As the world’s Christians celebrate Holy Week, people of faith in America who subscribe to the centuries-old understanding of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman increasingly find themselves maligned in the public square, even if their beliefs only apply to their private lives. In this regard, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is leading a new, very public assault upon religious tolerance, and in doing so attacks the very foundation of the First Amendment.
Buttigieg recently declared to a fawning Ellen DeGeneres on her show that “I’m not interested in feuding with the vice president.” This curious statement ignores the fact that a “feud” requires at least two sides in conflict, and this contrived Pete vs. Mike struggle involves only the mayor lobbing verbal volleys at Vice President Pence. In addition, for someone supposedly uninterested in a fight, Buttigieg’s nonstop litany of lamentations aimed at Pence’s Christian principles suggests otherwise.
For example, the openly gay mayor recently lectured that “the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand, [is] that if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” Quite apart from fomenting a “quarrel,” Pence has in fact displayed total respect and even deference toward Buttigieg. After the mayor publicly disclosed his sexuality in 2015, then-Gov. Pence responded: “I hold Mayor Buttigieg in the highest personal regard. … I see him as a dedicated public servant and a patriot.”
Why, then, does Buttigieg insist on targeting Pence? For one, President Trump presents a difficult target on this issue. Despite the left’s insistence on Trump’s supposed bigotry, he is the first candidate elevated to the presidency who favored same-sex marriage, something even Barack Obama and both Clintons vehemently opposed when they first ran for the White House.
But the larger consequence of the mayor’s disparagement reveals a deliberate assault on the First Amendment and its guarantee to protect faith communities from political interference. The secular humanists that dominate the Democratic Party and mainstream media posit that the First Amendment primarily seeks to guard government, which they deem sacred, from corruption by faith groups, particularly traditional Christian churches. But the origin and history of the Bill of Rights reveals that the greatest actual danger involves politicians using the temporal power of the government to abuse religious liberty and coerce beliefs and practices. As such, our Founders wisely protected churches (and other religious organizations) from the insidious intrusions of the state.
In total disrespect for this independence, Mayor Buttigieg employs his presidential campaign as a bid to wholly remake historic Christianity in his vision. The Gospel according to Pete. He boldly asserts that his gay marriage “has made me a better man. And, yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.” What an odd pronouncement from a candidate seeking to serve as our non-sectarian commander-in-chief. His campaign statements on homosexuality would fit perfectly within the well-worn theological debates among modern Christian denominations. For example, progressives of the Episcopalian variety sharply disagree with observant Catholics, whose catechism preaches that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. … Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
The point here is not the internecine disagreements among churches on this issue, but rather the rationale for Buttigieg to invade this non-political realm of church doctrine. After all, gay marriage is already enshrined in law, protected by courts, and widely accepted in American society. So, it seems the only logical motivation for this intrusion is an intention to use the power of politics, including the brunt force of the law, to impugn the deeply held beliefs of Christians like Mike Pence regarding marriage.
To be sure, Buttigieg finds groveling praise among cultural and media elites for this allegedly brave position. For example, prominent donors now include such A-listers as actress/singer Mandy Moore, first daughter Caroline Kennedy, and scion of the Fox media empire James Murdoch. Mainstream media figures have suddenly forsaken their crush on Beto O’Rourke and now race to embrace the new crown prince of wokeness. USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers proclaimed that “Mayor Pete preaches grace toward political foes,” apparently unaware of his obsession with criticizing Pence. She also pronounced him “countercultural,” as if his positioning as a gay liberal somehow swims against the stream of the 2019 zeitgeist. Agreeing with every single relativist tenet of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and university faculty lounges hardly qualifies as “countercultural.”
Buttigieg undoubtedly brings impressive capabilities to the race. As a military veteran and Rhodes scholar from the Midwest, he can far outsell Democratic establishment coastal dullards like Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren. On the other hand, his political accomplishments as mayor of a troubled city of 100,000 people suggest that his next logical ascension in politics should be, perhaps, to the House of Representatives. Most worrisome, his insistence on castigating the millennia-old, deeply held religious convictions of millions of Americans conveys a dangerous contempt for the First Amendment, which then exposes traditional Christianity to the whims of the law. If Mayor Pete wishes to become a theologian and delve into the intricacies of Biblical sexual ethics, he would undoubtedly find success as chairperson of Interdenominational Intersectional Inclusion at the Yale Divinity School. But if he wishes to be president of our republic, then he must respect our Bill of Rights and stop using his political perch to reprimand American Christians who happen to disagree with him on doctrine.
Steve Cortes is a contributor to RealClearPolitics and a CNN political commentator. His Twitter handle is @CortesSteve.