By Brooke Sopelsa
Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday addressed news coverage and criticism regarding his wife’s decision to return to teaching at a Virginia elementary school that explicitly bars LGBTQ employees and students.
“My wife and I have been in the public eye for quite a while, we’re used to the criticism,” Pence said in an interview with EWTN, a cable network that offers “news from a Catholic perspective.” But, he added, “to see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.”
“We have a rich tradition in America of Christian education, and frankly religious education broadly defined,” he continued. “We’ll let the other critics roll off our back, but this criticism of Christian education in America should stop.”
National news outlets, including NBC News, reported Wednesday on the publicly available employment application and parent agreement of Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, where Karen Pence is now teaching art twice a week.
The school’s employment application asks applicants to initial a passage stating that they will “live a personal life of moral purity.” The “moral misconduct” that disqualifies potential employees includes “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.”
Virginia, like most states, has no statewide legislation explicitly prohibiting private employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
A parent agreement posted on the school’s website states that Immanuel Christian School reserves the right to “refuse admission” or “discontinue enrollment” of a student if “the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches.” The prohibited conduct and activities include “sexual immorality,” “homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity.”
The parent agreement cites Leviticus 20:13, a Bible passage that states, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
Karen Pence’s communications director on Wednesday said, “It’s absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school’s religious beliefs, are under attack.” Her office did not answer questions about her beliefs regarding employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and whether she believes homosexual activity and transgender identity constitute “moral misconduct.”
Immanuel Christian School’s policies are not uncommon for an evangelical Christian institution, according to Dartmouth College religion professor Randall Balmer, who said the religious right has “elevated sexuality into a litmus test of one’s faith.” However, its policies are out-of-touch with most religious Americans.
Most religious groups in the U.S. support same-sex marriage, according to a 2017 report by the Public Religion Research Institute. The study found approximately two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (67 percent), white Catholics (66 percent), Orthodox Christians (66 percent) and Latino Catholics (65 percent) favor same-sex marriage, along with 77 percent of Jewish Americans, 51 percent of Muslims, 80 percent of Buddhists and 75 percent of Hindus. Opposition to gay marriage, according to the report, “is now confined to a few of the most conservative Christian religious traditions,” including white evangelical Protestants. The study also found majorities of nearly every major religious group in the U.S. now support legal protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Americans.