You have seen, I take it, that our vice president has outed himself as a cultural criminal of the first order by revealing that, like some conservative Christian men, he doesn’t put himself in situations where he could be tempted to compromise his marital vows, or be plausibly accused of same. He never eats alone with another woman, or goes to events where alcohol is served unless his wife is with him. This is pretty quaintly conservative, admittedly, and not something I would do. But I can’t fault the guy, especially given the life politicians have to live. If I were Mrs. Pence, I would surely be grateful.
To no one’s surprise, this has earned Pence denunciation from the more progressive protuberances of the body politic. Emma Green, in customary form, does a good job examining what this weird episode tells us about Americans and gender. Excerpts:
Some folks—mostly journalists and entertainers on Twitter—have reacted with surprise, anger, and sarcasm to the Pence family rule. Socially liberal or non-religious people may see Pence’s practice as misogynistic or bizarre. For a lot of conservative religious people, though, this set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise. The dust-up shows how radically notions of gender divide American culture.
Were the Pences Orthodox Jews or practicing Muslims, nobody would have batted an eye. But they’re Evangelical Christians, so that means it’s open season on tearing them apart.
Pence told The Hill in 2002 that his practice is about building a zone of protection around his marriage. Green:
The 2002 article notes that Pence arrived in Congress a half decade after the 1994 “Republican revolution,” when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House. Several congressional marriages, including Gingrich’s, encountered difficulty that year. Pence seemed wary of this. “I’ve lost more elections than I’ve won,” he said. “I’ve seen friends lose their families. I’d rather lose an election.” He even said he gets fingers wagged in his face by concerned Indianans. “Little old ladies come and say, ‘Honey, whatever you need to do, keep your family together,’” he told TheHill.
These comments show that the Pences have a distinctively conservative approach toward family, sex, and gender. This is by no means the way that all Christians, or even all evangelical Christians like the Pences, navigate married life. But traditional religious people from other backgrounds may practice something similar. Many Orthodox Jews follow the laws of yichud, which prohibit unmarried men and women from being alone in a closed room together. Some Muslim men and women also refuse to be together alone if they’re not married. These practices all have different histories and origins, but they’re rooted in the same belief: The sanctity of marriage should be protected, and sexual immorality should be guarded against at all costs.
Again, this is not a set of precautions I, as a Christian, would take, or feel it necessary to take, but I admire the Pences for the seriousness with which they take their marriage vows. Mike Pence is willing to be thought a countercultural weirdo for the sake of doing right by his wife, his kids, and his God. That’s totally admirable in my book.
One more bit from Green:
That some people are so quick to be angered—and others are totally unsurprised—shows how divided America has become about the fundamental claim embedded in the Pence family rule: that understandings of gender should guide the boundaries around people’s everyday interactions, and protecting a marriage should take precedence over all else, even if the way of doing it seems strange to some, and imposes costs on others.
HuffPo puffed a gay couple who started a store catering to diaper-wearing pervs, but ran a piece criticizing the Pences as weirdos for the patriarchy. Given their standards (if “standards” is the word), I would take criticism from HuffPo as a compliment.
Somebody put on Twitter this deeply affecting World magazine piece showcasing the hard lessons that Mark Souder, a Republican Congressman from Indiana and religious-right stalwart, learned after his longterm adulterous affair with a staffer became public. Souder talks in the piece about his own terrible failure, and how his life as a Washington politician set him up to fall. Here’s an excerpt from that 2010 piece relevant to our discussion today:
Mike Pence, R-Ind., took the Quayles’ advice and moved his family (with three children then under the age of 8) after winning election in 2000. Later, when Mike and Karen Pence’s fourth-grade son broke his collarbone on the playground at school, the congressman was able to come to the emergency room straight from Capitol Hill. Karen was composed until he walked into the room, then melted. “I realized, I’m really glad he’s here and I don’t have to do this all by myself,” she recalled.
Karen Pence talked with me about how she sits down with her husband’s scheduler to scrutinize school calendars so they can map out days that Mike needs to be available to his family: “Not only do my kids need Mike, Mike needs the kids.” She doesn’t prescribe a Washington move for everyone: “We were blessed that our kids were at an age where they could move easily. . . . Every family has to make its own choice.”
Some legislators fill their Capitol Hill offices with family pictures, not only to impress constituents but to remind themselves. When Mike Pence took office in 2001, Karen installed a red landline phone in his Capitol Hill office-and only she knew the number. It’s a bit of a gimmick now, since she can connect with him on his BlackBerry much more easily, but the phone sticks out as a reminder.
Plainly these are horrible neo-Amish trolls who deserve pop culture’s disdain. Meanwhile, anybody heard lately from Carlos Danger? Wonder what Huma Abedin thinks about the Pence arrangement…
UPDATE: Great comment by Mark:
Evangelicals are hypocrites for voting for Trump given the disrespect he has for marriage, and his willingness to defile the marriage bed. Because that’s Bad For Women.
Evangelicals are crazy religious fanatics for having rules like Pence’s for safeguarding marriage, and avoiding even situations that might begin a pattern that could flower into defiling the marriage bed. Because that’s Bad For Women.
Luke chapter 7:
31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
When the heart is corrupted, everything looks foolish and corrupt.