In 2016, when some white evangelicals struggled to get behind the Trump campaign, it was the addition of Pence, a social conservative with deep ties to conservative evangelicalism, that helped convince them that a Trump presidency would take socially conservative stances on LGBT issues, abortion and other issues they value. The group now consistently gives Trump some of his highest approval ratings.
Pence, the former governor of Indiana, has long won praise from conservative Christians for openly discussing his opposition to LGBT rights. But, not surprisingly, those positions have also earned him high levels of disapproval from the LGBT community.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country’s largest gay rights groups, has previously said:
“Mike Pence has made a career out of attacking the rights and equal dignity of LGBTQ people, women and other marginalized communities. Now, as vice president, he poses one of the greatest threats to equality in the history of our movement. With the world distracted by Donald Trump’s scandal-ridden White House, Mike Pence’s nefarious agenda has been allowed to fly under the radar for too long."
Since heading to Washington, Pence has repeatedly attempted to convince Americans — specifically conservative Christians — that the Trump presidency has been one of the most supportive of the values of conservative Christians in history. But the 2020 campaign has birthed a slew of candidates who are pushing back on the idea that the Trump agenda is consistent with Christian values by explaining how their liberal values have shaped their political worldview. And in recent weeks, Buttigieg has been one of the individuals to do that most.
At a Sunday event for the Victory Fund, a nonprofit that helps LGBT people win office, Buttigieg shared how his marriage to his husband, Chasten — a union that Pence and most conservative Christians would argue is inconsistent with marriage as defined by the Christian faith — actually made him closer to God. He told the audience:
“Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God."
The words were met with huge applause, with dozens standing on their feet affirming Buttigieg’s statement that being gay and a faithful Christian aren’t mutually exclusive. But as the 37-year-old veteran continues to engage in the culture war on this issue, some conservative Christians have pushed back by attempting to dismiss the Episcopalian’s faith altogether.
Conservative writer Erick Erickson wrote on Twitter:
“If Buttigieg thinks evangelicals should be supporting him instead of Trump, he fundamentally does not understand the roots of Christianity. But then he is an Episcopalian, so he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”
And in a takedown of Buttigieg’s values, Fox News host Laura Ingraham stated: “Now he says he’s a traditional Episcopalian, whatever that means these days.”
As interest in Buttigieg grows, so too will interest in his idea that while Trump may be the “evangelical dream president,” he has been a nightmare for Christians whose faith is more liberal when it comes to LGBT issues, women’s rights, racial reconciliation and other topics related to diversity. This approach is not likely to win the white evangelicals and white Catholics who find common ground with Trumpism, but these aren’t really the Americans Buttigieg appears to be targeting. He seems to be interested in winning the majority of Americans who believe that a great America includes a more inclusive Christianity.