said. "I'm glad we have a man like that in the White House."
Andrew Miller, a 19-year-old who attends Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, S.C., said he thought Pence's appearance at the convention and the contents of his address were "appropriate."
"I wish he'd have focused more on religious stuff and not necessarily praising Trump," Miller said. "I understand he's vice president and that's part of his duties.
"I don't know what else we should expect from a politician."
Jay Cook, 42, Kristi Cook's husband and the pastor of First Baptist Church in Pascagoula, Miss., said it was natural for the vice president to address political issues at the convention.
"Everybody who speaks is going to bring their position in," he said. "It would be foolish to try to separate something as deep-seated as one's faith. Faith is not an aspect of life. It is life."
A Section on 06/14/2018
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