We do not need an evangelical left

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We do not need an evangelical left

Hayden Crosby, Staff Columnist

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In a crowded and growing field of politicians vying to be the Democratic Party’s 2020 challenger to President Donald Trump, candidates must do what they can to stand out. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and my new favorite Democrat – though neither title seems particularly difficult to obtain – sets himself apart in several ways.

Mayor Pete, as his constituents cordially call him, is a graduate of Harvard University, a Rhodes Scholar and a former intelligence officer for the United States Naval Reserve. He also happens to be conversationally fluent in seven languages. His politics are without a doubt progressive – he is a self-described democratic capitalist and an advocate of policies such as single-payer healthcare – but one of his positions is more salient than the rest: He openly calls for the birth of  a religious left.

At first glance, I am fond of the prospects of a religious revival in the party that booed God at its 2016 national convention and audibly rejected him as many times as did St. Peter. In the end,  most political questions have theological answers; religious morals should be used more for overarching principles than particular policies. But Buttigieg’s particular brand of appeal for something of a progressive Great Awakening falls flat in light of its inherent hypocrisy.

Buttigieg seems to view the budding class of religious Democrats as a necessary and fitting counterbalance to evangelicals on the right. His particular gripe with evangelicals seems to be  less with doctrinal differences in themselves, e.g., the admittedly peculiar focus of some members of the religious right on sexual ethics, than with the attempts of evangelicals to impose their beliefs with force of law.

For example, although he probably is not thrilled that many religious conservatives do not recognize his legal marriage to his partner, Chasten Glezman, he views as far more problematic the notion that the same religious conservatives would try to use the government to keep his legal marriage from happening in the first place.

On this count, he is correct. Exegetical differences should largely be avoided in the erection and imposition of political policies. It is perfectly fine to read the Bible as saying that divorce not resulting from adultery is a sin, but that is not a justification for a law against divorce.

Given this principle, it is peculiar that Buttigieg desires a left-wing equivalent of the theocrats on the right. He openly admits that his stances on immigration are guided by his view of scripture. This is not so egregious as his advocacy for federal laws to restrict the religious liberties of private citizens and businesses. If it is his view that obscure interpretations of sacred texts should not be used as weapons against those with whom one disagrees, then his intolerant calls for the same are odd, to say the least.

Perhaps Buttigieg is led by the same progressive spirit that compelled Lincoln Steffens to tell Marie Howe in a 1919 letter, “I have seen the future and it works.” Of course, Steffens was writing about the Soviet political mechanisms that would later lead to the death of tens of millions of civilians. Buttigieg should spend a bit more time heeding the advice that Steffens conveyed in one of his wiser moments: “Morality is not moral unless it is voluntary.”