If ever we wanted another small but telling example of society hitting rock bottom, look no further than the “outrage” expressed recently and very aggressively (here are some examples) toward Vice President Mike Pence. Based on how quickly the story went viral, one would think Mike Pence was involved in major scandal, accused of a serious crime—or both. And in a sad way, given the sorry state of our culture, that’s exactly what happened. Pence not only stands accused but has already been found guilty as charged and is now undergoing what many believe is a well-deserved public flogging.
What is the Vice President’s serious offense? What was so utterly appalling that it caused such a major reaction from many in the general public? The answer can be found in a statement he made many years ago during an interview with The Hill. He told the publication he never eats dinner alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without his wife by his side, either. Imagine that?
The statement was revisited in a March 28th Washington Post profile piece of the Vice President. “In 2002,” the article states, “Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.” Instead of being met with appreciation for respecting his wife and women in general, Pence was immediately mocked with the negative and snarky comments from all over the map. Some referred to him as a religious zealot; others said he must have some sordid activity in his past since he is obviously afraid of being alone with a woman other than his wife. One woman commented on my Facebook page that he is actually discriminating—yes, discriminating—against women politicians because it means that all the male power brokers in Washington will have better and more frequent access to an audience with the Vice President.
Just a few weeks ago the same group that organized the women’s march in Washington, took to the streets although in much smaller numbers, to conduct their “Day Without a Woman” protest on International Women’s Day. Was it just me or did the protestors expend most of their energy on March 6th—not to mention at the women’s march on January 21st—railing against (among other things) the objectification of women while pointing directly at the White House? Weren’t they demanding more respect in the work place and in the home? Who wouldn’t want a husband who respects his wife and their relationship so very much that he doesn’t not want to place himself or anyone else in a possible near occasion of sin or appearance of impropriety?
I don’t think it was a coincidence that at the same time the Vice President was being criticized for cherishing and protecting his marriage, Pope Francis addressed the importance of married couples as well as families in general being more aware of their weaknesses while learning to more fully embrace less selfish and more sacrificial relationships. His comments were made in his recently released letter outlining the theme for next year’s World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin, titled “The Gospel of the Family: joy for the world”. Francis stated:
I wish to underline how important it is for families to ask themselves often if they live based on love, for love, and in love. In practice, this means giving oneself, forgiving, not losing patience, anticipating the other, respecting. How much better family life would be if ever day we lived according the words “please”, “thank you”, and “I’m sorry.”
I don’t recall Mike Pence (or his wife) claiming that husbands who don’t embrace the same, specific practices in their relationships with the opposite sex are horrible, sinful people. Rather, they simply believe this is the best course of action for them based on their strong Christian faith and their prudential judgment. But I think this is a wise approach that more than just devout Christians would do well to embrace. We don’t need to look far to find all sorts of scandals involving those in the spotlight, and these scandals continue to derail our barely civilized society by promoting and often justifying immoral behavior. That’s why it’s no small matter when it comes to public persons maintaining a certain sense of decorum as well as restraint.
With all of these concerns in mind, not to mention the high divorce rate and continual breakdown of the family, how can the Vice President’s approach can be anything but positive and encouraging is beyond me. As one non-Christian pundit noted, “It’s a very strange place we’ve found ourselves in when elites say we have no right to judge adultery, but we have every right to judge couples who take steps to avoid it.” There is, in fact, a double standard at work. And could it be that those who mock him or disagree with Pence are in some way convicted of their own lack of discretion? Maybe thou doth protest too much? But as Pope Francis said in his letter, it’s never too late. Even if mistakes have been made, we serve a merciful and loving God and a little humility and self-reflection verses projection and deflection can make all the difference. In the words of the Holy Father:
Every day we have the experience of fragility and weakness, and therefore we all, families and pastors, are in need of renewed humility that forms the desire to form ourselves, to educate and be educated, to help and be helped, to accompany, discern, and integrate all men of good will.