Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic presidential candidate who has been breaking the mold (at least to many in the media) when it comes to faith, takes his rhetoric to a new level in a wide-ranging interview with The Hill in which he says evangelicals are twisting scripture in order to justify supporting Donald Trump.
Over the past several months of campaigning, Buttigieg has stood out as one of the few Democratic candidates who’s both eager to talk about religion and able to do so in a way that doesn’t necessarily alienate Secular Americans. He’s made it clear that he’s devout and progressive, and that those two things don’t have to be in conflict. His faith isn’t hindered by church/state separation. And his beliefs aren’t a substitute for wise public policy.
For starters, The Hill asked him about the ever-growing “Religious Left.” Buttigied said many believers are fed up with Trump.
What I see right now is a lot of religious voters who are looking for options, because what’s happening in Washington and especially in this White House is an affront to any number of religious traditions, including somewhat conservative ones.
That’s undoubtedly true. For all the talk about being “pro-life,” compassionate to all but especially those who are suffering, and good stewards of the earth, Trump and his conservative Christian entourage have been cruel to refugees, ignorant of the effects of climate change, and eager to start wars for political purposes.
The most important question in the interview, I think, was when the Hill asked him why Democrats aren’t typically comfortable talking about religion in public. His response, which he’s given versions of in the past, says it’s not due to a lack of faith from politicians but a support of the wall of separation.
Well, I think for a very good reason, which is that we are very protective of the separation of church and state.
We want to make sure that when you’re in office, you’re speaking for people of any religion and of no religion equally. Because we’ve seen the ways in which religion has been used as a cudgel to hurt people, or exclude them, not to mention as a political tool to mobilize folks for the right.
But I think you can be attentive to all of those concerns and still reach out to voters motivated by faith.
It’s a brilliant way to show thoughtfulness about living in a secular society where many people remain religious. It’s also a smart way to show how he can reach Christian voters who have been misled by Trump. While some critics have claimed Democrats are godless or devil worshipers, it’s hard to use that slander against Buttigieg. The best conservatives can do is claim he’s not a True Christian™. They can go down that route — many have — but it’s a perilous one even for them.
Buttigieg also notes, correctly, that evangelicals are twisting scripture to justify their support for the president.
But without getting into all of the history and theology of it, it is striking to see the contortions that are beginning to go on as religious right leaders try to find ways to stay on board with Trump’s project.
As we’ve posted before, it’s hard to merge traditional Christian “values” with a man known for his racism, coziness with White Nationalists, multiple affairs, pussy-grabbing tendencies, hush money payments, infantile tweets, shady business dealings, and constant lies. None of that truly bothers them. And to pretend he’s a Cyrus-like figure is an obvious stretch.
Buttigieg isn’t just a Christian. He’s a Christian who takes the idealistic version of Jesus seriously, unlike the conservatives in power right now, and if he gets the nomination, the Religious Right would have to find new pages in their usual playbook to take him down. He knows how to fight back against their claims of Democrats being bad Christians. Even if he doesn’t get the nomination, other candidates (many of whom are openly religious) would be wise to follow his lead.
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