National Commentary

The Faith Identity Of Pete Buttigieg

What a frenzy of incredible developments we have going on these days: a budding global pandemic festering in China, the sudden death of a young American athletic icon, the ongoing self-destructive denial by Republicans at their U.S. Senate impeachment proceedings, a president devolving into incoherent mumbling at rallies and for Virginians like me, the advancement of such a veritable cornucopia of progressive legislation as to make up fast for centuries of backwardness, foot dragging and contemptible prejudice.

Amid all this has been the Democratic presidential primary race, which officially begins with Iowa caucuses just next week featuring a field of, now, five formidable candidates, as generally conceded and in my view — alphabetically, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg (not contesting Iowa), Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I suppose Amy Klubechar, winning the New York Times’ endorsement for vice president, could be included, and she could enhance a ticket as someone’s running mate.

Bloomberg qualifies because of his money, the millions he’s spending on a Super Bowl ad this weekend, and the fact his anti-Trump ads have been particularly sharp. As a fellow New Yorker, he clearly intimidates Trump in a major way. There are others I wish hadn’t had to drop out, such as Kamala Harris, but among those still in, the five I named have the gravitas and ground games, it seems to me, to do the best. We’ll soon begin finding out.

Amid this, overlooked in the last week was the solo live town hall appearance of Mayor Buttigieg on Fox News from Des Moines, Iowa, for an hour Sunday night. Buttigieg was flat out brilliant, articulate and principled. While there were questions about whether his youth (he just turned 38) would hurt him, the question of his self-identification as an LGBTQ person never came up. Not once, not in a whole hour. Not in a whole hour on Fox, no less.

As an LGBTQ person myself, I was astonished by this, constantly awaiting for that shoe to fall during the lively town hall. But seeing how deftly he handled a tough question from an anti-abortion Democrat, I am sure he would have shined had it come up.

One of his major tasks as someone who has the audacity to seek to be president of the United States has been to handle that question over time, as he did the one on abortion, such that it simply dims in importance for a predominant majority of supporters. It has had to be this way so far because, otherwise, asking fellow Democrats to support him would be asking a lot if he hadn’t already shown how he can put the matter totally into perspective for voters. It’s truly amazing he’s come as far as he has.

At an LGBTQ Victory Fund event in D.C. last year, I heard him say, “I can tell you that if being gay was a choice, it was a choice made far, far above my pay grade…If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your problem, sir, is with my Creator.”

Buttigieg’s professed Christian faith is a far, far cry from the kind of shallow, self-centered pro-Trump “evangelical” judgmentalism. To such people, Trump has accused Buttigieg of “becoming religious all of a sudden, about two weeks ago.”

Buttigieg responded at a town hall in New Hampshire that his faith “has been a complex journey for me, as it has for a lot of people, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been a believer longer than he [Trump] has been a Republican.”

Again, I am also an LGBTQ person of faith. I completed four years of graduate theological seminary as an honor student. In my view, it is critically important in these days that a fresh approach to affirming a value system grounded in an appreciation of ultimate things be articulated loudly.

Such values, not relativist but applied across the board among persons of all faiths, races, ethnicities, genders and loves, that include an unyielding commitment to truth for the shared benefit of all is indispensable to perpetuating our cherished democracy that is coming under such attack these troubled times.

 Nicholas Benton may be emailed at nfbenton@fcnp.com.