Monday, April 15, 2019

On Faith and Politics

Look, it's ridiculously early yet. I'm not really expecting the race to really get down to brass tacks until fall at the earliest. There are more Democrats jumping into this race every day- so who knows how the race is going to go. Who knows who's actually going to win the Democratic nomination or much less with the election in November of next year.

It's ridiculously early yet.

That said, we gotta pause and talk about something that I never honestly expected to be talking about in this race- the odd, but important intersection of faith and politics that seems to have emerged in the race- mainly centered around the intriguing candidacy of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. To be clear: I have no idea whether or not Buttigieg is going to win this thing. He's raising money at a pretty brisk clip. He's got a lot of people interested. What that translates out to over the marathon length of the primary campaign and then the Presidential campaign I haven't the faintest idea. (Perhaps a sign that his opponents are taking him seriously, he's gotten the now expected attack piece already circulating out there.)

What sets him apart, at least so far in the campaign is his willingness to speak openly and honestly about his faith as a Christian.

My faith is something that I don't really talk about a lot. It's intensely personal and private to me. I do my best to be a good person and not to be an asshole to my fellow people, but I don't always succeed. I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Catholic Church. I left when I realized that my attendance at church was driven more by habit than any meaningful desire to practice my beliefs. I was about to come back when the Church put it's temporal power over it's moral authority and shielded the Princes of the Church from any kind of accountability in the ongoing sex abuse scandal. I was married in a Methodist Church and we've wandered around for a bit before landing on a local community church that between our work schedules we're trying our best to attend. I'll be honest in saying that once the Catholic Church gets its claws into you, you're sort of stuck. I believe, but the ritual of it, the familiar patterns of going up and down and kneeling and praying are embedded into it, so I think I'll always feel slightly out of place in any other church. I'm fine with that though. That's my choice and, given the behavior of the Church over the past two decades, it's the correct choice to me.

I'm not an Evangelical Christian. I never will be. I have a massive amount of distrust for politicians of any stripe who claim to 'act on their faith' because inevitably, too many of them ignore the complete message of Jesus and focus on the parts that are the most political convenient to them. All politicians that talk about their faith do this to a certain degree- it's to be expected, honestly- which is what makes the attacks of Buttigieg all the more galling to me. To try and claim that 'he's not a real Christian' or he's 'just playing one on television' ignores the abject hypocrisy so many 'values voters' and so-called 'faith politicians' espouse. For too many 'values voters' and 'faith politicians', Christianity has been reduced to two issues: abortion and gay marriage. Which, if you're trying you're level best not to be a hypocrite, you can't ignore, but you also can't ignore the rest of the pie either, which is what a too many 'Christians' these days do. You can't rail against abortion and then want to build a wall and throw all the refugees out. You can't denounce gay marriage and then vote to shred whatever social safety net we have left that takes care of the poor. You can't denounce a once married, never divorced man for his sexuality when you wrap your arms around a thrice divorced President who's paid hush money to his mistresses on multiple occasions.

You want me to take you seriously as moral authorities? You have to practice what you preach-- all of it, not part of it. Not the parts that are politically convenient or get you the most votes. Be pro-life. Be for traditional marriage. But also be for compassionate immigration reform. Be for refugees. Be for programs that help the poor. Be for health care that doesn't bankrupt families. I might not agree with you on all the issues (I'm pro-choice and pro-gay marriage for instance) but I'd respect you for at least trying to be consistent with the message of Jesus. I'd respect you for trying to live out all of your faith and not just the parts of it you agree with.

A few years back, The Quiet Man and I took a trip down south to see the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Shiloh. Going down various highways, I remember seeing multiple churches along the side of the road-- some of them larger than others. All of which had neatly trimmed lawns and next door, in a significantly nicer house with a nicer driveway and a nicer car parked out front, you'd see where the Pastor presumably lived. That kind of Christianity rubs me the wrong way. If your church is a former arena of the Houston Rockets, you're missing out on some key points of the message of Jesus. And I'm tired of those kind of Christians having a lock on talking about faith in the public sphere. Do I necessarily agree with Buttigieg on all the issues? No, I don't.* Does a strict and Conservative interpretation of Christian theology have a problem with his sexuality? It does. But as he points out, your quarrel shouldn't be with him, but with his creator.

If your response is that it's in the Bible, well then, I'd just say to you that the Bible says a lot of things that we don't actually do today. We don't stone adulterers to death for instance. We also aren't down with slavery or prostitution. If you focus on the micro aspects of Christianity, you miss the macro aspects of it way more than you should. I'm less concerned with your adherence to the footnotes and random sentences in the Bible and more concerned that you're trying to live out the message of Jesus as best you can in your daily life. So, good for Pete Buttigieg for talking about his faith. His faith strikes me as more genuinely and deeply felt than a lot of other politicians out there. And good for him for not counting out more Conservative religious voters as well. 

At the end of the day, sit back and think about this: A gay, married, Christian man just announced he was running for President. I'm glad I live in a country where that's a real thing. We were founded on the freedom to worship as we saw fit, so these debates about the authenticity of his faith are not only more than a little hypocritical, they run fundamentally counter to the founding bedrock of this nation.

*I'm not sold on abolishing the Electoral College- I think we should allocate EV's proportionally first and see what that does. I'm also not crazy about court-packing the Supreme Court. I'd prefer some democratic accountability and retention votes instead. Both of these things are also entirely dependent on getting a Constitutional Amendment out of Congress to the states for their consideration and the odds of that happening any time soon in the current climate are rather slim. But I think these are good issues to talk about and for sure, they're issues worth fixing- and that's the other thing we need to remember. You don't have to agree with a candidate on every single issue to support them.

**Also, Dear God. If y'all think this is true then there's a problem here.

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