I don’t talk a lot about my faith, because it’s always been something personal for me. It’s also because, whenever I have talked about it, I’ve been met with a certain level of surprise or even skepticism from my fellow left-wingers, as Christianity in America has become so indelibly linked with the evangelical right. I didn’t grow up religious, and even now I’m nervous to tell my old-school lefty grandfather — who has never had much time for God-botherers — that his gay, progressive grandson starts every morning with black coffee and Bible study.
That’s why it is so refreshing to hear Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay progressive, unabashedly embrace his faith. As an openly gay high school student in eastern Kentucky, the Bible was routinely used to justify my bullying and ostracization, even by well-meaning Baptists and Pentecostals who simply wanted to “save my soul.” The only time anyone talked to me about God was to remind me that He hates fags. As I studied the Bible myself, though, and was introduced to faith traditions outside fundamentalism, I found that, actually, God doesn’t hate me — or anyone.
Buttigieg has made his faith a central part of his campaign, which has driven the religious right, including Trump, apoplectic. Earlier this month the president labelled him a “pretend Christian.” Last September, evangelical pastor and Trump acolyte Franklin Graham lamented that “Mayor Pete is trying to tell people that the homosexual lifestyle is OK with God and that abortion is OK.” Even his own brother-in-law, Rhyan Glezman, said Buttigieg is “very anti-American” and “very anti-God,” calling him “a modern-day Pharisee” who is “leading people astray.”
For every attack on his faith, though, Mayor Pete has responded gracefully and with the patience of Job, refusing to cede our shared religion to the far right. “If a guy like Donald Trump keeps trying to use religion to somehow recruit Christianity into the GOP, I will be standing there not afraid to talk about a different way to answer the call of faith,” he said in last night’s Democratic debate, adding that he will “insist that God does not belong to a political party.”
Buttigieg’s unapologetic embrace of his faith — and refusal to allow the right to question or condemn it — is exciting. What really makes him a revolutionary candidate, though, is how forthrightly he argues for progressive policies using Biblical principles. “For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say that it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again,” he said in a debate last July.
Like Mayor Pete, I found God — and a spiritual home — in the Episcopal church and, like him, my faith has informed my politics. The far right in this country does not have, and has never had, a monopoly on Christianity. Quakers argued for abolition and women’s suffrage. Progressive Catholic and Episcopalian priests (along with progressive Jewish rabbis) joined with their black Christian brothers and sisters to fight for civil rights. The Metropolitan Community Church was founded in large part to pastor to the LGBT community at a time when few other denominations would.
Whether it’s arguing for universal healthcare, as Jesus did in Matthew 10:8 (“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give”) or for a strong welfare state, as He did in Matthew 25:40 (“…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”) and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), it’s time the Christian left makes its voice heard again. On social issues, too, the Bible seldom says what the hard right insists it does. “Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, it seems, less because of sexual impurity — otherwise it’s hard to fathom raping Lot’s daughters would be OK, or Lot’s later incest — but for lack of hospitality,” I wrote in my notes on Genesis Chapters 19-21.
Christianity should never come to define progressive politics. We are a big tent that welcomes people of all faiths and none, and we ought to remain that way. However, progressive Christians need to reclaim the faith from those on the hard right who have hijacked it as a political weapon. Mayor Pete’s bold and fervent embrace of his faith — and his eloquence when articulating how and why it informs his progressive politics — is inspiring.
“The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state,” he said last year, “…but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.”
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