With every passing day, it seems we see yet another piece about South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg’s progressive Christianity. His faith is going to shake the race. He’s going to challenge the GOP monopoly on “God talk.” Here, for example, is the opening paragraph of an NBC News analysis posted yesterday afternoon:
Religious conservatives who have long been a reliable voting bloc for Republicans are grappling with a new challenge in Pete Buttigieg: how to respond to a Democratic presidential candidate who is leaning into the discussion about faith and its role in political life.
I’ll agree that there are religious conservatives who are “grappling” with a challenge from Buttigieg, but that challenge is theological and cultural, not political. Buttigieg’s religious arguments have triggered important online debates about the differences between mainline and Evangelical Christianity, about when religious teachings should influence public policy, and about how to interpret the history of the gay-marriage debate.
But religious conservatives are not grappling with the key political question — whether any meaningful number of Evangelicals or conservative Catholics would cross the aisle to cast a ballot for Mayor Pete. The reason is simple. Buttigieg is a pro-choice extremist, and no pro-choice extremist will ever meaningfully compete for the conservative Christian vote.
In fact, in at least one key way, Buttigieg’s record on abortion is even worse than that of his Democratic peers. He is of course in lockstep agreement with them on support for late-term abortion, and he made that clear last month on Morning Joe:
.@PeteButtigieg explains his support for late-term abortion bills in New York and Virginia:
”When we’re talking about some of those situations covered by that law … the involvement of a male government official like me is not helpful.” pic.twitter.com/6lQrLLhwhW
— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) March 31, 2019
But he’s done what many of them have not — he’s actually blocked a crisis-pregnancy center from opening at its chosen location. He not only supports abortion rights, he’s taken action against law-abiding Americans who merely wanted to make the case for life.
Last April, Buttigieg vetoed a rezoning plan that would have permitted a crisis-pregnancy center to open next door to a proposed abortion clinic. In his statement justifying the veto, Buttigieg said, “I don’t think it would be responsible to situate two groups, literally right next to each other, in a neighborhood, that have diametrically opposed views on the most divisive social issue of our time.”
And so, given the conflict, he chose to privilege the abortion clinic’s location over the pregnancy center. Thankfully, the center found a new location across the street from the proposed clinic — a location that didn’t require a rezoning vote. But that does not excuse or justify Buttigieg’s veto. He favored abortion rights over pro-life speech, and he likely violated the Constitution in doing so.
While Buttigieg, to his credit, did not demonize his opponents in the South Bend dispute ( “Many people that I respect and admire and appreciate have very passionate and very opposite views on what is the right thing to do,” he said of the dispute), actions speak louder than words. And this action echoes a dangerous Democratic trend in pro-choice governance: the attack against pro-life pregnancy clinics.
Across the United States, progressive legislatures have passed laws aimed at crisis-pregnancy centers, including a California law the Supreme Court struck down just last summer. Buttigieg hasn’t gone as far as California, which actually required pro-life pregnancy centers to promote state-funded free and low-cost abortions. But he had an opportunity to fully respect the constitutional rights of his pro-life opponents, and he chose not to do so.
Many young Evangelicals, including young Evangelical activists, are divided over matters such as same-sex marriage. Some believe Obergefell v. Hodges was wrongly decided, others support legal recognition of same-sex marriage so long as the state doesn’t interfere with the church’s ability to define marriage according to the historic doctrines of the Christian faith. Others support same-sex marriage constitutionally and theologically.
These same young Christians are often appalled that their older brothers and sisters in the faith have so easily overlooked Donald Trump’s multitude of sins. But they will not support politicians who support legal protections for late-term abortions. They won’t. The will not support politicians who don’t go beyond “respecting” pro-life Americans to also protecting their rights to free speech with the same vigor that they protect the First Amendment rights of pro-choice Americans.
In the summer of 2016, I had hours of conversations with anguished Evangelical activists. They did not like Donald Trump. They could not believe the hypocrisy of some pastors defending a man whom they’d condemn if he had a “D” by his name. But they also could not believe that the Democrats wouldn’t compromise at all on abortion, not even in the third trimester. More than one person told me of this issue, “If only they’d moderate a little, I’d consider crossing the aisle. But they won’t, so I can’t.”
Those words will still be true in 2020, and while Buttigieg’s lack of overt hostility to pro-life citizens is welcome — and conversations about America’s competing Christian world views are interesting — he has zero appeal to religious conservatives so long as he holds to the Democratic party line on the right of a woman to hire a doctor to kill a viable, living unborn baby. There is nothing to “grapple” with. There is no “challenge.” There are lines that Christian conservatives must not — and will not — cross.