ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Dr. Mohler is a theologian and ordained minister, and serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
MAY 1, 2019
Pete Buttigieg And The Quest For ‘Progressive’ Christianity
TAGS: 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION, DEMOCRATIC PARTY, LIBERAL PROTESTANTISM,LIBERAL THEOLOGY, LIBERATION THEOLOGY, PETE BUTTIGIEG, PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY
The race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States continues to intensify as energy builds from the almost weekly announcements of a new candidate vying for the nomination. Most recently, Vice President Joe Biden officially announced his candidacy for Commander and Chief. It came as no surprise, but now he is officially in.
The surprise in the race is a candidate who has captured the continued (and largely adoring) gaze of the media. His name appears relentlessly in the headlines from every major media outlet. He has become a national sensation—and he is a name that very few of us knew until just a few months ago.
He is Mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg’s ascension to fame and popularity comes as an anomaly. In what political climate could a major contender for the Democratic Presidential Nomination be a 37-year-old mayor from a town in Indiana?
Buttigieg, however, perhaps represents a perfect composite of what so many Democratic voters long to see in a political candidate. First, Buttigieg is young—he represents a new wave of life and vitality in party who boasts candidates like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden who are age 77 and 76 respectively. Buttigieg also has a sharp mind, receiving his education from Harvard University and attaining the highest academic honor as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, gaining a degree in the highly acclaimed “Politics, Philosophy, and Economics” program. He was also a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and served on active duty in Afghanistan.
The mayor also speaks charismatically and exudes an uncommon confidence among enormous crowds and intense media interviews. Since his candidacy began, the media has depicted him as a progressive yet sensible candidate—he couples a very leftist agenda with civility, rationality, and a smile.
Pete Buttigieg is also openly gay and married to a man. Moreover, he is the only major Democratic candidate actively talking about his faith in God.
In short, Buttigieg is the very picture of a kind of diversity the Democratic Party longs to celebrate. Indeed, not only does Buttigieg represent the cherished diverse streams of liberal Democrats, he also comes across as nice—a virtue glaringly absent in much of the current political discourse.
Buttigieg packages his diverse and celebrated background with a neighborly, friendly, and optimistic attitude. His congenial disposition garners him a high likeability as well as respect from those who even disagree with the mayor on almost every major policy issue.
Add it all up and you have a media sensation around an anomalous and unlikely candidate for the nation’s highest office.
Despite the media buzz, when you look closely at Mayor Buttigieg, you find a very progressive candidate. Though he asserts himself as a sane alternative to the far left fringes of the Democratic Party, his moral issues are in lock step with the most progressive wings of the leftist agenda.
Buttigieg, as homosexual married to a man, zealously advocates for pro-LGBTQ issues. When it comes to issues of abortion, Buttigieg supports an abortion-on-demand system fully funded by the taxpayers of the United States. According to Buttigieg, women ought to have the right to secure an abortion for virtually any circumstance at any point during a pregnancy.
In addition to his policy proposals, Buttigieg’s peculiarity gravitates around his openly gay lifestyle coupled with the openness of his version of Christianity. He often mentions God and the role that God has played in his life. Buttigieg represents a new kind of candidate among the contenders for the Presidential nomination—contenders who are far more secular. Buttigieg declares himself as a candidate of a robust and active faith.
The national media has zeroed in on this unlikely contender for the White House and his religion. The Washington Post published an article with the headline, “Faith, not sexual orientation, is what’s most interesting about Buttigieg.” CNN offered a headline, “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left.” Pete Wehner at The Atlantic wrote an article with the headline, “Pete Buttigieg’s very public faith is challenging assumptions.”
Most importantly, Kristen Powers for USA Today offered this headline: “Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s countercultural approach to Christianity is what America needs now.”
In the Washington Post article, Jennifer Rubin reported, “In a speech at an LGBTQ Victory Fund gathering… Pete, Buttigieg made headlines by talking about his coming out and his marriage. The South Bend, Ind., mayor spoke eloquently, but this wasn’t the most intriguing part of the speech. (What’s intriguing about his sexual orientation is that it’s not such a big to-do.) What was fascinating was that he wasn’t talking about faith as a ploy to get religious voters’ support in that setting.”
Rubin then cites an article by USA today, which states, “Jack Jacobson, an openly-gay member of the D. C. State Board of Education who attended the Victory Fund brunch, said Buttigieg’s openness about his faith is part of what makes him an authentic candidate. ‘He talked about god in a room that’s probably full of atheists. That’s What I am,’ Jacobson said. ‘He does it unabashedly and in a way that doesn’t come across as threatening, dismissive or negative.’”
Yet, Buttigieg did indeed take direct aim at Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence. Buttigieg told the crowd, “I wish that the Mike Pence’s of the world would understand… that if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
While Buttigieg acknowledges the existence of a creator, he avows that his sexual identity exists as an extension of the creator’s will—God made him that way. This is a common argument from LGBTQ activists that now rings louder with the candidacy of Buttigieg.
The argument, however, in no way squares with biblical orthodoxy or the teaching of Scripture.
Yet, Buttigieg demands that evangelical Christians ‘evolve’ their understanding of holy Scripture. The biblically orthodox interpretation of sexuality represents an antiquated morality from a culturally dated book. In Buttigieg’s view, we ought to keep the universal principles but jettison the culturally and socially inconvenient passages that do not square with our modern, moral ideology. Christians must, in short, redefine biblical sexuality in unbiblical terms.
Buttigieg’s argument presses Christians to see homosexuality and LGBTQ identity as a gift from the Creator. Failure to evolve and to adopt an understanding of the Bible freed from the pre-modern worldview puts Christians on the wrong side of history
An article in USA Today focuses on Buttigieg’s indictment of Pence and his religious faith. Maureen Groppe writes: “It’s unusual for Democratic presidential candidates to talk about faith as often as Buttigieg does. It’s groundbreaking that he uses his marriage to another man to illustrate his personal relationship with God.”
Indeed, it is groundbreaking, but not because of a massive political shift. It is groundbreaking because of a massive theological shift, which predates the political rise of Pete Buttigieg.
In her article for the USA Today, Kristen Powers writes, “Does the country need an awakening of the Christian left? Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg thinks so. Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately called, is having a moment with a first quarter fundraising haul of $7 million and a third place showing in an Iowa poll at 11%.” Then, Powers records, “He has also stood out as a devoted Christian who is speaking against the dominance of the religious right in the public square. As Buttigieg told me in an interview Friday, ‘The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state… 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.’ Buttigieg criticized right-wing Christians for ‘saying so much about what Christ said so little about, and so little about what he said so much about.’”
Powers applies Buttigieg’s formula to the evangelical conviction regarding abortion. According to Powers, Jesus never mentioned abortion at all, thereby making it a dubious issue for Christians to espouse. This line of reasoning applies to other issues like sexual orientation, gender identity, and the entire spectrum of LGBTQ rights.
Then, Powers writes this astounding claim as she reflects on her interview with Buttigieg: “But nonconservative Christians generally do not receive the same level of news media attention as the religious right, despite their deep understanding of Scripture and thriving faith traditions. Because most journalists are secular, they can be gullible in looking to the religious right as arbiters of biblical interpretation, especially as it relates to hot-button cultural issues. Because of this, many Americans aren’t even aware of the rich tradition of progressive Christianity.”
Powers makes several key errors in this line of reasoning. First, she isolates the religious right without acknowledging that conservative Christian convictions on abortion and marriage and sexuality are what all Christians have believed for two millennia. Moreover, she criticizes conservative Christians for biblical interpretation on moral issues while praising the progressive ‘interpretations’ offered by Mayor Buttigieg. The problem with this, however, is that Mayor Buttigieg nowhere offered an exposition or interpretation of Scripture. He merely speaks in generalities, as if his hermeneutical claims are canon.
Try as he may, Buttigieg and progressive, liberal Protestantism cannot contort the Scriptures and make Jesus an advocate for abortion and gay marriage. To do so means that entire passages of the Bible must be ripped out of their context or denied completely. To adopt Buttigieg’s interpretation of the Bible requires an entire denial of God’s plan of revelation and the interconnectedness of each book of the Bible. Progressive Christianity necessitates replacing Christianity with an entirely new religion, refashioned in a progressive image more palatable for modernity.
Yet, what makes the Buttigieg phenomenon astounding is the cultural mood—the culture wants to talk about faith. Buttigieg’s faith, however, has no objective referent; it is a subjective faith in a false god.
But the faith that saves is not faith in faith; it is faith in Christ. Salvation comes by faith alone in Christ alone.
Yet, when the media speaks of Pete Buttigieg as an individual of faith, we must ask to what object does Buttigieg direct his faith? Moreover, what undergirds Buttigieg’s claim of faith?
Most notably, Buttigieg subscribes to Liberation theology—specifically, he espouses LGBTQ Liberation Theology. Indeed, Pete Buttigieg attended a Catholic high school as a boy and went to a Catholic university. His father, a member of the Notre Dame faculty, ascribed to a Marxist ideology. As Buttigieg speaks in his book, his father was a “man of the left.” Now, Buttigieg holds his membership at an Episcopalian church that certainly espouses the tenets of Liberation Theology. This theology replaces the authority of Scripture with the authority of human experience. Moreover, it understands sin not as a transgression against the law and character of God, but as the oppression of a minority by a majority class.
While the media and Mayor Pete claim to hold to a vibrant Christian faith, we must simply ask, “What is the faith and what is its object?”
Henry Olsen wrote a column for The Washington Post with the headline, “Conservative Christians should respond to Buttigieg the way they are commanded: With Love.” Olsen believes that Christians ought not to “cast aspersions on Buttigieg’s faith.”
Indeed, Christians should abound with Christ-like love and charity. This is a hallmark of Christ’s disciples who are filled with the Holy Spirit. However, Christians must never apologize for questioning the content and beliefs of someone’s faith—especially when that individual self-identifies as a Christian. We must judge faith by its content, not its sincerity. Indeed, we cannot judge nor should we doubt the sincerity of Mayor Buttigieg; we cannot see into his heart.
We can, however, and must analyze the operational worldview of a major contender for the White House. This marks the responsibility of not only Christians, but every individual working through the ideas and character of each of these candidates. This is not to cast aspersions on an individual’s faith but to judge its validity as a worldview governed by the Scriptures.
Finally, Ramesh Ponnuru of Bloomberg wrote an article with the headline, “What Would Jesus Do? Pete Buttigieg Has No Idea.” Ponnuru argues, “Pete Buttigieg… is one of the many candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, but that’s not his only long shot bid. He also wants to claim Christianity for contemporary progressive politics.” Indeed, Buttigieg has said as much when on a CNN townhall, he argued that Christianity, rightly understood, naturally produces progressive politics.
This is the great danger inherent in the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg. He does not merely espouse a liberal political ideology—instead, he contends that his Christian faith leads him to no other conclusion other than a progressive agenda. He has made a theological argument for a political reality. He has reinserted liberal theology as the only viable way of reading the Scriptures. He posits a place for religion in the public square, but only a religion in line with liberal theology.
Now enters the cultural pressure directed against biblical Christians. The argument by Buttigieg amounts to nothing less the coercive capitulation—a capitulation on deep issues of eternal significance. His candidacy demands evangelical Christians to see the light of progressive reasoning and reject the antiquated dogma of a bygone era. If, and only if evangelicals capitulate on issues like marriage, gender, sexuality, and abortion will we have a seat at the table of political discourse.
The candidacy of Pete Buttigieg demands our attention. Why? Not so much because of his candidacy as an individual but the ideas he espouses. He attempts to radically shift the understanding of Christianity away from its historic and biblical position.
Buttigieg may quickly drop in the polls as fast as he ascended. That is the nature of American Presidential politics. What will not depart from the political scene, however, is the idea enshrined in Buttigieg’s campaign.
The left in America desperately wants a leftist faith as its handmaiden. They want (and even demand) a new and “progressive” Christianity.
Pete Buttigieg the candidate may fail in his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, but the secular society has no plans to give up on its goal—to see that that the arc of Christianity must bend towards its own “progressive” goals.
Mayor Pete is just the latest prophet of this new religion. He won’t be the last.