Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Co-opting Christianity

Kirsten Powers recently did a puff piece on Democrat presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg:

I don't know if this is worth commenting on. I don't know if he will be the nominee of his party. If so, I don't know if he will be the next president. 

It's possible that the 2018 midterms marked the highpoint of the anti-Trump backlash. There was all that pent-up rage at Trump, and this was their first major chance to strike back. It's possible that to some extent the "Resistance" will be a spent force by 2020. But maybe not.

There's the question of whether politicians like Buttigieg and their allies in the media and big business will promote progressive Christianity as a way to co-opt biblical Christianity. That's something we need to be alert to. 

In the interview, Powers plays the role of sob sister. It's unclear how much of this is her summarizing his positions, or offering her own interpretation. 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg's countercultural approach to Christianity is what America needs now

Progressive Christianity is the antithesis of countercultural. Progressive Christianity is riding the wave of radical chic fads. 

In a pugilistic take-no-prisoners era, Mayor Pete preaches grace towards political foes while doubting Trump's Christianity.

A rhetorical tactic to defuse hostility, but his policies take no prisoners. You preaching a conciliatory message to get elected, then once in power you try to crush dissent. 

Does the country need an awakening of the Christian left? Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg thinks so. Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately called…

He's not affectionately called Mayor Pete by me. 

…is having a moment with a first quarter fundraising haul of $7 million and a third place showing in an Iowa poll at 11%. In January, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, held last place at 0%. In the intervening months, Buttigieg has wowed Democrats with his mastery of policy issues and Midwestern charm. The 37-year-old is a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, a Rhodes scholar and speaks seven languages.

His LGBT policies betray the military. 

He has also stood out as a devoted Christian who is speaking against the dominance of the religious right in the public square. 

So Powers thinks he's a devoted Christian, does she? That tells you a lot about how far she's drifted. 

Naturally a progressive Christian will oppose the alleged dominance of the religious right in the public square. That's definitional. That's tautological. 

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.”

He isn't committed to separation of church and state. To the contrary, the coercive "equality" he champions rescinds the free exercise of religion. 

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.”

Let’s parse this insightful formulation: “Saying so much about what Christ said so little about” applies to the religious right’s treatment of abortion as a litmus test for Christian faith, when in fact Jesus never mentioned the issue. That omission has not stopped many right-wing Christians from using President Donald Trump’s anti-abortion rights judicial appointments as the president’s “get out of jail free card,” and license for them to support a leader who consistently behaves in a way that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

Christians are called to defend the poor

As to the religious right saying “so little about what (Jesus) said so much about,” Buttigieg made this observation: “When I think about where most of Scripture points me, it is 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. And what we have now is this exaltation of wealth and power, almost for its own sake, that in my reading of Scripture couldn't be more contrary to the message of Christianity. So I think it's really important to carry a message (to the public), knitting together a lot of groups that have already been on this path for some time, but giving them more visibility in the public sphere.”

i) Who or what does Buttigieg think Jesus is? It's unlikely that he has an orthodox Christology. It's unlikely that he thinks Jesus is God-Incarnate, risen from the dead. 

If, however, Jesus is just another dead guy, then presumably Buttigieg doesn't think the teaching of Jesus has any more wisdom or authority than the teaching of Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, or the Dalai Lama. 

ii) On the one hand he suggests that we should focus on the teaching of Jesus while on the other hand he appeals to "where most of Scripture points". So there's no consistency.

iii) Jesus revered the OT and cited the OT as an authority on a wide range of issues. Jesus appointed disciples to be his spokesmen. Christian ethics was never confined to the teaching of Jesus, but Scripture in general. 

iv) Biblical concern for the "the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast" are more fine-grained than Buttigieg's dragnet. 

v) We've seen the results of the Democrat war on poverty. Their social programs exacerbate the problem. Indeed, Democrats like to keep the poor dependent on gov't largesse because that empowers Democrat officials. 

vi) The question at issue isn't how Trump behaves but the policies of his administration. But as far as that goes, the lifestyle of an active sodomite is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. 

He’s alluding to a burgeoning Christian left led by pastors and writers like Jim Wallis, the Rev. William J. Barber II, Rachel Held Evans, the Rev. James Martin, Lisa Sharon Harper, Diana Butler Bass and many others. 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 and political issues. Because of this, many Americans aren’t even aware of the rich tradition of progressive Christianity.

When I asked Mayor Pete his favorite Bible verses, he cited a perennial favorite from the Book of Matthew: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.” 

Which, in context, refers to the duty to care for fellow, persecuted Christians. 

Less frequently cited is his other choice of Matthew 6:5, in which Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”

He's reluctant to call Trump a Christian

Buttigieg didn’t explicitly apply this passage to the religious right. Nonetheless, it’s hard to overlook the evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders who make a spectacle of praying publicly — in particular over President Donald Trump — as evidence of their holiness. Jesus himself warned against this kind of showy spirituality and said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.”

Notice that Buttigieg is flaunting his own religiosity. Making a public spectacle of his progressive Christianity, to indulge in moral preening. 

There are so many other examples of how members of the religious right, who claim allegiance to a literal interpretation of the Bible, ignore the literal words that Jesus spoke. Hypocrisy, something Jesus railed against, has become perhaps the most prominent feature of the religious right in the Trump era.

The religious right isn't monolithic. Jeffress and Falwell Jr. don't speak for the religious right in general. 

Does Buttigieg think Trump is a Christian? “I'm reluctant to comment on another person's faith, but I would say it is hard to look at this president's actions and believe that they're the actions of somebody who believes in God,” he said. “I just don't understand how you can be as worshipful of your own self as he is and be prepared to humble yourself before God. I've never seen him humble himself before anyone. And the exaltation of yourself, especially a self that's about wealth and power, could not be more at odds with at least my understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith.”

At most, this means that Trump and Buttigieg are both infidels. 

While Buttigieg is a gay man, married in the Episcopal Church he attends, he urges those who support LBGTQ rights to “beckon people onto the right side of history (rather) than … drag people there. If someone feels harassed and put upon by us, at the very moment we're demanding tolerance and acceptance, one consequence is that we can leave them with nowhere to go but the religious right.”

I'd rather be on the wrong side of history than be on the wrong side of eternity. 

I pressed him on how he could advocate showing so much grace to those who continue to perpetrate a biblical interpretation that has caused so much harm to gay people like him.

How has he been harmed by biblical norms? Actually, it's homosexuals who harm other homosexuals through their destructive, dysfunctional relationships. 

“Well, obviously, I want them to change,” he noted. “But I also want to recognize the struggle they might be having and get them there. And in getting there, I want some kind of healing to go on, so that they can recognize ... that our marriages are just as good as theirs.”

Homosexual marriages are a counterfeit travesty of the real thing. 


  1. The vast majority of the money Democrats want to spend would be going to people who are much better off than the poor referred to in the Bible. To ignore the differences between the Biblical context and our context is irresponsible. There's been a major improvement in the standard of living worldwide since the Biblical era. See, for example, here and here. And we live in one of the most materially prosperous nations in the history of the world. We're about twenty trillion dollars in debt, which makes it even more irresponsible to spend money the way Democrats want to, and much of our debt is due to spending so much money under the guise of helping not only those who are poor by Biblical standards, but also those who are materially much better off than that. Scripture doesn't define poverty the way Democrats do, doesn't shift the focus away from individuals and to government the way Democrats do, warns against financial indebtedness instead of being as unconcerned about it as Democrats are, gives priority to the mind and the spirit over the body and the material, and was addressing a historical context in which poverty was a much bigger problem than it is today. What modern Democrats and other liberals are doing with the Bible's material on poverty is analogous to saying we should be as concerned as the Bible is about people with illnesses that no longer exist or have been significantly reduced. It's absurd to ignore such differences in historical context when it comes to helping the sick, and it's similarly absurd to ignore such differences when it comes to issues of poverty.

    If Buttigieg and Powers are concerned with what Jesus emphasized, then where do we see evidence of their concern for the primacy of God, giving priority to loving God over loving other people, the sort of emphasis Jesus placed on the afterlife and the day of judgment and the danger of hell, the need for regeneration and repentance, fulfilled Biblical prophecy and other apologetic issues, evangelism, missions, etc.? One of the reasons why Jesus didn't say much about issues like abortion and homosexuality was that the wrongness of what Democrats believe on those subjects was already so understood and accepted by the audience Jesus was addressing at the time. He also didn't say much about the wrongness of rape and bestiality. He didn't need to. If you live in a culture in which things like abortion and homosexuality are not only widely accepted, but even widely celebrated and the opponents of such practices are treated the way they are in modern America, that's a much different context. Again, why are people like Buttigieg and Powers so irresponsible about contextual issues?

    It's true that there are a lot of problems with Trump and the claims that have been made by him and others about his allegedly being a Christian. Trump is a highly unethical and remarkably ignorant opportunist who never should have even come close to getting the Republican nomination in 2016. He's governing far better than Clinton would have, largely because of how the people around him are influencing him and often overriding his wrong inclinations. He deserves a lot of criticism, and the degree to which most Republicans think highly of him is absurd and embarrassing. They're behaving that way largely because of their emotionalism, wishful thinking, and desire for a certain type of conservative leader and because they're overly influenced by conservative talk radio and other sources that keep misleading them. But the Democratic alternatives to Trump are far worse.

    1. Jason, I think your statement that Trump had no business coming close to the republican nomination couldn't be more wrong. He ran for the republican nomination and won it fair and square. He was what republican voters wanted and because of that he won. You may not have wanted him to win, which I certainly understand, but I don't see how you can say he had no business coming close to the republican nomination, because he obviously did. I'm not a Trump supporter either, as I didn't vote for him or Clinton in the general election, but if the election were today, I'd vote for him over any democrat.

    2. I think you're misunderstanding what Jason is saying. Jason isn't saying Trump didn't fairly win the Republican nomination. Rather Jason is saying there were better (e.g. more ethical) candidates that arguably deserved the nomination over Trump.

    3. Mike,

      Since how people voted in the primaries was part of the process whereby Trump got the nomination, I don't know why you're singling out what happened after the primaries. Saying that people voted for Trump doesn't address whether they should have voted for him. There are other issues involved as well, such as whether Trump should have run for president to begin with (he shouldn't have) and whether it's acceptable for a political party to set up its rules so as to give itself the option of overriding bad decisions by voters (it is acceptable, and it's wise). But my focus, as Epistle of Dude suggested, was on the bad decisions made by voters in the 2016 primaries.

    4. Jason, fair enough. I was one of the rare people who voted for Trump in the primaries, but not in the general election, as I voted for the constitution party candidate. I understand you disagreed with Trump supporters then and now, and you are more than entitled to do that. Despite Trump's serious flaws that are well deserving of criticism, I'll take him over any democrat and would vote for him if the election were today. The democrats' vision for America (open borders, abortion etc.) is completely unacceptable.

  2. We should also keep in mind that much of the progress that's been made on issues related to poverty (and sickness, slavery, how women and children are treated, etc.) is due to the work of traditional Christians over hundreds of years. When modern liberals come along and radically redefine Christianity and try to get the government more involved in issues of poverty, we should remember that they're coopting public concern for the poor, private charities, systems of government, and government programs that were largely built by the traditional Christians of previous generations. It's deeply irrational and unjust to lay the charge of being unconcerned for the poor at the feet of the traditional Christian movement that's laid the foundation for the progress we've seen on these issues. Capitalism has had a big role in the recent reduction in poverty worldwide, and capitalism has been promoted much more by conservative than by liberal Christians.