Can Pete Buttigieg Reclaim Religion from the Right?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

- John 13:34

If there is one man who pushed me on the path towards atheism, it was Randall Terry. As a forerunner to the violent right that we see today, Terry founded the group Operation Rescue to physically deprive women of their rights at health care clinics. As a volunteer escort, I was regularly punched, pushed and shoved by the members of these mobs as they tried to enforce their own form of sharia law. Terry himself was charged with assaulting me outside a health care clinic in Downtown Los Angeles.

Terry’s violence was not only committed in the name of his brand of Christian values, but it was also aided and abetted by the Catholic Church and other houses of worship. The group organized and assembled behind church walls and used laws designed to punish hate crimes to keep out those with opposing views. They would then leave their sanctuary to blockade health clinics by using brute force to prevent people from entering. While they claimed to be engaging in civil disobedience, the use of violence was far from the example set by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Unable to change the laws through legislative means, the anti-abortion movement plunged deeper into violence. Operation Rescue’s senior vice-president, Cheryl Sullenger, pled guilty to conspiring to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic. Her name and phone number were found in the car of the person who murdered abortion provider George Tiller as he worshipped in his church. In response to the murder, Terry released a statement that said: “Dr. Tiller was a mass murderer”, Called him “one of the most evil men on the planet” and compared him to the Nazis. Another of Terry’s associates killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in the name of the “pro-life” movement. Instead of condemning the murder, Operation Rescue stated that “We have shed the blood of the innocent in the womb, and we are now reaping it in the streets.”

If we say we love God but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen.

- 1 John 4:20

After retreating into relative obscurity, Terry reappeared in the news this week. However, this time his focus was not ending abortion or making “human pesticides” like the birth control pill and the patch illegal. Instead, the focus of his attack was presidential aspirant Pete Buttigieg’s marriage to another man. Terry says that this union “glorifies and normalizes a sinful behavior.” In his worldview, homosexuals should not be running for president, they should be shunned like his son Jamiel, whom Terry “disowned” after he came out in a publicly published essay.

While it would have been understandable if Buttigieg had been publicly upset by a religious bigot interrupting his speech by screaming “That is Sodom and Gomorrah”, he instead remained calm and took Terry on directly. Unlike the current president, he did this without advocating violence. Instead, he fell back on his own faith tradition and declared that “The good news is the condition of my soul is in the hands of God.”

As a practicing member of the Episcopal church, Buttigieg refuses to cede moral issues to the right-wing. He considers his marriage as “one of the most conservative things about my life, very conventional.” In an age where half of all marriages end in divorce, he talks about how being married to his husband makes him a better person. From a religious perspective, Buttigieg simply does not understand why people like Terry who continue to fight against marriage equality: “Of all the things to beat people up over on theological grounds, it just seems to me that loving shouldn't be one of them.

In 2016, a whopping 80% of white evangelicals voted for a man who has cheated on all three of his wives, admitted to trying to have sex with a woman he knew was married and has been accused of committing sexual assault. They were willing to overlook these sins in exchange for having a president who held the opinion “that there has to be some form of punishment” for a woman who has an abortion. Given that 56% of Americans who attend weekly worship services voted for Trump, one has to wonder exactly what is taught from the pulpit week after week. Do these pastors find anything else in the Bible besides perceived condemnation of abortion and homosexuality?

In every white-washed picture of Jesus, he looks like the hippy that the Bible describes him as. After all, religious texts do not describe him as a corporate raider in an ill-fitting tie looking to make a fast buck. One does not have to be a believer to admire a man described as a protector of the downtrodden, the poor and the persecuted.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

- Leviticus 19:33-34

What would Jesus think of a President who separates families for the sole purpose of deterring other refugees from seeking a better life? Yet, for some reason, White Evangelicals are not holding this against Trump. In fact, half of those surveyed believed that “immigration is bad for the economy.” Their Sunday School teachers have clearly failed.

The intersection of progressivism and biblical teachings is most evident when it comes to economic issues. Democratic Socialism, in particular, expands the social safety net in a way that meets the requirements to take care of the poor that are found in the Bible. However, with “25 percent of white evangelicals [opposing] more federal spending on the poor,” progressives need to find someone who can make the connection to the values proclaimed by Jesus in the Bible. This requires someone like Buttigieg who understands the scripture and who is not afraid to debate moral complexities from a religious perspective.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

- Proverbs 14:31