Vice President Mike Pence asked the crowd at First Baptist in Dallas Sunday to pray to help the nation weather the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.
Pence came to North Texas as the region experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The church limited capacity in the main hall and checked worshippers’ temperatures at the door, and most people wore face coverings, but there was little distance between people in the pews.
Pence congratulated Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who also attended the service, for his leadership during the pandemic, which the congregation responded to with a standing ovation.
“Working with your governor, we will put the health of the people of the Lone Star State first, and every single day, we’ll continue to reclaim our freedom and our way of life, as each day we are one day closer to the day we put this pandemic in the past,” Pence said.
On Friday, Abbott rolled back parts of the state’s reopening plan, closing bars once again and limiting restaurant capacity. Two of Pence’s upcoming campaign events in Florida and Arizona were reportedly canceled due to the virus.
Pence also used his time onstage to condemn the police killing of George Floyd, but he added that the destruction of property seen in some protests, and the pulling down of monuments, would not be tolerated.
“We’ve seen statues of some of our nation’s greatest heroes being torn down, and one can’t help but wonder that ancient question. That if the foundations crumble, how can the righteous stand?” he said.
Confederate monuments have come down across the South during protests in recent weeks.
First Baptist’s pastor, Robert Jeffress, is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, and he expressed hope that Pence would succeed Trump as president.
“Of all the people President Trump could have chosen to stand by his side and work with him, he chose a man like Mike Pence. A man of great faith and a man who believes in the power of prayer,” Jeffress said.
As the service ended, a crowd of anti-racism protesters stood across the street from the church, some shouting at church goers as they walked to the parking garage and drove out. Some church goers stood and argued back.
Christa Fink was looking on. She has been a member of First Baptist for over 20 years and is a singer in the church choir. She said although she understands why people are angry about police violence, she wished protesters would come in and hear a service for themselves.
“I don’t want to say get over it, but do something else besides stand here screaming at people that don’t -- we don’t hate these people, we don’t hate anyone,” she said.
Protester Clif Thompson of Dallas said people have a sanitized view of protests, like the civil rights movement, which is often noted for Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy of nonviolence.
“They don’t want to see the other part of the civil rights movement, where people were getting shot and beaten and lynched, cursed at, water-hosed. You know, protest made this country possible,” Thompson said.
Thompson brought his 14-year-old daughter Kalila to the protest. She said the stakes are too high for kids like her to decide not to protest.
“At the end of the day, any black child is considered a threat, so you’re not really a child anymore,” she said.
Pence now plans to travel to Florida and Arizona to learn more about the COVID-19 situation in each state.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.