Michael Gerson’s Love Affair with Buttigieg Is All Smoke and Mirrors
Michael Gerson, an “evangelical” columnist for the WashPost, needs to get over his love affair with Pete Buttigieg. In a recent op-ed (“Pete Buttigieg is thinking big about religion and politics,” Jan. 16), Gerson gushes: "Few presidential candidates think this big." He applauds Buttigieg's "extraordinary talent" and his "earnest intellectual engagement and remarkable self-possession."
Gerson’s Hypocritical Applause for Buttigieg’s Civility
Gerson even lauds Buttigieg's "willingness to respectfully disagree" and "graciousness displayed through genuine discourse." Gerson seems oblivious to any contradiction between that assessment and Buttigieg's accusation that evangelicals who support Trump have made "an almost literal deal with the devil” (cited by Gerson without any recognition of tension or inconsistency). Elsewhere he has said that their "hypocrisy is unbelievable." Buttigieg's snide and uncharitable treatment to Vice President Mike Pence, despite Pence's kind dealings with Buttigieg, have been well documented.
I doubt that evangelical Trump voters will view such remarks as evidence of "respectful disagreement" and "graciousness.” Gerson can be forgiven for this oversight, since he is arguably a prime case study for Trump Derangement Syndrome. Gerson’s own record of civility includes charging evangelical Trump supporters with “scal[ing] the heights of hypocrisy to the summit” and having “sold their souls” (this WashPost article was given an expansive 7000-word treatment in The Atlantic, which adds a charge of “utter corruption,” inter alia). One of his op-eds sums up nicely his view of them: “Some white evangelicals are difficult to recognize as Christians at all.”
Gerson’s vitriol against Trump himself over the past four years could hardly be worse if Trump were Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. His nearly exclusive focus in his op-eds on haranguing Trump and evangelical Trump voters doesn’t border on the pathological. It is pathological (see also this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, etc. and ad nauseam). Moreover, the hyperbolic and abusive language used by Gerson makes Trump look positively genteel by comparison. Gerson became what he criticized in Trump and then surpassed him in sheer unrestrained and breathless incivility. His rhetoric is the complete antithesis of "respectful disagreement" and "graciousness.”
Gerson’s Inept Salute to Buttigieg’s “Faith” Arguments
Gerson goes on to exult in Buttigieg's "puncturing of religious presumption" that "faith connects you to the religious right" and his "pushing back against a rigid secularism that would confine religiously informed reasoning to a purely private sphere." Gerson puts Buttigieg on a pedestal for his alleged "framing of [moral and faith] arguments in publicly accessible ways," and his drive "to set out a version of spirituality" that both "affirms that human beings need moral structure, gained from . . . religion" and "calls attention to the social justice priorities of a progressive reading of scripture."
That Buttigieg makes "no provision for religious institutions such as colleges to admit or hire according to their traditional religious standards" and dismisses "the idea that the protection of nascent life might be a human rights issue" seems not to trouble Gerson greatly. Gerson himself supports “gay marriage” (and here) and “transgender” bathroom freedom.
Buttigieg’s complaint about “rigid traditional sexual ethics” defining Christians
Gerson seems not to realize that Buttigieg is either largely clueless about the Bible or a major distorter of what it says (pick which alternative you think is more flattering to Pete). Buttigieg refers to "Mike Pence’s world, where being Christian has to do with, you know, a kind of rigid traditional sexual ethics" (go here to the 36m 26s mark), alluding to the way evangelicals read the Bible's prohibitions of homosexual practice and transgenderism.
Does Buttigieg not realize that the most rigorous sexual ethicist in the history of the world was Jesus? That Jesus is the one who rejected polyamory (polygamy) and divorce-and-remarriage for virtually any cause, based on a male-female binary requirement for sexual relations? So, yes, what the Christ (Messiah) thinks to be foundational for sexual ethics does establish what is important for "being Christian."
Buttigieg has justified his homosexual behavior as acceptable to God on the grounds that his “being gay” is not “a choice” (go here to the 2m 35s mark). "And that's the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me -- your quarrel, sir, is with my creator." This is very bad theological reasoning.
Our quarrel is not with the Creator since no faithful Christian thinks that acceptable Christian behavior is determined by whatever innate urges people experience. In fact, God’s commands are given because some or all people experience innate desires to do otherwise. I can’t think of any figure in history that would be more opposed to Buttigieg’s kind of reasoning than Jesus with his adultery-of-the-heart warning. Paul’s nature argument against homosexual practice was based on the fact that anatomically, physiologically, and psychologically males are the sexual complements of females and females of males. Innate desires are unreliable guides to God’s will because humans are steeped in sinful impulses.
Buttigieg’s “biblical” argument justifying abortion
Buttigieg also justifies abortion by a ridiculous appeal to the Bible. He says: "There’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath. And so even that is something that we can interpret differently” (go here to the 36m 26s mark). To follow the logic of Buttigieg’s argument is to conclude that babies can be killed with impunity, right up to the point that the doctor slaps the baby into breathing after exiting the womb.
That biblical writers associated death with the stoppage of breathing for persons outside the womb—just as we do when we take a pulse to see if a person is alive—is no indication that the Bible associates life only with breathing outside the womb. The Bible views God's breathing into the fully-grown, first-human's nostrils (Gen 2:7) as an animating force to get the heart pumping. Think of modern medical techniques at jump-starting the human heart. That doesn't mean that in-womb babies do not have human life, a conclusion that is not only biblically unsound but also scientifically idiotic (and the press calls us fundamentalists and purveyors of fake science?).
The Bible affirms that God cares for babies in the womb whom he meticulously forms (Psalm 139:13-16; Job 31:15). God even calls prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah) and apostles (Paul) from their existence in the womb (Isaiah 49:1, 5; Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). God can cause a "baby" in the womb to "move exuberantly" when encountering the mother who bears the Messiah (Luke 1:41; “baby” is the correct translation for the Gk. term used: brephos). These texts would strongly suggest that ancient Israelites and early Christians accorded what we call a "fetus" the dignified status of human life valued by God.
Buttigieg’s appeal to the Bible for a massive social welfare state
Nor does Buttigieg (or Gerson) seem to realize that the Bible’s statements about the poor do not mandate that the government forcibly extract from its citizens even greater payouts for welfare programs than the current $1+ trillion already being spent. They also do not prohibit a government from limiting immigration or criminalizing illegal immigration. Even less do they require that these matters should take precedence over the direct and unconscionable harm done by promoting a federally coercive homosexual and transgender agenda, the destruction of human liberties, the persecution of the church, and the taking of human life in the womb for all nine months for virtually any reason.
Buttigieg is also logically inconsistent in addressing moral issues from the Bible. When discussing abortion, he asserts that on "a moral question" a government official should not be "imposing his interpretation of his religion.” How then can he argue from the Bible's concern for the poor, the widow, and the alien that he is the candidate for whom Christians should vote? Why isn't that an imposition of Christian morality?
Buttigieg’s Bible interpretation and his personal life
Buttigieg's pathetically inept reading of Scripture is exactly what we would expect of someone who is not only promoting immoral policy agendas but also currently in a sexual relationship that Jesus would have viewed as abhorrent to God, a rejection of the very foundation of sexual ethics upon which all other sexual standards are based. That actually "trumps" Trump's sexual immorality.
Not only has Trump not been accused of sexually immoral acts for over a decade but also his past offenses, while very grave, are arguably less severe than Buttigieg's unnatural sexual relationship. The violation of what Jesus viewed as the foundation for sexual ethics upon which other key sexual standards are predicated is worse than the violation of standards built on that foundation. Not that we should be so foolish as to think that Buttigieg as a homosexual man has only had one sexual partner in his life.
Heretical faith does not count as a positive
The "faith" and "morality" that Buttigieg promotes is at its core both heretical and immoral. For that he should receive no particular plaudits. The Baal prophets were people of "faith" too, but of the wrong kind. Gerson's sycophantic op-ed all but "anoints" Buttigieg as a religious messiah, especially when set in relief against the backdrop of the vituperative comments that he makes regularly about Trump, whom he apparently regards as a virtual anti-Christ. How appallingly misguided.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is a professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, among other works.