On Wednesday night, Mayor Pete Buttigieg took a break from lecturing the Religious Right about how it isn’ Christian enough. Instead, he decided to spout heresy about salvation.
While talking about systemic racism and his challenge connecting with black voters, Mayor Pete said, “I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized, and cast aside and oppressed in society.”
As a mayor who has seen the consequences of systemic racism on my neighbors, as a person whose faith teaches me to stand with the marginalized, and as someone whose rights have been expanded by people who are like me and not like me, I'm determined to get this right. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/zWxXmQYLzY
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) November 21, 2019
In other words, salvation has to do with works. Only by making yourself “useful” to the marginalized can you be saved.
This idea makes sense. The ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, your soul would be weighed. If your soul was light and pure, due to good works, you would be rewarded. If your soul was heavy and dirty, due to bad deeds, you would be punished.
Yet this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. The New Testament clearly teaches that people are sinful, deserving hell, but they are saved through the grace of God, through faith.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves — it is the gift of God, not my works, lest any man should boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which He has before ordained for us to walk in” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. … Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Romans 3:23-25).
According to Christian doctrine, humans are naturally sinful and cannot save themselves. We need God to bridge the gap, and He did so by sending His Son to die on the cross and rise again from the dead. Only by believing in Jesus can we accept the free gift of eternal life, not as something we earn, but as something bestowed on us by God.
The idea of works righteousness — that you are saved by doing good deeds or by being “useful” — is commonplace, and Mayor Pete may have gotten it from a superficial reading of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, a favorite in social justice circles.
In the parable (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus speaks about a future time when He will come again in glory to judge the nations, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Jesus speaks of the good people as sheep, who fed the hungry, gave water to the sick, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and prisoners. At that time, the Son of Man will identify Himself with those unfortunates — “the least of these my brothers” — and reveal that all the good deeds were done to Jesus.
The unrighteous people — goats, if you will — did not help the marginalized, and in rejecting the “least of these,” they rejected Jesus. Social justice-oriented Christians love this passage because it encourages believers to serve the poor, but they often twist it to suggest that Jesus would want us to have the government serve the poor.
At first, this passage appears to teach works righteousness. After all, didn’t the sheep help people while the goats rejected them? But the parable is not meant to teach works righteousness. When the Son of Man speaks to the sheep, He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
In other words, heaven is prepared for the sheep long before they ever did good works. It is not the good works or the being “useful” that saved them, but the benevolence of Jesus. The good works were merely a sign of their salvation, not the cause of it.
Yet Buttigieg seems to think God has a political litmus test. He has repeatedly declared that those who disagree with his policy positions are somehow not really Christian.
In July, he said, “So-called conservative Christian senators right now in the Senate are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage when scripture says, ‘Whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.'” Opposing a minimum wage increase does not make someone an “oppressor.”
In September, Buttigieg declared that refusing to fight climate change is “a kind of sin.”
Mayor Pete has decided to lecture conservative Christians for supporting Trump — admittedly a prideful and sinful person, but one who upholds their religious freedom and protects the lives of unborn babies.
Buttigieg seems to have forgotten a few central facts about his own faith. Since the days of the early church, Christianity has opposed the barbaric practice of killing babies — born and unborn — to facilitate sexual immorality. He has suggested that the Bible says “life begins with breath,” apparently in an attempt to justify abortion up until a baby’s first breath outside the womb. He has firmly supported abortion.
The Bible is also clear on homosexual activity. God saves all kinds of sinners, and that emphatically includes gay people. But homosexual activity — like Trump’s pride — is not something to take “pride” in. Yet Buttigieg and his fellow Democrats seem intent on not just celebrating LGBT “pride” themselves, but punishing those who disagree.
It seems Mayor Pete understands as little about the Religious Right as he does about salvation and the Bible.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.