religionandpolitics | Much has been made of the fact that Pence at one time described himself as an “evangelical Catholic.” However, Pence has become reticent about the shift in his faith identity, according to Craig Fehrman, who wrote a 2013 profile of him for Indianapolis Monthly. Instead, he prefers to call himself an “ordinary Christian.” Pence “was torn between his family’s faith and background and a new more exciting faith,” Ferhman explained.
Pence continued to call himself a Catholic until the mid-1990s, when he began attending an evangelical megachurch in Indianapolis. In her story about Pence’s evolving faith, Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post noted that it was during this period when “white evangelicals and conservative Catholics in the United States started to realize they had a lot more in common than their more denominationally tribal parents realized.” Together, Catholics and evangelical Christians worked to protect “traditional marriage” and enforce greater abortion restrictions.
Pence earned a law degree from Indiana University in 1986 and entered private practice. After running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1988 and 1990, he became the president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, part of a Koch brothers-backed network, which bills itself as promoting “the best thought on governmental, economic and educational issues” by “exalt[ing] the truths of the Declaration of Independence, especially as they apply to the interrelated freedoms of religion, property, and speech.” It was during his four-year tenure there, which coincided with this fuller embrace of evangelical Christianity, that Pence first began promoting “traditional family” ideologies and policies in earnest.
Pence then became the host of a talk radio show—“Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” is how he described his radio persona—as well as a local Sunday TV show. Pence maintained ties, however, with his former organization. In 1996, he published in the foundation’s journal an essay in which he lambasted the Republican Party’s move away from “traditional Pro-Family conservatives.” His evidence was the 1996 RNC speakers’ line-up, which included “pro-choice women, AIDS activists, and proponents of Affirmative Action.” He lamented that the GOP had abandoned the combative posture epitomized by Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 convention. Pence even included a bit of unintended foreshadowing of the rise of Trump. He wrote that not only did the 1996 RNC’s retreat from conservatism make for bad politics, it made for bad TV; “ratings were dismal,” he noted.
In 2000, Pence was elected to the House of Representatives. There he became a leader among movement conservatives committed to rolling back federal intervention in education and healthcare, business and environmental regulations. Until just last week, he called climate change “a myth” based on faulty science. In the House, he voted to block policies that would curb greenhouse gases. In 2002, he took to the House floor to call for science textbooks to “be changed” to reflect that evolution “taught for 77 years in the classrooms of America as fact” is just a “theory,” and that “other theories of the origin of species,” notably “intelligent design,” should also be included alongside evolution.