Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has used his Christian faith as a common theme in his campaign to call out what he sees as the Christian right’s moral bankruptcy. Fellow LGBTQ Christians have backed him, calling his remarks on faith a key breakthrough for their representation in politics.
Buttigieg repeated this message loud and clear at the second Democratic presidential debate on Thursday, when he criticized the Republican Party on its support of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Buttigieg said that although Democrats “stand for people of any religion and no religion,” Democrats should “call out hypocrisy when we see it” when it comes to the violation of Christian principles.
“And 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 the hands of federal agents,” he said, “that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
Buttigieg was referring to the administration’s separation of families seeking asylum and the poor conditions of detention centers.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, founder and editor of Resistance Prays, a daily devotional for progressive Christians, said on Twitter that Buttigieg is acknowledging the religious Democrats who don’t wish to be associated with the Christian religious right.
Big picture: @PeteButtigieg is clearly targeting religious Democrats who are sick of “religious voter” being synonymous w/ Republican/anti-women as a political constituency in the *Democratic base* — that’s unqiue in Democratic politics going back a long time. #DemDebate2
— Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons (@GuthrieGF) June 28, 2019
Graves-Fitzsimmons added that any analysis of Buttigieg’s comments should highlight the “uniqueness of Pete doing this *in the primary.*”
“Mayor Pete sees religious voters in the Democratic base, not as ‘swing voters’ which is the misguided way the media reports on people of faith,” he tweeted.
Buttigieg recently decided to hire a faith engagement director. Fellow presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has done the same. This may be part of a wider realization that Democrats need to reach out to the religious left. The Democratic Party hired a new religious outreach director and plans to have listening sessions with faith leaders. Several candidates, including Buttigieg, have also worked with Rev. Dr. William Barber II’s Poor People’s Campaign. This month, Buttigieg attended a faith-based demonstration led by Rev. Dr. Barber and nine 2020 Democratic candidates attended the Poor People’s Campaign forum.
Buttigieg often refers to his faith and the hypocrisy of the religious right. He told USA Today in April that “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” and that the Scripture points him toward “defending the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast, and those who are left behind by the way society works.”
He said “exaltation of wealth and power” on the religious right are contrary to the message of Christianity.
As someone who could be the first openly gay president, Buttigieg is also sending the message that Christian faith is not inherently in opposition to support for LGBTQ rights — which the Christian left, and the LGBTQ Christian left in particular, is excited about.
One of the clearest examples of Buttigieg’s refusal to let religious conservatives pit his faith against his sexuality happened at a National Champagne Brunch in Washington, D.C., for the LGBTQ Victory Fund in April. Buttigieg singled out Vice President Mike Pence, who speaks often about his religion and has a long record of promoting anti-LGBTQ policies.
Buttigieg said, “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Pence was dismissive of Buttigieg’s remarks and didn’t address the substance of his criticism.
Only a few weeks after that dialogue, Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, tweeted, “Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women.”
Although Pence and Graham may be threatened by Buttigieg’s pride in his Christian faith, recent surveys show many Christians probably don’t feel the same way.
Two-thirds of Catholics, white mainline Protestants, and Orthodox Christians say they are in favor of marriage equality, according to a 2018 Public Religion Research Institute survey. Although only 40% of Mormons and 34% of white evangelicals say they support same-sex marriage, support has grown. Looking at age differences in support, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that 26% of baby boomer and older evangelicals support same-sex marriage. However, 47% of Generation X and millennial evangelicals do.
Buttigieg’s comments are particularly meaningful when the administration uses religion as a weapon to discriminate against the most marginalized populations.
Throughout the administration, there have been efforts that claim to protect religious freedom by enabling discrimination. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a new division in 2018 called the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, which many LGBTQ advocates and reproductive rights groups say is a just another path to enable discrimination against LGBTQ people and people who can get pregnant. There have been similar initiatives in the Department of Justice and Labor Department.
The Trump administration has also hired officials with records of using religion to justify harmful policies that affect undocumented people.
In 2017, Scott Lloyd, for example, was appointed as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Lloyd cofounded and once worked in the legal arm of the WitnessWorks Foundation for a Culture of Life, which said it is focused on Catholic teachings, according to Politico. On its website, he shared an article he wrote in 2011 called “Facts on Abortion: Why you can’t be pro-life and pro-contraception.” Lloyd also called himself the “architect of late-term abortion restrictions” on his resume when he referred to his work at the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.
As head of ORR, Lloyd personally intervened to dissuade undocumented girls from getting abortions. The administration instituted a policy that prevented unaccompanied and undocumented minors from seeking abortions when they were in U.S. custody. American Bridge later obtained a spreadsheet that found the government had been tracking undocumented girls’ menstrual cycles, if they asked for an abortion, how far along pregnancies were, and whether they were pregnant as a result of consensual sex. He has since left his post for HHS’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives.