The last politician to handle both his heartfelt religious beliefs and his duties in public office with any naturalness and grace, and maybe even charm, might have been Jimmy Carter.
His last year in office might have been one of the all-time worst last years for an American president (if you don’t include the last years in office of his two predecessors), but the man’s face, as Lincoln said, was always set Zionward. Jimmy Carter might have got himself elected in ‘76 for simply telling the American people that he would never lie to us. And from all accounts, he never did.
Oh, how far weve come—not for the better—in this modern age. Politicians now use their religion. For it moves the needle, and the masses. How Roman. (Late Roman.)
But usually the script goes like this:
Republican Candidate A mentions God or the Bible in a speech. Those on the port side of American politics warn in apocalyptic tones that Republican Candidate A is on the path to an unconstitutional theocracy and his personal religious beliefs have no place in the public arena. Next thing you know our kids will be taking his preferred communion in second grade math class.
God forbid that Republican Candidate A mention a preferred denomination, or say his views on a public issue (abortion, marriage, death penalty) were formed after thought, religious reading, even prayer! At that point, pen cannot describe the wailing and gnashing of teeth like you’d see among his political opponents.
Strange, then, to see Pete Buttigieg’s comments in the paper last week. The mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest town has been designated this month’s media darling. Or maybe last month’s. He oft mentions his religious views on the stump. Mayor Buttigieg has told his fellow Democrats to embrace their religion, not flee from it, and that’s probably good life advice, politics be damned.
But like many politicians before him, and probably after him too, he just couldn’t stop. As the kids say, he went there:
God doesn’t have a political party, Pete Buttigieg told NBC, but he suggested if He did, it wouldn’t “be the one that sent the current president into the White House.”
This wasn’t the first time that the mayor of South Bend used the line that God doesn’t have a political party, but it may have been the first time that he suggested a side for the Great Mystery. The mayor has also called into question the vice president’s sentiments and asked when Mike Pence “stopped believing in scripture and started believing in Donald Trump?”
Politics ain’t beanbag, as we’ve been told, but does anybody think any Democrat is going to out-insult Donald Trump during the 2020 campaign? Besides, should anybody, of either party, be using religion as a truncheon? It’s unseemly. We have too much unseemly in modern American politics already.
We remember feeling uneasy when Alan Keyes said, “Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.” And more recently when Sarah Sanders said the current president was chosen by God.
We understand that religion cannot be removed from politics, at least American politics, and shouldn’t be. From abolition to the Civil Rights movement, Americans have pushed onward Christian soldier, sometimes with a fury. But when a politician starts using religion, instead of being used by it, that introduces the Divine within a profane context. Wouldn’t it be better to pursue our faith than work it? Which might have more to do with our more Earthly, and earthy, purposes than His.
We also understand that there are exceptions to the rule, if not commandment. It might very well be acceptable to appeal for His help in a great cause, such as when these several colonies asked for His guidance in breaking away from Mother England, which promised a war. Maybe two. And some of us gave not a thought when we read that Gen. Patton had asked for a special prayer before battle with the Nazis. After all, they were Nazis.
But the election of 2020 will not be a war. It’s a political contest. Let’s not guess where He would come down. After all, none of us know His views on the ephemeral political issues of the day. A president named A. Lincoln once had this problem, and answered a group of clergy thusly. We’ll be kind enough to give President Lincoln the last word here. By the way, his letter was addressed to certain anti-slavery men of the cloth in Chicago, a town that might be familiar to Pete Buttigieg:
“I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I am sure that either the one or the other class is mistaken in the belief, and perhaps in some respects both. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed He would reveal it directly to me; for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it! These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right.”