Taylor University Graduates Find Unity in Their Division Over Mike Pence Speech

Vice President Mike Pence attends the Taylor University commencement on May 18, 2019, in Upland, Ind. Dozens of graduates and faculty protested the selection of Pence as the commencement speaker at Taylor University in Indiana by walking out moments before his introduction. (Michelle Pemberton/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

When Vice President Mike Pence took his place on stage at Taylor University’s commencement ceremony over the weekend, standing next to university President Lowell Haines, the divisions Pence’s appearance had caused among the student body were immediately evident. Thousands in the audience, including a group of students wearing shirts that read “I Like Mike,” rose in a standing ovation for Pence and Haines, who had invited the vice president.

Dozens of other students and faculty at the Christian liberal arts school — one observer counted as many as 60 — had already walked out of the university’s Kesler Center by previous agreement during the singing of a hymn preceding the vice president’s speech. Among those who stayed, many expressed their dissent by staying seated in silence.

But for a number of Taylor graduates, the protest was as much about unity as it was political division. While some said they walked out over Pence’s views on LGBTQ issues or the Trump administration’s immigration policies, others said they had walked out in support of their friends, whether or not they shared the objections to Pence’s presence.

“For me, I wanted to walk out because even though there might be people in there that I might not fully agree with, they still deserve to be unconditionally loved because Christ unconditionally loves us,” said senior Kristen van Gilse.

Senior Abigail Crosley, too, appeared to be caught between her classmates’ conflicting feelings.

“I can’t become complicit in disrespecting people that I love,” Crosley said. “I have dear, dear friends who do support and condone Vice President Pence and that doesn’t mean that they aren’t loving the Taylor community well … but for me, just based on my understanding of the Taylor community and the way I’ve come to understand my responsibility and role in that, I knew that I couldn’t stay and claim to love my neighbor well.”

Even the protest had been worked out in calm discussions with Taylor’s provost, Michael Hammond, and Skip Trudeau, vice president for student development. In a meeting with a group of students, it was decided that attendees would be allowed to walk out during the hymn “Be Thou My Vision,” before the speech.

If anything, Taylor’s 2,000-strong student body appeared to be united by discussions over their differences, even as they disagreed whether Pence represents Taylor’s Christian values.

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Source: Religion News Service