DALLAS (BP) — Saying “it’s good to be back in church,” Vice President Mike Pence headlined an annual patriotic service Sunday (June 28) at First Baptist Church of Dallas, touting the accomplishments of the Trump administration, urging the congregation to “practice prayer in a renewed way,” and briefly sharing his personal testimony.
“Celebrate Freedom Sunday” included a medley of patriotic music, chants of “U.S.A.,” flags waving and a 30-minute speech by the vice president. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said the event, held each year around July 4 to celebrate the nation’s independence, was not a campaign rally.
“Anybody who would categorize this as a campaign rally,” Jeffress told Baptist Press, “I would just say I’ve never seen a campaign rally where there was a plan of salvation given, and a prayer of salvation offered for those who wanted to trust in Christ.”
Jeffress estimated about 2,200 worshipers attended the service. He said about 535,000 viewed the event online.
“We have been overwhelmed with positive responses from people who were blessed by the service,” said Jeffress, who told Baptist Press more than 1,000 online viewers made professions of faith in Christ, based on responses received electronically during the service.
Jeffress said an average of 500 salvations are recorded weekly online during First Baptist Dallas’ services, and that about 20,000 professions of faith have been registered from viewers worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeffress said for precautionary reasons, in-person attendance in the sanctuary was limited to 70 percent of capacity and about half of the choir populated the choir loft. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that many people wore masks and that some churchgoers were shunted to an overflow room. The Dallas Morning News reported the choir wore masks when not singing.
“We take the threat of the pandemic very seriously,” Jeffress said.
The vice president’s appearance at First Baptist Dallas was among several events Pence is headlining on a swing billed as the “Faith in America” tour. Ben Carson, U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, also spoke briefly at the service.
While in Texas, Pence also met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn and medical experts to discuss the global COVID-19 pandemic. The state has recently experienced a dramatic surge in positive tests for the coronavirus, leading Abbott to scale back some aspects of reopening, including shutting down bars again and again reducing restaurant capacity to 50 percent. According to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, the pandemic had caused deaths of more than 2,400 in Texas as of Monday (June 29).
Noting Pence’s visit to First Baptist Dallas had “been scheduled for more than a year,” Jeffress called media reports describing the service as a campaign rally “gross ignorance and an absolute attempt to misstate the facts.”
Jeffress, an evangelical advisor to and outspoken defender of President Trump, and Pence both spoke of Trump’s priorities and accomplishments during his term as the nation’s 45th president. Jeffress encouraged Pence to run in 2024.
“Mr. Vice President, there are millions of Christians in this country, just like me, who are hoping and we are praying, that when you have finished your term as vice president in 2024, that you don’t move,” Jeffress said to widespread applause. “We are praying that when you have finished your term in 2024, we don’t want you moving out of the west wing, we just want you to move down the hall a few doors and continue to build on the legacy of the most faith-friendly president in history.”
Pence opened his remarks with the exhortation that, “The Bible tells us it was for freedom that Christ set us free.” He also said he believed “more than ever … we stand in the need of prayer.” He encouraged listeners: “As you celebrate freedom in this coming week, practice prayer in a renewed way.” The vice president closed by sharing how he came to faith in Christ at a contemporary Christian music concert.
He also called Trump “a great champion of everything we celebrate here this morning, and … a great champion of people of faith.”
“I’m proud to report to you as your vice president, that from the first days of this administration, that’s exactly what President Donald Trump has been doing — protecting, defending and celebrating freedom of every American of every race and creed and color,” Pence said.
Pence praised Trump for advancing the U.S. economy, promoting religious freedom at home and abroad, protecting the sanctity of human life, appointing 200 conservative federal judges to courts across the nation, rebuilding the U.S. military, supporting Israel and having helped secure the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from a prison in Turkey.
Pence also commended Republican politicians including Abbott and Texas U.S. senators Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
“With this governor and this president, we’ll bring Texas and America back bigger and better than ever before,” Pence said.
The vice president decried the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police, saying “there’s no excuse” for his death “and justice will be served.”
“There’s also no excuse for the rioting, looting and violence that ensued,” Pence continued. “Burning churches is not protest. Tearing down statues is not free speech. There will be no tolerance for vandalism or violence in the United States, and we will prosecute those who do it to the fullest extent of the law. That’s how we defend freedom.”
Several times, Pence said these are “challenging times.” He encouraged churchgoers to “hold fast to freedom. But let’s also hold fast to … faith.”
“I believe with all my heart,” Pence said, “on this Celebrate Freedom Sunday and every day, that if we will but hold fast to Him, we’ll see our way through these challenging times, we will restore our nation’s health, we will renew our freedom, and we will inspire people across this land with our witness of the love and compassion and strength that comes in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”