Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is many things. The Democratic primary candidate is fluent in Norwegian and a former Rhodes Scholar. He’s also embroiled in a racially tinged controversy involving the South Bend police department. However, there is one thing Buttigieg certainly isn’t: a theologian.
Time and time again, the 2020 candidate has attempted to claim Christianity for the Left, with puff-pieces in left-leaning Christian periodicals, like the Jesuit journal America, praising his name. Yet Buttigieg has continually left the impression that he is poorly informed about doctrine at best (or perhaps even operating in bad faith). His critics can cite many episodes of his behavior to support this, such as an attack most Christians would see as flatly uncharitable against Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Buttigieg’s home state, who had only said good things about him. Similarly, Buttigieg often dubiously prophesizes that evangelicals will have to face a reckoning and adopt most of his economic ideas.
However, last week in a discussion with the podcaster “Charlemagne tha God,” Buttigieg uttered what is likely the most controversial statement yet in his quest to reconcile secular progressivism with Christianity. On abortion, he contended that pro-life Christians should support abortion because “there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath, and so even that is something that we can interpret differently.”
If those around the table during that discussion were theologians or medical ethicists rather than celebrities, he wouldn’t have been met without contest. After all, the mayor of South Bend essentially told Christians to pull wool over their own eyes and ignore a grave evil, while implying to the medical community that life is a far simpler phenomenon than they had been taught.
To say that scripture permits abortion because it sometimes speaks of life in terms of breath is exceptionally ridiculous. Mostly, scripture makes clear that life exists well before the first breath. In the book of Jeremiah, for example, God tells the prophet that he knew him even before he was in the womb. Multiple other places in the Old Testament also refer to the born and pre-born in the same manner. Perhaps most importantly to Christians, the New Testament is explicit in what constitutes a human person. It doesn’t distinguish between a born and unborn child, using the same Greek term for both: brephos. This term is used adjacent to several references to the reality that God knows human beings when they are in the womb. In contrast, the breath references Buttigieg eludes to are isolated and don’t substantively challenge the biological or religious reality that life begins in the womb.
Ultimately, Buttigieg’s statements on abortion do little more than urge Christians to ignore the consistency in scripture over isolated quotes. In doing this, he encourages them to take such passages out of context to avoid any conflict between Christian beliefs and progressive ideology.
Altogether, Buttigieg’s statements were prime examples of a softened “put up or shut up” approach to orthodox Christianity. Despite being feted in the press for it, however, one suspects this approach is unlikely to persuade most serious Christian voters. Perhaps the mayor would be better off sticking to his polyglot abilities and the brighter spots of his time in South Bend.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore