In defence of Pence: Why shouldn't he think God tells him to say things?

It seems to me that there are two types of Christians in America. One group believes that Donald Trump is a great man and a potentially great president; they buy his sudden conversion to 'serious' Christianity, and see him as their great hope in crushing the liberal agenda on various moral issues.

The other group takes a polar opposite view: to them Trump is a dangerous, unpleasant man who has already made their country – and the world – a far less kind and safe place. They don't believe his conversion story and they wince every time he quotes the Bible or refers to his own faith. Few people are left 'holding their noses' any more; there's little room for nuance left among American Christians when it comes to Trump. You either love him, or you hate him.

Vice-President Mike Pence attracted criticism for saying God spoke to him.Reuters

When it comes to Trump's vice-president, Mike Pence, things gets a bit more complicated. Unlike Trump, who discovered a Christian faith on the campaign trail just in time to win a large portion of the evangelical vote, Pence has been a long-term believer. In a high-profile visit last year to The Church by the Glades (a Hillsong-style charismatic congregation in Florida which is one of America's fastest growing churches), Pence talked about coming to faith as a student, after a visit to a Christian music festival in 1978. He's been consistently part of a church ever since; he demonstrably holds a deep and sincere belief in God.

Pence's testimony at that Florida church – an ethnically-diverse congregation containing plenty of Democrats – received a standing ovation. It's unlikely that a message from Donald Trump would have received the same enthusiastic response, and this is just a small illustration of how things are more complicated with Pence. All Christians have to accept that, even if his politics and his theology might be very different to theirs, he's definitely one of their own.

We also know, given how often the president jokes about it, that Pence is outspoken about his faith at work, regularly invoking God in meetings, or stopping proceedings to pray. Despite their misgivings about the Trump administration, even its most ardent Christian critic would have to concede that this is essentially a positive thing. Mike Pence is making sure that God – or at least, talk about him – is at the heart of the White House.

So this week, when a former White House staffer revealed that Pence openly says that 'Jesus tells him to say things', I – like many other Christians – felt conflicted. On the one hand, the thought that Jesus' name might be being used to somehow legitimise outrageous and unholy policies is horrifying. But what if Pence, who really does try to read his Bible, pray, listen and walk closely with God, really is hearing from him? What if Pence's voice really is bringing a Christian perspective into meetings that would otherwise be dominated by Trump's hard capitalism and trademark volatility?

As a Christian, I believe that God does still speak today, very occasionally in an audible voice, but more usually through Scripture, the words of others, our own thoughts and more. If anything I'm encouraged that someone at the centre of the most powerful – and potentially dangerous – political administration in the world is listening out for him. Now of course, I don't want to be naive, and while Pence is clearly a man of faith, he interprets that faith through a vastly different political lens to some of the rest of us. His reported views on same-sex attraction for instance, are extremely concerning even to many Christians, and his hard line on immigration seems to take a more Old Testament approach to territory.

Still, the thought that Pence (who appears to be the one man capable of working alongside Trump for the medium-to-long term), is prepared to speak up on the basis of what he thinks God is saying is somewhat encouraging. Maybe Jesus really will 'tell him to say things', at a point of global importance. Maybe when Trump is about to declare war, or suggest some draconian new policy that harms America's poorest people. Maybe Jesus will speak, and Mike Pence will be the one to listen and take action as a result.

I'm sure lots of people are praying for the president. But perhaps the person we should be really praying for is Mike Pence, that he really would hear from God, given how open he is to receiving messages from above. We should pray too that his heart and mind would be open to what God might truly want to say, rather than simply allowing his own biases to become 'sanctified.' Half of America – and more than half of the world – are deeply concerned about President Trump and his politics, and what they might mean for long term global stability. In that context, the fact that his right-hand man is listening to God is no bad thing.

Martin Saunders is a contributing editor for Christian Today and the deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.