The Democratic Party is reluctant to discuss Jesus because they have seen others abuse Christianity in politics, according to 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
In a one-on-one interview with Sojourners Editor and Religious Left fixture Jim Wallis, Buttigieg, an Episcopalian shared how his Christian faith impacts his politics, including immigration, climate change, and religious liberty.
“You have talked more about Jesus than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat. Why?” Wallis asked.
“Because I think it’s important, and because I fear that there’s been an effort to recruit Jesus into one political party – the Republican party. Of course, God doesn’t belong to a political party in this country,” Buttigieg told Wallis.
“And there’s an allergy in my party to doing this, and the allergy comes from a very healthy place,” claimed Buttigieg. “Which is, we’ve seen, what happens when people are subjected to other people’s interpretations of their own faith. It’s very important to me and I think it’s very important to the country.”
“I feel like that may have prompted us to feel like we can’t bring [Christianity] up at all, because there are those with very different views and very different values,” he maintained. “It’s created the impression that if you’re guided by faith, you only have one place to go.”
Wallis later cited the parable of the Good Samaritan while asking Buttigieg how the question, “Who is my neighbor?” underlies all political issues facing the nation.
“One of the radical things, one of the scandalous things that Jesus says, is that these people that you are led to believe are unfit to be in contact with you, that’s who I have in mind,” Buttigieg replied. “That’s your neighbor. That’s me, He says, in some ways.”
The topic of immigration was then wrapped in the broad concept of belonging.
“We’re at a moment where there is such a big question about belonging in this country. What it means to belong and an effort to tell others they do not belong, perhaps because they aren’t citizens, or even if they are citizens, because there’s something different about you.” Buttigieg said.
He further noted that the Gospel is radical because it “includes this idea that every single person is of equal concern, has the divine in them,” regardless of origin, ability, race, or environment.
“What a nation can do at its best is create a sense of belonging that reminds us all that we’re neighbors,” Buttigieg insisted.
“How do we change the religious narrative in this 2020 election?” Wallis asked. “You say the Republicans act like they own religion, own God. They often claim that… But how can we go deeper than just Religious Right and Left?”
“I do think that if there is a Religious Right, then there had better be something like a Religious Left,” Buttigieg replied. “Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s got to be a mirror image. I think it means that, above all, people of faith know that they do have a choice.”
He continued to argue, “If your religious values guide you in what you do in the voting booth, then make sure that is all of your religious values, including protecting the marginalized, or being concerned for the poor, respecting the dignity in everybody, and feeding the hungry, and identifying with prisoners, and welcoming strangers and all that’s in [Scripture].”
Climate change, too, is another political issue that cannot be separated from principles of faith, said Buttigieg, “Especially if you believe we are entrusted with power over something that we certainly didn’t create, and had better treat it well.”
“Here you have climate. It’s an issue that, in my view, the urgency of dealing with climate change is just manifestly beyond anything we can allow to remain a partisan issue. It’d be if cancer were a partisan issue and people said it wasn’t real,” he went on to explain.
Buttigieg is the first presidential candidate in a same-sex marriage. So what of same-sex marriage and Christians who hold to traditional sexual ethics? Here he insists, “We’ve got to remember that seeing the humanity in everybody means everybody, especially those we’re having a problem with.”
“On an issue like LGBTQ equality, I really believe this is also a battle within people. It is sometimes a battle between what they have been told and how they have been brought up, and something very good inside of them, which is compassion,” Buttigieg said of conservative Christians.
Wallis then mentioned Buttigieg’s opposition to Beto O’Rourke’s promise to seek to withdraw tax-deductible status from religious groups not approving same-sex unions. “It’s one thing to enforce anti-discrimination law on organizations, even religious ones. In many cases that’s what I think we ought to do. It’s another thing to say you don’t get to be in whatever protections we’ve created for religion as a whole because you have a position that I don’t like,” Buttigieg explained.
He continued, “To me, that doesn’t mean we get to use the mechanisms of the state in that particular way. Because when you’re going after tax exemption of a church, what you’re really saying is this church isn’t a church. We’ve decided it’s not.”
“Faith can be very divisive,” Buttigieg said. “As long as there’s been religion people have been fighting about it. But, imagine if we who are involved in politics took every chance we can to [view] faith as a source of unity.”
You can listen to the entire podcast interview here.