In an interview airing today across the country, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told Ellen DeGeneres that, contrary to Mike Pence‘s irrational responses, he’s not criticizing the vice president’s religion on the campaign trail. The gay mayor from South Bend said he’s only condemning Pence’s awful policies, which he experienced first-hand when Pence was governor of Indiana.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 12, 2019
“I’m not critical of his faith; I’m critical of bad policies,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t have a problem with religion. I’m religious, too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people and especially in the LGBTQ community.”
Buttigieg said he’s “not interested in feuding” with Pence.
“But if he wanted to clear this up,” he continued, “he could come out today and say he’s changed his mind, that it shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against anybody in this country for who they are.”
He’s being polite. He can absolutely criticize Pence’s faith. Or at least the version of it that Pence practices. Pence’s religion inspires him to be cruel to LGBTQ people. He’s acted on that. No half-smile on Pence’s face will ever change the reality of what he’s done.
This morning, Pence responded to these comments (and others Buttigieg has made) by pretending he doesn’t have a bigoted bone in his body.
“I don’t believe in discrimination against anybody. I treat everybody how I want to be treated,” the vice president continued. “The truth of it is, all of us have our own religious convictions. Pete has his convictions, I have mine.”
Pence added that the mayor’s quarrel was “with the First Amendment,” adding: “All of us in this country have a right to our religious beliefs.”
Pence, of course, is famous for signing a law in Indiana that discriminated against LGBTQ people, allowing religious business owners to refuse service to them. He didn’t have to do that. He chose to do that because his faith compelled him to value Christian bigotry over LGBTQ equality.
If Buttigieg does nothing else with his candidacy, he’s making it clear that Pence’s hate-based religion isn’t the only flavor of the faith. There are Christians out there who still believe their highest priority is acting the way Jesus supposedly did — helping the poor, being kind to others, etc. They don’t use religion as a weapon with which to beat others over the head. Pence can’t make sense of that in his right-wing bubble: If religion isn’t a tool to put down others, then what’s the point?
As much as I would love for religion not to play any role in the upcoming election, it’s going to be in the conversation whether I like it or not. Better to have someone who supports church/state separation and basic human decency as the dominant voice for Christianity rather than the cruel and ignorant version that’s become popular in the Trump administration.