Opinion writer

One of the most horrifying spectacles of the Trump era is the moral and spiritual sell-out of evangelical Christians who have made a Faustian bargain with President Trump. They condone or ignore his alleged sexual predation, bigotry, cruelty, lies, abject materialism and egomania. For some judicial appointments, they not only tolerate a host of non-Christian qualities but deify him, becoming the most devoted foot soldiers in the Trump cult. (These were the people who vilified President Bill Clinton for sexual immorality and decided that Jeb Bush wasn’t sufficiently supportive of the pro-life movement.)

Thanks to Trump, his evangelical excuse-mongers and his right-wing media chorus, the Republican Party has become a mostly male, white-grievance party, which is indifferent to real discrimination against women and minorities, to trauma inflicted on migrant children, to those who may lose health-care coverage — really to anyone who is not a devoted Trump fan. The question for the party is no longer whether something is conservative or even good for Americans (or true!), but whether a position helps Trump. It’s idolatry plain and simple.

Into this vacuum of values and faith steps savvy Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

During a remarkable interview with USA Today’s Kirsten Powers, Buttigieg explained, “The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state . . . but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.” Not since the civil rights movement has the left truly embraced faith as a motivation and justification for policies toward the powerless. He continued:

When I think about where most of Scripture points me, it is toward defending the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast, and those who are left behind by the way society works. And what we have now is this exaltation of wealth and power, almost for its own sake, that in my reading of Scripture couldn’t be more contrary to the message of Christianity. So I think it’s really important to carry a message (to the public), knitting together a lot of groups that have already been on this path for some time, but giving them more visibility in the public sphere.

That’s an effective nonparochial statement that non-Christians and even nonbelievers can embrace.

Buttigieg gingerly accused the president of lacking faith (the better argument would be that Trump doesn’t act in ways that Christianity demands of its followers). "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,” he said. “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. And the exaltation of yourself, especially a self that’s about wealth and power, could not be more at odds with at least my understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith.” Buttigieg need not question Trump’s faith or that of his apologists to explain that their conduct violates every precept of the Judeo-Christian tradition that the right loves to extol.

The most compelling part of the discussion concerned the concept of grace:

What advice does Mayor Pete have for those struggling to be graceful toward those with whom we disagree politically? “Well, I think it starts with a certain amount of humility and recognizing that how you voted doesn’t make you a good person or a bad person, and we shouldn’t think of ourselves as better human beings because of how we voted,” he said.

Not there’s sentiment — humility — sorely lacking from public life. As he hinted, it’s also the only plausible way to govern in a pluralistic democracy. And as difficult as it is for deeply committed opponents of Trump, publicly writing off Trump voters and accusing them of being evil don’t make for a winning political formula. (My advice to skeptics on this point: Even if you don’t believe it, fake it. And unless you’re running for something, feel free to speak your mind!) Buttigieg is quick to point out that plenty of people voted for both him and the Trump-Pence ticket. Magnanimity is a survival skill for Midwest Democrats.

Buttigieg’s model is a good one: Explain positions in terms of universal values (e.g., it’s wrong to tear babies from their mothers arms or to despoil the planet). Treat opponents as potential converts. And don’t be shy in pointing out when Trump and his ilk betray the principles of faith they claim to hold and by which they judge their opponents — but not their own side.

Read more:

Michael Gerson: Politics is religion, and the right is getting ready for the end times

Christine Emba: Evangelicals’ infallible new faith: The gospel of Trump