It is old hat for Republican politicians to assume that their base will be motivated by good ol’ fashioned Christian values. When it comes to being pro-life, pro-limited government, and pro-traditional marriage, Republicans can bank on the fact that most of those who show up for them will believe certain things about the nature of the world and God’s authority in civic affairs.
So it makes sense for them to cite their Christian faith or even quote passages from the Bible to defend positions on moral issues. Whether or not those politicians actually know what they are talking about is another matter entirely. A few are good theologians; most are probably opportunistic hacks.
Still, what these politicians are doing when they cite the Bible is borrowing from the moral authority of the Bible and God Himself. They are claiming the position they hold is valid, timeless, and worth defending because it is a position that comes from outside of human traditions and transcends even human reason. It is Revelation from the Author of life, the definitively authoritative source for morals and values.
Mayor Pete Busts the Monopoly on the Biblical Authority
Pete Buttigieg’s emergence as a “progressive Christian” candidate on the left, and his quotation of scripture is appeal to the same authority. Only this time, God is not in favor of marriage as a man and a woman, but can actually use gay marriage to bring people closer to God. God also has very specific teachings on border control, the minimum wage, and presumably abortion, though he is a bit more dodgy on that question.
Just like that, there is balance in the force. The dark lord of Jerry Falwell has been bested by a young Jedi from flyover country. One Christian says they have the moral authority to understand certain issues in a certain way, and behold, another Christian argues for the same exact thing but with a diametrically opposed position.
For those of us in the mainline Protestant churches, this is nothing new. Forty years of cleverly distorting the Bible’s clear teachings on a whole host of issues has brought us to the point where Christian denominations fully support those who claim the mantle of Jesus without defending the same things he defended. President Obama almost brought us here but, let’s be honest: no one really believed his Jeremiah Wright version of middle-class hating, liberation theology-inspired Christianity was, like, orthodox, right? So Pete Buttigieg is the first to really emerge as Frankenstein’s monster, Frankenstein being the liberal drift in the Protestant churches that effectively neuters their claims to Christianity.
So with the exception of those who are aware of the Bible’s teachings on these issues, most will assume that the Evangelicals no longer have the monopoly of Christian consideration. Now, it appears that another Christian can borrow from the same moral authority and propose radically different solutions. Sadly, the decline of religious understanding and practice in America has led many to assume that because someone calls themselves a “Christian” and attends a “church”, they must be as right as others who do the same. How else can we explain the rise of the Joel Osteens of the world?
When Progressive Christians Cite Scripture, Scripture Inevitably Loses Its Authority
What Buttigieg is proving is that the moral authority of Christianity remains. It is so inescapable that even liberals now appeal to it to justify their positions. And make no mistake: no other candidate for President on the Democrat ticket is appealing to their Christianity. Buttigieg is actually differentiating himself on this very issue. He is forcing the rest of the field to give their own reasons for holding the positions they do, and my guess is that he is hated for bringing up scripture in what is assumed to be a secular forum.
But appealing to authority is a double-edge sword, and I believe it will actually hurt both Buttigieg and Republicans moving forward when they cite their faith or the Bible as the basis of their positions. Instead of convincing some lion’s share of voters that his new-fangled interpretations of scripture are actually the right ones and therefore actually justify their immigration and economic policies, most voters will just assume their suspicions that Christianity was just a bunch of poppycock are now being confirmed. After all, if two diametrically opposed forces appeal to the same authority, then it must be the authority that is made useless by its ambiguity, right?
And so the destruction of Christianity by liberal forces carries on. This time, through the intelligent and charming voice of Pete Buttigieg.
Now, a caveat: I am not saying that every Republican quotation of scripture is sound or honorable. And it may be that somewhere between Buttigieg’s citations and Republican’s citations, the actual Biblical position stands. In many cases, especially when Old Testament legal proscriptions are cited, there is legitimate debate about the application of that ancient civil law. Even more confusing is how to apply New Testament moral teachings originally intended as intra-Christian to a broader social context.
What we clearly need is some widely-held understanding and knowledge of the definitional issues of Christianity and the subsequent moral ramifications. But as we don’t have either and, short of a massive revival, we won’t anytime soon, I’m not optimistic that the moral authority of God and His Word will become common knowledge anytime soon. For it is clearly not enough to assume that even a “creedal” Christian—or one who confesses to the basic Christian beliefs summarized in the ancient creeds—is still worthy of inclusion in the Christian Church. What may have formerly been secondary or assumed issues—basically your moral uprightness—are now primary issues since there is such confusion about them.
So yes, for now, Christian moral authority remains. But it is dying a slow, painful death due to ignorance of the basic tenants of the faith and the obvious moral conclusions of those tenants. Perhaps a more liberal Christian writer offers a better critique of Buttigieg’s offense than I can: “If we don’t want religious people on the right employing explicitly religious arguments for wielding power because of the separation of church and state, then why should we want someone on the left doing the same thing?”