Culture Friday: Faith on the campaign trail

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, December 6th, 2019. Glad to have you along for The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up, politics and religion. Used to be it wasn’t polite to talk about those things in public, but things have changed.

Democratic candidate for president Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a campaign ad in South Carolina this week.

In it, he quotes Jesus from a parable in Matthew 25. Let’s listen.

BUTTIGIEG: In our White House, you won’t have to shake your head and ask yourself, whatever happened to I was hungry and you fed me? I was a stranger and you welcomed me?

BASHAM: This is hardly the first time Buttigieg, who’s Episcopalian, has referenced Jesus in particular or Christianity in general. In interviews he cites Saint Augustine as one of his major influences and talks about the app he uses for “scriptural meditation.” And he laments that his party doesn’t work harder to relate to voters on matters of faith.

Plenty of media outlets seem eager to help frame Buttigieg as the candidate religious voters can embrace. USA Today ran an in-depth interview that focused solely on the mayor’s faith. So did Rolling Stone, which, I have to say, was sort of an unusual focus for that publication.

It’s Culture Friday and we welcome John Stonestreet from the Colson Center for Christian Worldview to the conversation.

John, good morning.


BASHAM: So, John, to start, I’d like to focus on the political calculations of the way Buttigieg is framing himself as a candidate. He’s clearly employing the language of Christianity to telegraph an image to voters about the kind of president he would be. I mean, frankly, except for a few half-hearted exceptions, he’s the only candidate on the left talking about faith at all. And, as we see from that South Carolina ad, he talks about it enthusiastically.

Why do you think he’s carving out kind of the lone “Christian” persona among the Democrats?

STONESTREET: Well, I think he’s got two groups that he’s really trying to reach with this persona. The first is a group that he’s got a real problem with and it’s kind of stunning when you see the numbers come in and Buttigieg is polling zero among African Americans. And, you know, the reason is, frankly, African Americans, many of whom that drive the political side of the process—especially in the primaries—are religious folks. And they’re not comfortable with the fact that Buttigieg is gay. So, I think that’s probably the key demographic that he’s going after. And I think it’s something—I think we talked about this last week—the media is completely missing. The media who runs a headline talking about how Buttigieg is the next Obama. Not with a huge demographic! 

And then there’s also a second demographic that may be part of this calculation, which is there is a narrative right now—it’s an inevitability narrative that evangelicals are eventually going to get on the side of the LGBT movement. That this is like the Civil Rights movement. They once opposed that, they’re opposing this, but they’ll get on board. And I think there’s that middle ground. And we’ve seen that, I think, among a lot of pop evangelical churches that aren’t theologically or worldview sound come in not knowing what to do with the issue of homosexuality or same sex marriage “evolving.” Things like that. I think there’s a sense that that demographic is larger than it actually is and that there’s probably some calculation that some of the evangelical vote can be stolen with enough evangelical language.

BASHAM: Now, to turn to how Christians should receive Buttigieg’s comments, John you recently quoted Ross Douthat’s observation that “[he] doesn’t appear to support any policy that deviates from the progressive catechism.” You said this to point out that Buttigieg isn’t afraid to apply the Bible to cultural issues. As he does in this interview on MSNBC.

BUTTIGIEG: For the party and the movement known for beating other people on the head with their faith or their interpretation of their faith, it makes no sense to literally vote to take food away from the hungry, to essentially be practicing the very thing that not just the Christian scriptural tradition but so many others tell us we’re not supposed to do, in terms of harming other people.

Is he wrong here John?

STONESTREET: Well, he’s not wrong that Christians should care about those that are starving—and Christians always have. Of course, what’s always missing in the progressive calculations is who’s responsible to feed them. Somehow it moves from Christians should care about those who are starving to the government should be the primary means by which everything gets handled and taken care of. And so there’s a real equivocation that takes place on liberal-progressive Christianity. But the thing that we’re seeing in the phenomenon of Buttigieg—and I wrote about this maybe a month ago on Breakpoint—is this: when you have a church that is very, very reticent to apply the Bible to cultural issues and especially when it comes to the controversial things, where it seems like to take a stand is to be unkind, then when comes out is that Christianity fundamentally is about being kind. And now you have Buttigieg who’s really nice—I mean, he’s a nicer guy than the current occupant of the White House—and he’s now applying the Bible to cultural issues.

But when you start talking about things like, you know, as he did a couple months ago, the Bible supports abortion. The Bible is on the side of same-sex marriage, which he’s also done. That shouldn’t even play out of the room, right? If that’s effective at all, that’s not Buttigieg’s fault, that’s the church’s fault.

REICHARD: John, I want to ask you about another name in the news of late, David Daleiden. He’s the man who exposed that Planned Parenthood was selling body parts of babies aborted at their facilities. Daleiden secretly recorded executives of the abortion giant haggling over prices. 

Planned Parenthood went on the offensive and sued Daleiden. A jury in California found Daleiden guilty of violating racketeering laws and ordered him to pay $2 million in damages. 

Now we support what Daleiden was trying to do, to reveal the illegal activity of Planned Parenthood, and that jury decision is being appealed.

But a listener wrote in to ask whether Daleiden’s method of obtaining those tapes was wrong? After all, he’d used deception to gain access to an abortion industry conference, then recorded conversations while posing as a trader in fetal parts. So how should we think through this? Is undercover work a special subset of the Christian life?

STONESTREET: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think we can all agree that whatever we think about the methods, what was discovered through the methods is still enough to take Planned Parenthood down—or it should be. But I’m OK with the use of this sort of undercover work. And I think, first of all, you see a history of Christians kind of working, using deception not as an end but as a means in order for the truth to get out. We can talk, for example, about Rahab being honored in the Old Testament for her deception. And, actually, makes it into the genealogy of Christ, which is a fascinating detail in the text. Or Tamar, also making it despite her deception. I mean, what a controversial story that is. She’ll never make it onto the Sunday School flannelgraph, right? But she somehow made it into the genealogy of Jesus. The guy to read on this, for our listener, it’s a little bit more than probably we could walk through, but I’m an advocate of this vision of ethics. It’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestle through this. And, of course, as he’s wrestling through ethical theory, he himself is in the fire. He’s trying to figure out how to handle Hitler and to the extent to which he should join the resistance. And, of course, he goes all the way. And his understanding is that you tell the truth to everyone to whom the truth is owed. And the truth is owed to almost everyone except those that are implicated or involved into some direct evil. And I’ve employed that ethical framework, honestly, because I think there’s a way to value the truth that requires the truth to come out. And that’s what Daleiden was trying to do. I know not everyone agrees with me on that. But I would suggest taking a look at Bonhoeffer for more on that.

REICHARD: I’ll add something else the listener asked. What if we turned the tables and imagined secretly taped conversations within churches that were then broadcast. Do you think there’s merit to state laws against surreptitiously recording someone?

STONESTREET: Well, not all state laws say the same thing, for example, and I’m not sure of the conditions in Daleiden’s because it’s not always illegal to secretly record someone across state lines. That’s a state-by-state sort of decision. But, look, that actually has happened and when it does expose people in the church, or when it exposed something untoward, then I think, again, if the truth is being served, then that could be seen as OK. At the same time, yeah, because just trying to hijack or ambush someone with secret recordings, obviously something that—there needs to be statutes, there needs to be limitations on it as well.

BASHAM: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much!

STONESTREET: Thanks so much!

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivers a Veterans Day address at a campaign event, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Rochester, N.H. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Culture Friday: Faith on the campaign trail

  1. Jay and Dianne Moyers says:

    Mr.Stonestreet is now using “nice” to describe a presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg: “.And now you have Buttigieg who’s really nice—I mean, he’s a nicer guy than the current occupant of the White House.” First, why does Stonestreet have to include President Trump in this conversation? Second, his phrase, “the current occupant of the White House is not respectful of our president (or should we say it is not “nice.”) Third, how can Pete Buttigieg be considered “nice” when he is advocating homosexuality? One last question about politics and religion: why didn’t you consider Nancy Pelosi’s continual comments that she is praying for President Trump when announcing his impeachment with no facts to back to back up her case? Buttigieg has not done anything for his city to fight crime. Is that nice?

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