In his effort to push through the crowded room of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg, the gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., has regularly brought up his Christian faith and his experience balancing scripture with his sexuality.
“It can be challenging to be a person of faith who’s also part of the LGBTQ community and yet, to me, the core of faith is regard for one another,” the candidate said at a CNN town hall on Monday. “And part of God’s love is experienced, according to my faith tradition, is in the way that we support one another and, in particular, support the least among us.”
By embracing and reconciling two identities that have often been pitted against one another in modern American discourse, Buttigieg has put himself on a collision course with Christian evangelicals, the deeply conservative GOP backbone that has pushed back against LGBTQ rights.
On Wednesday, one of President Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, Franklin Graham, the son of the prominent evangelist Billy Graham, set off that showdown with a series of tweets attacking the South Bend mayor on the grounds of faith.
“Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian,” Graham wrote. “As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman — not two men, not two women.”
Graham continued that “The core of the Christian faith is believing and following Jesus Christ, who God sent to be the Savior of the world — to save us from sin, to save us from hell, to save us from eternal damnation.”
The attacks come as the 37-year-old Afghanistan war veteran, who is in a same-sex marriage, continues to poll in third place among Democratic presidential hopefuls behind former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the latest Monmouth University data on the Iowa caucuses.
Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, has called out the evangelical crowd for supporting a president whose past behavior falls short of the moral guidelines of Christians.
“I’m reluctant to comment on another person’s faith, but I would say it is hard to look at this president’s actions and believe that they’re the actions of somebody who believes in God,” Buttigieg said earlier this month. “I just don’t understand how you can be as worshipful of your own self as he is and be prepared to humble yourself before God. I’ve never seen him humble himself before anyone.”
In particular, the 2020 candidate has taken issue with Vice President Pence. Although the two men had a working relationship when Pence served as Indiana governor, Buttigieg has regularly targeted the “hypocrisy” of supporting a man like Trump.
“How would he allow himself to become the cheerleader for the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing Donald Trump?” Buttigieg said at a CNN town hall in March. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
In the past Graham has explained his support of the president, telling “Axios on HBO” Trump has “admitted his faults” but “defends the [Christian] faith.
As The Washington Post reported, Pence has pushed back against the mayor’s comments. Earlier this month, Graham also came to the vice president’s defense, and also used the opportunity to take aim at Buttigieg’s interpretation of faith.
“I have such a great respect for the Vice President, for his leadership in our nation, for his personal integrity, and for his Christian faith,” the evangelical preacher wrote in an April 11 Facebook post. “Using new terms like ‘Progressive Christianity’ and the ‘Christian Left’ may sound appealing to some, but God’s laws and standards do not change. He says, ‘For I am the Lord, I change not.’ I believe what the Bible says is truth.”
Graham’s comments on Wednesday have already ignited fierce reaction among both Buttigieg supporters and commentators.
“When religious leaders cherry pick when they’ll criticize politicians for faith-based reasons they make the faith seem like a servant of politics, not God,” writer Jonah Goldberg posted on Twitter. “It’s sad.”
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