Pence, Conservative Leaders Urge Activists to ‘Surpass the Energy of the American Left’
Midterm elections in seven weeks dominated the agenda at Values Voter Summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others also brought international religious freedom to the forefront.
On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence walked on stage at the 13th annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. His first words revealed the rallying point for over 2,000 Christian conservative activists convened by Family Research Council Action.
“It’s a great honor to be back at the Values Voter Summit,” said Pence. “Forty-five days from now, I know in my heart of hearts [you] will deliver another historic victory for the American people when we reelect Republican majorities in the House and Senate.”
Key policy issues had moments in the spotlight at the summit, notably international religious freedom. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared how religious freedom underlies foreign policy. Others voiced concerns on religious liberty at home, such as Colorado baker Jack Phillips. After winning a Supreme Court battle in June on religious discrimination grounds, he’s now headed back to court.
“I was happy that religious freedom and supporting families were two central parts of the Values Voter Summit,” said Nadine Maenza, executive director of Patriot Voices. “These are things that Republicans should be leading on.”
Two upcoming films, Indivisible depicting one military chaplain’s story and true crime drama Gosnell, were screened for attendees. Conservative figures including House Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows, R-S. Carolina, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Governor Matt Bevin, R-Ky., Todd Starnes of Fox News, author Joel Rosenberg and Brigitte Gabriel of Act for America also addressed the summit.
Despite diverse concerns, the impending elections energized nearly every speech.
From Pence to Senate leader Mitch McConnell, from Dana Loesch to former White House staff member Dr. Sebastian Gorka, speakers had one message. They underlined why Republican victories in the midterm elections matters.
“The choice we face this November is a choice between a party that celebrates America and one that often demeans millions of our neighbors and friends,” said Pence. “The other side is mobilized, and some say they’re motivated as never before. We must surpass the energy of the American Left, their enthusiasm and passion.”
Pence echoed what Family Research Council Action president Tony Perkins had stated as the event’s theme. This messaging will also be central to the Values Bus Tour, which FRC Action announced will visit 12 states targeting “26 key races” over the next seven weeks.
“Now is the time for the sake of America to pray, to vote, to stand,” said Pence. “Let’s keep faith in the ideals and values of hard work, family, patriotism and religion. With President Donald Trump in the White House, and with God’s help, together we will make America great again.”
With a promotional video featuring Trump, this year’s summit attracted his core supporters. He along with Ambassador Nikki Haley and Senator Ted Cruz had been invited, though all declined due to other commitments. Most activists hardly noticed.
“The speakers here are the backbone of the conservative party,” said Michele Adolphe from Brooklyn, New York. A Trump campaign volunteer in 2016, she said this was her first Values Voter Summit. “Our Vice President came and reinforced the President’s mandate to the country. As a servant of God, President Trump is not by himself. The Lord is there guiding him.”
A variety of summit attendees spoke of the current administration following a divine mandate. This sharply contrasted with debates among Christians in other circles nationwide.
The President’s True Believers
In recent weeks, the rift some evangelicals have with the Trump administration has come into clear view. The Atlantic published an in-depth profile of Bible teacher Beth Moore, who questions fellow believers’ passionate embrace of President Trump.
Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has also diverged from some conservatives. “We need to listen here and find out what the truth is,” he said on the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
A dozen speakers at the summit cast doubts on the allegations against Kavanaugh. Among them was Dana Loesch, a talk show host and spokesperson for the National Rifle Association.
“Nobody knows what truly happened,” said Loesch. “The terrifying attempt by the left to usurp due process [and] presuppose guilt, and determine that a person be as guilty as the rage mob is angry, is un-American. And it should compel you to get to the polls this fall.”
Attendees such as Brooklyn activist Adolphe took a similar stance of unwavering support. “President Trump is doing the work of God and going to be successful,” said Adolphe. “If you said, on a scale of ten, I’m going to give him nine and a half. I keep the half because only God can say stuff is perfect.”
Some voiced unease about the evident partisanship. “Christians should take a measured, thoughtful and prayerful approach going into these issues,” said Dean Nelson, a minister and president of the Douglass Leadership Institute based in Maryland.
“We represent a higher standard, not just a perspective in this world,” he continued. “The decisions we make and the words we choose should all be in light of the next world.”
Pompeo Advocates Religious Freedom for All
A few summit speakers sidestepped electoral politics, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He addressed the plight of persecuted religious minorities and the importance of standing in solidarity with them. Pompeo is the first Secretary of State to address the summit in its 13-year history.
“Religious freedom is a universal, God-given right to which all people are entitled,” he said. “It’s a freedom that I care personally about, and I know you do, as well. Sadly, today more than 80 percent of the global population lives in countries that place significant limitations on religious freedom.”
Pompeo pointed to their ongoing efforts to free Pastor Andrew Brunson and end human rights abuses in Iran. In May, the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reinstated sanctions.
“We are fighting for human dignity of the Iranian people by speaking the truth about the oppressive and corrupt regime,” said Pompeo. “Religious minorities in Iran are routinely imprisoned, stripped of their rights, kicked out of their jobs and subject to many other abuses.We stand with Christians, Jews, Sufis, Muslims, Zoroastrians, the Baha’i and all other faith groups.”
Patriot Voices leader Nadine Maenza was recently appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She praised Pompeo for leading the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July. Leaders from 84 countries attended the gathering.
“Countries that have religious freedom are more stable and they are better partners,” said Maenza. “It’s clearly why the State Department chose to make religious freedom a central part of their agenda and host the Ministerial this summer.”
“All the things we care about, whether human rights or the way women are treated, are so closely related to religious freedom.”
Champion of Religious Freedom Honored
Secretary of State Pompeo articulated values often voiced by former Congressman Frank Wolf, who received an award at the close of the summit.
A landmark religious freedom law championed by Wolf marked two decades this year. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 elevated the free exercise of religious beliefs in U.S. foreign policy. Wolf delivered the keynote speech at a gala dinner held Saturday evening in his honor.
“The persecuted church can seem like a distant thing from our pews, sanctuaries and halls of government,” said Wolf. “But these brothers and sisters in the faith yearn for our prayers. And they cry out for attention. Scripture, if we follow it, gives us little choice but to respond to their oppression.”
Co-founder of the Christian human rights organization 21Wilberforce, Wolf announced weeks ago he will leave his position at the group. However, his speech made clear he plans to remain active in advocacy for religious minorities.
“Those being persecuted must become more than nameless victims of distant wars in hard-to-pronounce prison cells,” said Wolf. “As we commit to knowing their stories, weeping at their wounds and interceding on their behalf through prayer and advocacy, we will find ourselves shaped by [these] giants of the faith.”
“It will clear our eyes about the times in which we live.”
Seven Weeks Until Midterm Elections
For some, elections on November 6 loom large over the times in which we live.
Rally schedules are being finalized and faithful campaigners like Michele Adolphe are going door to door. “We know what we’re doing in the communities and where we have to get out the vote,” she said.
Reliable sources such as Decision Desk HQ and Cook Political Report concur that the Senate balance of power is unlikely to change. They also state the Republican House majority looks precarious at present. How the ongoing Supreme Court confirmation process could factor into elections is uncertain.
“They were saying in 2016 that we were not going to pull it off,” said Adolphe. “We saw what was going to happen, but others refused to look at our work. That’s the same thing that’s going on right now.”
“I feel very confident that we’re going to prevail.”