A Brief Note on Mike and Karen Pence’s Dinner Arrangements

Amidst a news cycle that’s increasingly equal parts Tom Clancy novel and the Grape Stomping Reporter, this bit from a Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, the Vice President’s wife, caught some eyes.

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Predictably, liberal Twitter wasn’t having it.

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Which prompted a response from conservative Twitter…

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… which prompted the inevitable backlash to both.

Okay. Here’s the thing.

Mike Pence choosing to not have private meetings with women who are not his family or his wife is a fairly common conservative or fundamentalist Christian belief. It’s one that pervades a lot of aspects of our culture. It’s one that my own mother generally agrees with — I remember having a conversation with her about it years ago, back when I was writing angry letters to this guy rather than writing them on this blog. For her, and a lot of other people, it kind of harkens back to the “can men and women really be friends?” thesis of When Harry Met Sally – sex is always gonna get in the way, so it’s just best not to risk impropriety, or even the appearance of it, in your personal or professional life.

For a lot of people, myself included, that argument is bunk because, well: I have plenty of male friends and professional colleagues that I value, treasure, and love, yet have no desire to see naked; because sexuality exists on a fluid spectrum; because sexuality and gender are actually entirely separate issues; because this argument seems especially specious when confronted with the reality of homosexual relationships and friendships, etc.

But it doesn’t change the fact that Mike Pence’s personal cultural and religious beliefs dictate that he doesn’t privately meet with women who are not his spouse or his family member. And he has every right to believe those things and practice those beliefs. He is an American citizen, afforded full freedom of religion in our country.  Take, for instance, this passage from Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …

Or perhaps this passage states things more explicitly:

O believers do not enter houses other than yours until you ask permission and greet its inhabitants; this is better for you perhaps you may understand. Then if you do not find anyone then do not enter them unless permission is given to you; and if it is said to you go back then go back that is purer for you; and God has knowledge of what you do. There is no blame on you on entering undwelt houses where are belongings for you; and God is aware of what you show and what you conceal. Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity: this will be most conducive to their purity. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms beyond what may be apparent thereof; hence let them draw their veils over their bosoms and do not show their adornments except to their husbands or their fathers or their husbands’ fathers or their sons or their husbands’ sons or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or their women or what their right hands possess or male servants free of sexual desires or those children who never knows the private things of women; and do not stamp their feet so that it may show their hidden adornments; and repent towards God collectively O believers so that you may succeed.

Except that that last paragraph isn’t in the Bible. It’s from the  Qur’an. Sura 24 (An-Nur), ayat 27-31, to be precise.

Mike Pence’s religious beliefs, like the religious beliefs of many Americans, aren’t always great for women’s rights and freedoms — even though a lot of women are happy practicing those same religious beliefs. Most conservative or orthodox religions prohibit women from serving in leadership roles within the church. There are a lot of passages in the Bible about how women should be subservient, or should not speak publicly, or are weak or should be modest in appearance and opinion. And if you are someone who practices those religious beliefs: great. I’m happy for your choice, even if it’s not one that I personally choose. We live in a country that values your freedom to practice your religion, and I will defend to the death your right to that freedom.

Muslim religious beliefs sound a whole lot like the religious beliefs of most conservative Americans. Seriously. Re-read the paragraph above, except swap in ‘Muslim’ where I say ‘Mike Pence’ or ‘conservative,’ and replace “Bible” with “Qur’an.” There is a whole lot of overlap between major world religions, and Christianity and Islam are alike in many respects.

All of the people yelling about the threat of Sharia law being imposed on America? It is really really really important that you understand the difference between Islam (a major world religion) and Islamism (an ideology that seeks to impose Islamic religious beliefs on a society by law).

No one, except for hardcore fundamentalists, wants a society dictated by religious law. That’s what’s so great about America. We aren’t governed by religious law, we’re governed by a democracy.

So as long as Mike Pence’s religious beliefs don’t get in the way of his ability to govern effectively, we don’t anything to worry about. He is free to dine with whomever he wants, believe whatever he wants, and pray however he wants, so long as he is governing according to the will of the people, and not to the canon of his religion.

Except, of course, you could argue that Pence already is governing according to his own interpretation of religious law.

Take the instance of the 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana, when Mike Pence was governor. His opposition to Planned Parenthood (on religious and moral grounds, as a provider of abortion services) shuttered many clinic doors in his state, including one in economically depressed Scott County. Scott County, left without a place for low-cost or free HIV testing, and ravaged by America’s burgeoning opioid crisis, became the epicenter of an HIV epidemic. While Pence eventually “prayed on it” and temporarily lifted the statewide ban on clean needle sites in Scott County, the statewide ban still exists and the Planned Parenthood in Scottsburg remains permanently closed.

You can look at his record on abortion, on Planned Parenthood, and on his controversial “Religious Freedom Law,” which acted as a backdoor channel to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals. He has opposed the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes act, and has publicly stated that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.” You can look at any of his statements where he’s said things like, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

If Mike Pence is a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order, he might have some ‘splaining to do with regards to the definition of “theocracy.” It’s an important question, and one that merits further parsing in the public sphere: do you represent the will of the people, and will you uphold their individual freedoms and liberties, even if your religious beliefs aren’t always compatible with the realities of gay people who are already married, or women who need abortions, or trans kids who just want to use the bathroom in peace?

Look, what Mike Pence said about his dinner arrangements was in 2002, and I have a feeling that if the German Chancellor requested a meeting, he might make an exception. And yes, there are excellent points to be made about “well, if he sees women as potential sexual temptations rather than coworkers, peers, and leaders, he’s only going to hire men.” Yes. That is all true.

But when we get down to it, Mike Pence’s dinner arrangements, in and of themselves, don’t concern me. Whether or not he can govern according to constitutional law, and not religious law? That’s the part that does.

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9 thoughts on “A Brief Note on Mike and Karen Pence’s Dinner Arrangements

  1. I’ll be honest – that restriction just confuses me more than anything. In my profession, one-on-one meetings among two people of the opposite sex are quite common. Often they happen over coffee / lunch / dinner / drinks, and no one bats an eye.

    It just seems to be the type of eccentricity that a VP could get away with doing, but would be professionally limiting to the rest of us.

  2. I once asked my female friend if she think men and women can’t be casual friends. She just scoffed at the notion. Thank you for giving me something good to read while eating an apple.

  3. The brief comment at the top doesn’t strike me as odd, when taken out of context. It seems to me an action taken by a man who was unfaithful to his wife in some way, so now takes certain precautions for marriage’s sake. I actually find that somewhat commendable. I think men and women can be friends, and anybody who thinks otherwise is simply incapable of being that sort of relationship themselves. But for an individual to know his own weaknesses and temptaions is an act of rarely seen honesty among politicians. Now put it back into context, and look at Mike Pence’s lifetime of decisions, and you start to question the underlying motivation for all his actions. He, among many other Republicans, already exist in a theocracy, and are most comfortable putting Christianity as the country’s moral compass. This is a great thought piece, and very well researched.

    • You bring up a good point, and – having known a couple of deliciously vindictive Wronged Wives, this does sound like their handiwork. Yes, it’s probably just an extension of his other beliefs (which I have feelings about, but he’s entitled to them and I don’t judge) and his opinions on the rights/function/relative worth of other people (to which he is also entitled, but which I am permitted to judge as crap)… but permit me a small, secret smile while I pretend that he’s actually just trying to get some work done, but he’s got a chastity belt that chafes and now the entire Secret Service detail is under orders to text his wife if he so much as glances sideways at another woman.

    • That was exactly what I thought when he included the “doesn’t attend events with alcohol without her.” Dude done messed around and got caught. if that is how the two of them worked it out, more power to the two of them. For any and all social situations they can do whatever works for the two of them.

      I would have been way more comfortable with it had he specified “social events/dinners” because that does acknowledge that given his place of power there needs to be exceptions when, say, the PM of Britain wants to have a private meal, or, say, his top female adviser has confidential things to discuss and it happens to be meal time. By not giving that caveat it does insinuate that he would never hire a woman to be a top aide to avoid the situation, or that it could be potentially embarrassing to the country when he tells another world leader he can’t take that meeting without a chaperone.

  4. At the risk of repeating something already said, because I am not going back and reading all of the comments, his choice may not have anything to do with religion, or having cheated, at all. It may be to avoid being accused of cheating. Lets face it… it’s the first conclusion jumped to these days. Even if it wasn’t, with all the Trump hate out there, somebody is going to make something of it… so it’s VERY smart to simply avoid the situation. You don’t have to have cheated before, or even have religion at all, to avoid the potential backlash.

  5. It just reinforces my long-held belief that everyone (including myself) is weird. Sometimes in a benign way, sometimes not.

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