I began my day listening to Vice President Mike Pence deliver the commencement address to the largest graduating class in the history of Liberty University.
He spoke to a crowd of 20,000 gathered in their football stadium on a beautiful spring day in the mountains of Virginia. Prior to speaking Pence was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree; the crowd cheered then and throughout his 23-minute address.
Afterwards, I drove to the southern tip of the island where I live in Georgia. There stands the white brick lighthouse built in 1872. I climbed up all 129 steps to the wrought iron balcony that circles the top, 105 feet above the ground.
On the way up, at step number 63, I stopped and looked out the window. It is an opening 18 inches wide and 30 inches high, facing west. From this interior platform, I could see the island village with swimming pool and putt-putt course in the foreground. Far in the distance, the famous Sidney Lanier bridge spans the Brunswick River and presides over the immortal Marshes of Glynn.
In many ways, this is a good place. The white brick and black iron make for a solid, secure feel. The view from the window is full of green trees, blue seas, and clear skies.
This is the perch from which Pence delivered his graduation exhortation last Saturday. The loyal crowds listened as he described what he saw from where he stood.
He sees, he told them, an America that is back to affirming its core values: building the military, defending Israel, lowering taxes, deleting regulations, approving judges, and protecting all the liberties of the American people. It is an “America filled with promise.”
But that’s not all he can see from his narrow window at step 63.
I see danger out there, he said, if you are a Christian. “Your religious freedom is under assault.” It has become “fashionable to discriminate against people of faith.” He called out the last administration for abusing Catholic nuns and, more recently, the secular media for criticizing the religious school where his wife teaches.
This is what he said because this is what he saw from where he stood halfway up the lighthouse on St. Simons Island.
Mike Pence needs to climb to the top of the stairs.
From there he can see forever in all directions. To the south is the beach, the river channel, and Jekyll Island. To the north is the green canopy of live oaks, with the steeple of First Baptist Church poking through. In the distance, across the Hampton River, is Little Saint Simons Island.
Walk around the iron platform to the west and all of Brunswick opens up: the wood pulp plant, the water tower, the spires and steeples of a religious town.
Then turning east: the unending horizon—where sky meets sea and sun shines bright.
Up here, at step number 129, so much more is visible.
If Pence were here, he could see not just prosperous Israel, but the poor trapped behind walls in Palestine, the children dying of hunger in Yemen, the women hiding behind veils in Saudi Arabia, and all over the Middle East, the Christians fleeing for their lives.
If Pence were here, he could see not just falling tax rates but an out-of-control national debt that threatens even his own grandchildren.
If Pence were here, he could see not just a pile of ripped up regulations, but consumers left without inspectors, rivers and streams left without protectors, and citizens left without advocates.
If Pence were here, he could see not just churches posturing as woebegone victims but refugees looking for a place to sleep, prisoners begging for anybody to care, and marginalized people longing for signs that spell welcome.
If Pence were here, on the wrought iron balcony at the top of the stairs with prophets, apostles, and Jesus himself, he would see a panorama of pain and promise the world over, and also the wideness of God’s mercy and the largeness of God’s love.
He would see all of this if he were up here. But instead, Pence is standing in the shadows on step 63, peering out a window whose smallness constricts his vision and distorts his gospel. It is sad, and sadder still that so many people have stopped with him on step 63.
copyright@2019 Dwight A. Moody