Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence revealed that he once walked away from his Christian faith before later rediscovering it in college.
“I went off to college and had largely walked away from the faith that I was raised to believe in,” Pence told the congregation at First Baptist Jacksonville in Florida.
But the Indiana governor — who grew up going to church every Sunday — said he soon came to rediscover his Christian roots.
“When I got to college, I met a group of folks in a non-denominational Christian fellow group,” he told parishioners during a question and answer session with Pastor Mac Brunson.
Pence also met a Christian friend who has since gone on to become a pastor; that friend helped inspire him to embrace his faith again.
He recalled telling the friend in college that he’d love to get a Christian cross like the one he wore, but the friend told Pence that he needed to “wear it in the heart” before wearing it around his neck, The Florida Times-Union reported.
That message resonated, and months later, Pence went to a Christian music festival and heard yet another message about what “Jesus had done” for him. It was that sermon that finally led Pence to take action.
“My heart broke with gratitude and I gave my life to Jesus Christ,” he said.
Pence told the congregation that he and his wife, Karen, were in attendance at First Baptist church on Sunday to “worship,” and described himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” The Florida Times-Union reported.
The candidate’s faith has gained attention in recent months since Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced he would be his running mate.
As previously reported, Pence has called himself “a born-again, evangelical Catholic” in the past; he grew up in the Catholic Church but later started attending evangelical houses of worship.
Pence also stressed the importance of voting during his appearance at the church and asked for prayers for those investigating recent terror attacks in New York.
While Pence’s statements surely sparked interest among parishioners and members of the media alike, the vice presidential contender also spoke about Trump’s Christian faith — a subject that has sparked interest and scrutiny alike.
Pence described a moment in which Trump asked him and his wife to pray with him, according to First Coast News.
“On the campaign trail, Donald waved Karen and me over and he said, ‘Hey can we have a prayer before you leave?’” Pence recounted. “This is a man who is raised in a family of faith.”
Trump has spent time courting Christian voters and leaders over the past few months, meeting with scores of prominent evangelical preachers in June, and repeatedly pledging to overturn the Johnson Amendment — a controversial IRS regulation that bans churches and nonprofits from endorsing candidates.
As for Trump’s own personal faith, some well-known pastors have made a range of claims about if and when the candidate rededicated himself to the Christian faith; some said Trump did so a decade ago, while others said it was more recent.
Either way, Trump has made his gratitude toward evangelicals more than known, publicly thanking the Christian cohort during his speech before the Republican National Convention in July.
“At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical community, because I will tell you what, the support they have given — and I’m not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing,” Trump said. “And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight.”