Editor’s Note: Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is a progressive Christian writer and activist. He is the founder of The Resistance Prays, a daily devotional aimed at spiritually and politically defeating Trumpism. Follow him on Twitter @GuthrieGF. The views expressed here are the author’s. View more opinion on CNN.
I don’t think my closeted teen self would’ve believed the last few weeks of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign could have happened. But I’ve watched in awe as it has unfolded.
My gratitude and amazement gave way to a different set of emotions this week when conservative provocateur Erick Erickson started attacking Buttigieg, implying that because Buttigieg is Episcopalian – a denomination known for its more progressive positions on social issues – “he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”
This is a common trope among some evangelical Christians on the right, impugning other more liberal Christians as somehow less “real” or authentic in their faith.
Full-on rage set in when Erickson followed up his tweet with a blog post arguing that while Trump is morally problematic, Buttigieg is “no better a Christian than Donald Trump” because he’s gay. “This is why progressive Christianity is so corrupt and flawed. As much as Buttigieg makes a valid critique on the President’s behavior and evangelicals excusing that behavior, Buttigieg wants to reject the inconvenient parts of faith he does not like,” said Erickson, referring to Buttigieg’s positions on homosexuality and abortion. “He wants to have it both ways and in reality is showing he is no better a Christian than Donald Trump. ”
Progressives all over the country are challenging the fundamentalists’ stranglehold on what it means to be Christian. And in Buttigieg, we have an amazing role model whose mere existence as a gay Christian running for president inspires me. Buttigieg has leaned into his faith, giving interviews about his religious beliefs and appearing to incorporating it into his stump speech.
“My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” Buttigieg said on Sunday of the former Indiana governor while speaking at the LGBTQ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in Washington. “That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: That if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Those words hit especially close to home as I prepare to get married myself this June. My fiancé, one of the first gay people to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I will gather with family and friends at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for a wedding ceremony presided over by a United Church of Christ minister currently serving on staff at Highland Baptist Church.
The ceremony will take place just months after an openly gay Episcopalian man announces his run for president. What an amazing moment to witness God’s love and justice expanding before our very eyes across the many branches of the Jesus movement and across the entire United States.
“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,” Buttigieg told CNN and USA Today commentator Kirsten Powers.
He’s also highlighted how he “wanted to be married in the church” and was glad the Episcopal Church had embraced same-sex marriage so he could get married in his own church.
“It’s unusual for Democratic presidential candidates to talk about faith as often as Buttigieg does,” one report noted. “It’s groundbreaking that he uses his marriage to another man to illustrate his personal relationship with God.”
Let’s address Erickson’s wrong-headed comparison of Buttigieg and Trump head-on. The president is a racist, misogynist, thrice-married, anti-immigrant, wealth-obsessed braggart who is credibly accused of (though has denied) sexually harassing and groping women and claims he’s never sought forgiveness in his entire life. How can all of that be outweighed by Buttigieg being gay?
Even if you disagree with the idea that LGBTQ people are born equal in rights and dignity, putting Buttigieg in the same moral time zone as Trump would get you flunked out of any second-grade Sunday School class.
I’m happy to report that when the rage subsided, I could see the attack on Buttigieg revealed something encouraging at the same time: Conservatives and fundamentalists are noticing progressive Christians. That’s a sign of our growing influence and visibility.
There’s a growing push toward LGBTQ inclusion across the many strands of American Christendom. Fundamentalists are worried, and worried people make outlandish attacks like Erickson’s. Even the Mormon Church is taking steps toward greater LGBTQ inclusion.
And progressive Christians are becoming more vocal in other ways, including the revival of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II to the Nuns on the Bus and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s writing about how her faith informs the need for criminal justice reform.
“Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organized a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda,” NPR reported, “a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights and racial justice.”
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I served communion on Sunday at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, which is one of my routine duties as a deacon. But this Sunday in particular, the significance of being able to serve in this role as a gay man really hit me in the moments before the service began. A deep sense of gratitude, joy and peace overcame me: for my faith community embracing same-sex marriage in 2014, for all the LGBTQ people who came before me and helped bend the moral arc of the universe, and for the many people of faith who remain in discriminatory communities but are pushing them toward equality from within.
I believe my marriage, like Pete Buttigieg’s and his husband’s, will move me closer to God and I believe the rise of progressive Christians is pushing the entire church closer to God as well.