Everybody judges everybody’s religion

Erick Erickson ignited a religious controversy when he Tweeted this about Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg:

I mean if Buttigieg thinks evangelicals should be supporting him instead of Trump, he fundamentally does not understand the roots of Christianity. But then he is an Episcopalian, so he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.

As you can imagine, that got Episcopalians rather upset, as well as liberals. (Do I repeat myself? I reserve the right to return to that thought.)

Erickson had more to say about Buttigieg:

Pete Buttigieg keeps trying to play a Christian on television and it goes badly for him again.

Buttigieg recently said of Donald Trump, “It is hard to look at his actions and believe they are the actions of somebody who believes in God.” On Meet the Press [April 14], Chuck Todd asked Buttigieg about that.

Buttigieg said he thought evangelicals backing President Trump were hypocritical because when he goes to church he hears about taking care of widows, the poor, and refugees, but Trump does not do that. Buttigieg went on to draw a distinction. In his professional conduct, Trump does not take care of widows and refugees as scripture commands and Buttigieg is right on this. Then Buttigieg continues that in Trump’s personal life as well he falls short of Christian behavior (he is right on that part too, by the way, but then we are all sinners). You can see the full, unedited exchange here.

Interestingly, Buttigieg goes on to note that evangelicals are too focused on sexual ethics these days. He seems to be arguing that they need to drop that aspect of their faith, as he has. Then comes the pivot exposing Buttigieg’s own hypocrisy.

Buttigieg thinks the President is not really behaving as one who believes in God because, as President, Donald Trump is not taking care of the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the refugees. Chuck Todd asks Buttigieg about his position on abortion and Buttigieg’s response is that abortion is a moral issue and we cannot legislate morality. …

This is why progressive Christianity is so corrupt and flawed. As much as Buttigieg makes a valid critique on the President’s behavior and evangelicals excusing that behavior, Buttigieg wants to reject the inconvenient parts of faith he does not like. He is a gay man who got married; he does not think homosexuality is a sin despite express statements in scripture, and he thinks abortion is a moral issue and we cannot legislate our morality. Buttigieg wants to use the social obligations as Christians against the President, but wants to avoid any implication on the personal obligations of Christians in terms of clear Biblical sexual ethics and how we are to live our lives applying our faith even for “the least of these.”

He wants to have it both ways and in reality is showing he is no better a Christian than Donald Trump. What is particularly damning here is that Buttigieg claims to be governed by some moral code and he claims he will lead as a more moral President than Trump. At the same time, he claims we cannot do exactly what he is proposing.

Everyone has a moral code and we all conduct our actions by our moral code. Buttigieg just wants a pass on his moral code, which is all about not taking inconvenient stands on parts of scripture that might make his life a bit uncomfortable. He will wield it against the President and abdicate when it comes to himself.

Frankly, Buttigieg makes a valid criticism of evangelicals who give the President a pass on his bad behavior. It actually is a valid criticism. There are too many evangelicals unwilling to call the President to account for his failures to repent, his doubling down on bad behavior, etc.

Buttigieg, however, is not making the point that Christians should vote for Democrats. He is making the case that they should stay home. Therein lies the rub. He does not think anyone should legislate their morality, so why should anyone vote their morality?

Ultimately, however, Christians can be Americans and Christians. They must put their faith first, which is something Buttigieg himself is unwilling to do except when it is convenient. Given the choices of a bunch of terribly flawed candidates, it really is understandable that Christians are willing to side with the one who will protect their right to exercise their religion in their daily lives rather than the ones who offer platitudes with persecution.

Lastly, note how quickly Buttigieg dismisses the science. He knows he cannot argue on that point so he refuses to even accept it as part of the debate. That is what trips him up. The science amplifies the moral case against Buttigieg’s position. Undoubtedly, however, Buttigieg will make the moral case for accepting transgenderism and demand we legislate on it. It’s just the children he is okay discarding. The same God that commands we take care of the widows, the poor, and the refugees, commands us to take care of children too.

About all that, Ed Kilgore wrote:

It’s hardly news that a lot of conservative Evangelical leaders sneer contemptuously at anyone practicing any other form of Christianity as inauthentically Christian. But they are usually a bit circumspect about presuming to judge the faith of other believers in a public way.

Not the famously voluble and extremely self-confident conservative commentator Erick Erickson. I once dubbed him Pope Erick for his presumption in denying that any true Christian could possibly fail to understand that homosexuality is condemned for all eternity. So it’s no surprise that Erickson is now taking up the cudgel against Pete Buttigieg for being outspokenly gay and Christian. …

Thus Erickson dismisses a Christian tradition dating back to the 16th century, and in its apostolic succession and creeds, much longer than that. But it’s part and parcel of an extended temper tantrum that Erickson and his colleagues at the Resurgent have been pitching over the ignominy of Buttigieg calling himself Christian. …

To be clear here, Erickson is not simply asserting that he believes Buttigieg’s interpretation of Christianity is in error (though as the tragedy of church history illustrates, this kind of sectarian disputation often involves un-Christian attitudes), but is judging Buttigieg’s faith (hence the headline “Pete Buttigieg Shows Why Progressive Christianity Is a Hypocritical Farce”) as inauthentic on grounds that it makes no sense from the perspective of his own sectarian biblical-literalist viewpoint. Erkickson believes it’s clear that Christianity is incompatible with homosexuality and legalized abortion. Millions of people who go to Christian churches regularly and pray and try to follow Christ don’t agree. Yet he dares demean their faith as a “farce.”

I occasionally succumb to the temptation to turn these accusations around 180 degrees:

Whatever else you want to say about the Christian Right, many of its leaders are definitely very secular. Their idea of a “Christian Culture” appears based less on the Bible than on the way things used to be in the United States of America the day before yesterday, before uppity minorities and women and unions and “losers” spoiled the capitalist patriarchal paradise God set up as the model of human behavior via the Founders. Pouring holy water over this very worldly vision or fishing around in the Bible for sanctions for it doesn’t make it any less secular. So please, Pope Erick, leave Jesus Christ out of this and just admit you think it’d be a more pleasant world without gay people.

But while my suspicions about the worldliness of the Christian right generally may be accurate, I recant any efforts to deny the authenticity of any individual’s faith. I used to have some rural relatives who refused to acknowledge daylight savings time because standard time was “God’s time.” That’s precisely the kind of confusion between religion and secular traditionalism that I think many conservative Evangelicals tend to nourish. But I don’t doubt my country cousins’ deeply felt desire to do God’s will. So I won’t try to peer into Erick Erickson’s soul and judge his faith. It’s very unlikely he’d ever reciprocate that token of respect and humility. That’s just a cross that progressive Christians must bear.

Carol Kuruvilla of the Huffington Post (which apparently reports about religion — who knew?) adds:

The ease and openness with which Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg talks about his religious beliefs appears to be causing consternation among some conservative Christians.

Evangelical Christians have long seen themselves as the standard-bearers for faith and family values in American politics. Buttigieg, a gay Christian, is directly challenging that, driving some evangelical leaders to try to paint his faith as an inauthentic expression of Christianity.

Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham and a supporter of President Donald Trump, criticized the faith of the South Bend, Indiana, mayor ― and progressive Christianity as a whole ― on Twitter and Facebook Thursday.

“We don’t define sin, God does in His Word,” tweeted Graham, who has long maintained that queer love is a sin. “Using new terms like ‘Progressive Christianity’ & ‘Christian Left’ may sound appealing, but God’s laws don’t change. I believe what the Bible says is truth.”

Graham was responding to Buttigieg’s criticism of Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of Indiana, earlier this week. Buttigieg had said Sunday that “the Mike Pences of the world” should realize that “if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Pence characterized Buttigieg’s comments as an attack on his faith. The vice president told CNN on Friday that he is a “Bible-believing Christian” who draws his truth “from God’s word.”

Buttigieg fired back by saying that he’s not critical of Pence’s faith but is concerned about his anti-LGBTQ policies.

“I don’t have a problem with religion. I’m religious, too,” Buttigieg said on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Friday. “I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people.”

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas and an evangelical adviser to Trump, argued on Todd Starnes’ radio show that some liberals are serving a “God of their imagination.” The conservative columnist himself wrote that Buttigieg “wants to shove Evangelical Christians into the closet.”

In recent years, the Episcopal Church, along with a number of other mainline Protestant denominations, has adopted affirming stances toward LGBTQ Christians, ordained LGBTQ clergy and allowed priests to perform same-sex marriages. Eleven U.S. presidents have been Episcopalian.

Erickson wrote that his major problems with Buttigieg are the mayor’s positions on abortion and the right of businesses to refuse service to queer customers. It’s fine for Christians to vote for gay people, Erickson stated, “just as they can vote for someone who is three-times divorced and cheats on his wives with porn stars.”

“Christians should go with the moral person, but in the absence of that moral person, I do not think they have to abandon politics when one of two candidates takes positions that support life and allows Christians to live their faith publicly and the other is openly hostile to the faith of orthodox, Bible believing Christians,” he wrote on Tuesday.

However, some equally devout Christians reading the same Bible have come to radically different conclusions about what orthodox Christianity demands.

For years, the loudest and most politically influential Christian voices in the U.S. have come from the religious right. The Moral Majority movement of the 1980s cemented conservative Christians’ ties to the Republican Party. Today, Trump receives counseling and advice from an unofficial cadre of evangelical Christian leaders and has repeatedly pledged that he will prioritize those leaders’ political goals.

But more and more progressive, left-leaning Christian voices are now speaking up, too. These leaders, informally known as the religious left, see their movement as rooted in the abolitionist efforts of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 20th century. Progressive Christians have used the Bible as inspiration for activism that is intersectional, interfaith and protective of the rights of women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and people of color.

And unlike the majority of white evangelical Protestants, these Christians have been highly critical of the Trump administration’s conservative agenda.

Buttigieg’s take on faith puts him firmly on the religious left. A devoted Christian, he has no difficulty citing Bible verses and talking about how his faith informs his political views. He cites progressive Christian leaders, such as civil rights activist Rev. William Barber, as his spiritual role models.

Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian and founder of the magazine Sojourners, told HuffPost that he believes the religious right is “terrified” of the conversations that Buttigieg’s comments are launching.

“They are afraid the new conversation about faith and politics, sparked by Mayor Pete Buttigieg, will get people looking and talking about the things Jesus said and did, and called us to,” Wallis wrote in an email.

Wallis said that for him, being a Christian means taking care of the poor, immigrants and other marginalized communities. He cited Matthew 25, a chapter of the Bible in which Jesus preaches about how those who care for the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, sick and vulnerable will be welcomed into heaven. (Buttigieg has said that’s one of his favorite biblical passages.)

“That is a very dangerous conversation to let happen when you are a totally uncritical supporter of Donald Trump, a man whose life, behavior, morality, words, and policies are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ,” Wallis said.

Buttigieg is also challenging the Democratic Party to talk seriously and respectfully about faith, according to Wallis.

“The religious right and some on the secular left have one thing in common,” Wallis said. “They want Americans to believe that all religion in this country is right-wing politically.”

But it’s not, as the mayor from South Bend is reminding his fellow Americans.

I’m sure regular readers will be shocked — shocked! — to find out that everyone is wrong. I read Erickson as sarcastically saying that Episcopalians are not Christians. (Perhaps Erickson was thinking of bishop-turned-heretic John Spong, but if he wanted to refer to Spong he should have referred to Spong.)

Kilgore and Kuruvilla, and everyone else they quote approvingly, and for that matter Erickson are all wrong for trying to push only (their favored) part of Christianity. Being Christian fundamentally means you believe Jesus Christ is the son of God, died for our sins, and was resurrected into Heaven three days after his death by crucifixion.

That’s not it, though. Jesus Christ’s second commandment, remember, is to love your neighbor. That means the individual Christian should work to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, and so on. Not government, not churches, not any other group — you as a Christian. Christians are also expected to attempt to avoid sin (“Go and sin no more“) and conduct themselves appropriately. Buttigieg seems to not respect the teachings of the Bible on sexual morality, and I suppose that’s up to him and God. It is not up to him, however, to say that others who are Christians are wrong about parts of the Bible and traditional Christian teaching that Buttigieg appears to not agree with or like.

The concept of cafeteria Christianity is not unusual, but that doesn’t make it correct Christianity. Everett Piper:

South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, recently took to the national stage to attack Vice President Mike Pence and, by association, tens of millions of America’s orthodox Christians.

“My [homosexual] marriage ” said Mr. Buttigieg, “has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God If being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far above my pay grade. That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences 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.”

This is not an isolated rhetorical cheap shot. Earlier this year, Mr. Buttigieg said, “Who would think that this Uber-Evangelical Christian would go down in history as the midwife of the porn star presidency? If he were here you would think he’s a nice guy to your face, but he’s also just fanatical. How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in the scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”

Mr. Buttigieg’s ridicule of the vice president’s religious convictions has persisted, in spite of the fact that Mr. Pence has done nothing but show grace and respect at every turn. “I hold Mayor Buttigieg in the highest personal regard,” said Mr. Pence. “I see him as a dedicated public servant and patriot.” There is no record of Mr. Pence ever insulting Mr. Buttigieg or returning his mockery with similar derision. Mr. Pence has shown remarkable restraint and nothing but civility and a generous spirit of true tolerance.

While our vice president may find it politically imprudent to respond to such provocations, some of us see less reason to remain so circumspect. Presumptuous as it might be to offer a response on behalf of our vice president, I am going to venture a try.

Here goes

Mr. Buttigieg, has it ever occurred to you, that the “Mike Pences of the world” don’t have a problem with “who you are,” but rather we just disagree with what you do? We believe human identity is much more than the sum total of someone’s sexual inclinations. In fact, the “creator” whom you so boldly reference makes this pretty clear.

There is no place in His entire biblical narrative where He defines us by our desires. All of us, however, are known by our choices. We are made in His image, we have moral awareness and moral culpability. We can and should choose to not do some things we may be inclined to do. God help us if we don’t. One’s appetite for porn, polyamory, and any other heterosexual or homosexual act does not define you. Your decision as to whether or not you satiate such an appetite does.

You see, Mr. Mayor, this is a matter of your proclivities, not your personhood. What you don’t seem to understand is that when it comes to your personal peccadillos, most all of the “Mike Pences of the world” really don’t want to know. Your sexual appetites are your business. The thing about obedient and faithful Christians is this; we consider someone else’s private life to be just that — Private. Please stop telling us what kind of sex you like. We don’t want to know. If you want us to stay out of your bedroom, please shut the door. Stop opening it up and forcing us to applaud and celebrate.

Before I close, Mr. Buttigieg, I have to point out one more thing. Surely you are aware you just implicitly admitted you agree with all of us “Mike Pences of the world” and you, too, think sexual behavior is, indeed, a moral issue? Otherwise, why include your derogatory remarks about porn stars and those who engage in their services? Why do you disparage them? By your own logic, isn’t “your quarrel, sir, with their creator” and not them? How is it that you blame others for their sexual behavior but you hold yourself guiltless before your own sex tribunal and morality police?

Oh, I can hear your reply before you even open your mouth, Mr. Buttigieg. It is as predictable as the sunrise. “You’re missing the point” you say. “This is not about sex. It is about marriage.” Well, aside from the transparent incongruity of this claim, let’s cut to the chase and close with this: What gives you the right to redefine a sacrament of the church? You don’t get to make up your own Christianity. You also don’t get to make up your own Jesus, and in case you missed it, He is explicitly clear on His definition of marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

No, our quarrel really isn’t with your creator, sir. Our quarrel is with you.

 

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