A pastor who stood behind Gov. Mike Pence last month when he signed the “religious freedom” bill stood in the heart of the Statehouse on Monday and publicly rebuked Pence for the “betrayal” of signing the “fix” that quelled the national backlash.
The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr., standing with 19 other clergy who are part of his Indiana Pastors Alliance, told a cheering crowd of more than 150 people that Pence and other Republican leaders had failed to “stand for biblical truth.” In bending to pressure from business, media and gay rights activists, Johnson said, they were guilty of a “cowardly capitulation.”
“You failed us,” Johnson said. “And in doing so, you betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers who elected you to protect the liberties we hold so dear.”
The rally in the atrium of the Statehouse coincided with the delivery of an open letter from the pastors alliance to the governor and state lawmakers. The letter said the RFRA “fix” had actually “opened a door of repression upon the community” and quoted the Bible in saying that civil authorities must be rebuked “when God’s people are put in an oppressive place.”
The rebuke is just the latest ripple effect from the storm surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Johnson and other evangelical leaders initially hoped would protect businesses and organizations from being legally required to provide services for gay and lesbian weddings. Some of them, including Johnson, appeared with Pence in a photo from the bill-signing ceremony.
Soon, though, the law’s passage prompted a national uproar. Critics said it would legalize discrimination and threatened to wage boycotts or to take business from the state. Quickly, lawmakers passed new legislation — a “fix” — they said would prevent the law from being used to discriminate.
Johnson and others noted Monday that he and conservative legislative leaders were left out of the process of drafting the fix. He said the state’s Republican leadership had “sold out the religious liberties of Christians to momentarily quell the cries of special interest groups and alleviate the financial fears of big business.”
His words echoed through the Statehouse and were within easy earshot of the governor’s office. But Pence did not step out to visit the rally, which was staged and attended by people who have been part of his political base. His critics expressed dismay that political leaders who had their trust before had, as put by the Rev. Carl Kelley, an associate pastor at Phillips Temple CME Church, “folded like a cheap suit.”
Kelley, a self-described tea party member, said Pence would do well to remember the lesson of former Sen. Richard Lugar, who was ousted in the 2012 Republican primary by a challenge from his right after his critics said he had lost touch with his base.
“Unless you find a way to fix this fix,” Kelley said of Pence, in addressing the crowd, “you’re next.”
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