Opinion: Presidential Theology

There are more than few people who have announced they want to be the democrat nominee for president in 2020. Some I know their name and many I do not. One of the people that I was not aware of before he announced is Pete Buttigieg who is only a mayor. I say “only” because normally mayors of less than major cities do not make much of a splash when they announce a run for president however this mayor has raised amazing amounts of money and garnered many puff pieces in major national media. One of those articles in USA Today got my attention because the article talks about Buttigieg’s faith and how his faith intersects with his politics. While the bio on Buttigieg’s accomplishments demonstrate he is a highly intelligent and successful man (Rhoads Scholar, veteran, speaks multiple languages) the description given to him that catches my attention the most is “devoted Christian”.

Upon this authority as devoted follower of Christ, the article goes on to lecture other, one assumes less devoted, Christians for focusing on things that Christ “said so little about” and not focusing on things that Christ “said much about”. From there the article is a rehash of the old story of progressive Christianity that wants to use the government to accomplish earthly things. Below are the two main ideas where Christians have supposedly focused on what Christ said little about.

Abortion: “Let’s parse this insightful formulation: “Saying so much about what Christ said so little about” applies to the religious right’s treatment of abortion as a litmus test for Christian faith, when in fact Jesus never mentioned the issue.”

To say Jesus never “mentioned” abortion is technically correct, but at the same time disingenuously insulting. Abortion is new only in technology but not in practice. Before I explain that statement, we need to address the question and the impasse on this topic. The question that must be answered is how far are we willing to go to rationalize the need for abortion which is rooted in our selfishness? Abortion is selfish because the need for abortion is sold to women (and men) who are not ready for children. Or women who are in bad relationships. It is an argument of timing. Sometimes the need for abortion is masked in the health of the woman but those are exceptions and not the rule. Our focus for this topic should be on when does life begin? At birth or at some point before that? Is life a beating heart? How is a newborn and a baby yet to be delivered to be compared on the question of life? Killing babies is not new to society and the Bible speaks clearly on this topic. Even if this was truly unclear like Mayor Buttigieg suggests that Jesus does not care if we killed babies in the womb, would it not be better to be on the side of not killing the unborn? At one time the progressive line was abortion should be rare. Now the progressive line moves more and more toward celebrating the act.

The “religious right” unwaveringly believes that babies are baby inside that womb as well as outside the womb. Because of that belief then it is understood that killing babies is wrong for all cultures in all places in all time. This is a universal moral truth that can’t be changed. When the Israelites moved into the land promised to them by God, they were carrying out God’s judgment on the peoples before them. Israel was ordered to purge the land of the evil practices of the people who came before them. But Israel did not do that instead they adopted many of the evil things that the people before them also practiced.

34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, 35 but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. 36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Psalm 106:34-38 ESV

Jesus did not need to speak directly on abortion because Israel had learned the hard way not to live lives ensnared by idols that demanded the blood of their children. Modern western society has become ensnared by the idols of convince and wealth where the unborn are sacrificed daily.

The other main topic in the article is compassion for the poor and outcast: “As to the religious right saying “so little about what (Jesus) said so much about,” Buttigieg made this observation: “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.”

The church even churches filled with the “religious right” are busy at work in their communities helping those who are in need. There are even many Christians ministries that have impact at a national or global scale. Christians live for ministry it is what they do. So, what is this complaint from the progressive Christian really about? Mayor Buttigieg believes that Christians who do not vote for him and his views are standing in the way of the scriptural mandate to “defend the poor”. But clearly that is not true since churches all over America are helping the poor. What this debate is really about is how defending the poor should be achieved. Should Christians use the power of Government to end poverty and all forms of inequity in this life? Mayor Buttigieg and progressives in general imply that if one does not expand government and use government resources that inequality cannot be fixed. Only the government is big enough to fix the world. Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” by expanding government to help the poor. Poverty rates in the generations since have not really changed and this is because poverty will always exist. Jesus told the disciples there would be time to serve the poor after his death burial and resurrection. Here more than 2,000 years later there is no shortage of people who are poor.

11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. Matthew 26:11 ESV

Jesus did not deal with inequality. Jesus did not right wrongs. Jesus did not free slaves. Jesus allowed himself to be killed at the hands of an evil government without any challenge. Jesus did not ask his followers to petition Rome for better working conditions. But what Jesus did do was ask his followers to serve the poor and to preach to them the good news that each and every person can be restored to good standing with God. Jesus came to forgive and to see hearts changed. When the hearts of evil government bureaucrats where changed Jesus did not even make demands from them on how to move forward. Out of the overflow of the love of God they would make their own conclusions.   

And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich… 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. Matthew 19:2; 5-9 ESV

The problem that progressives bring to the table on this topic of using more and more government to fix inequality is that they have circumvented the regenerating work of Jesus on the cross to change the hearts of men. Buttigieg speaks about Jesus but only to justify government ambition. Not once in this conversation of priorities for Christians does the spiritual restoration of people enter into the equation.

The searing impact on the soul of the women, the significant other, the abortion provider, or even the nation itself when killing babies through abortion is not even a consideration spoken of by Mayor Buttigieg. The spiritual situations of those who need help and dealing with why we have inequality in the first place is not a consideration for Mayor Buttigieg. What Jesus spoke most about was the state of the soul and the state of each person’s relationship with their Creator.

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died… 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John 6:47-49; 51 ESV

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