During the past 30 years, Republican sitting presidents or vice presidents have spoken at the Southern Baptist gathering and Democrats have not. Bill Clinton—himself a member in good standing of a Southern Baptist church upon his election—never spoke to the convention. (In 1993, the messengers adopted a resolution to pray for Clinton, that he might reconsider his aberrant pro-abortion views.) Barack Obama also never appeared, but both Presidents Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle did.
When Pence spoke of the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem and the recent release of hostages by North Korea, most messengers stood and applauded. Pence’s closing line became controversial: “With your support and prayers … with President Donald Trump in the White House, and with God’s help, we will make America safe again, we will make America prosperous again, and—to borrow a phrase—we will make America great again.”
Before Pence spoke, a motion to rescind his invitation cited Southern Baptist church unity, gospel clarity, and overseas missionaries’ safety. Others, though, cited Biblical commands to pray for leaders and show hospitality—and the motion failed resoundingly. After the speech, Greear said the decision to have Pence speak “sent a terrible mixed signal,” since Southern Baptists should emphasize “commissioned missionaries, not political platforms.”