It’s time to venture into my “guilt file” — where I stash news stories that I know deserve attention, but breaking news keeps getting in the way.
Several weeks ago — Easter season, basically — the Washington Post ran an important story about the rise of Pete Buttigieg as a real contender among the 100 or so people currently seeking (a) the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination or (b) the VP slot with Joe Biden (the second after Barack Obama winks and hints at an endorsement).
In this case, the religion angle was right there in the headline: “Questions on race, faith and tradition confront Buttigieg in South Carolina.”
In other words, Mayor Pete visits the Bible Belt to see if his mainstream Episcopal Church vibe — brainy white married gay male — will fly in a region in which black Christians are a political force. This is a culturally conservative corner of the Democratic Party tent that tends to get little or no attention from journalists in deep-blue zip codes (that Acela-zone thing). So let’s pull this story out of my “guilt file.”
The headline is solid, pointing to questions about “race, faith and tradition.” Want to guess what part of that equation gets the short end of the stick, in terms of serious content?
This is an important story, in terms of cultural diversity among Democrats. At some point, candidates will need to talk about religious liberty, third-trimester abortion, gender-neutral locker rooms and a host of other powerful cultural issues linked to religion.
The bottom line: Mayor Pete wants to be pro-faith, while attacking conservative Protestants whose views of the Bible are radically different than his own. How will that strategy play in the Bible Belt? Can he appeal to Democrats other those in what the Post calls a “liberal, wealthy and white” niche?
Here is what we are looking for in this story: Will anyone address religious questions to African-American Democrats from Pentecostal, conservative Baptist or Catholic pews? Or will the story only feature the voices of experts talking about these strange people? Here’s the overture:
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Pete Buttigieg has become a force in the Democratic presidential race, with his experience as a young mayor and gay veteran generating media attention, big crowds in Iowa and a $7 million fundraising haul for the first quarter of the year.
But in South Carolina — where the black voters who constituted roughly 60 percent of the party’s primary turnout in 2016 value familiarity and tradition — he faces challenges.
At Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church here, many Democrats attending a bustling Easter event — where hot trays of eggs, thick ham and biscuits lined the gymnasium — said in interviews that they barely knew him. That was particularly true of the older members who do not follow the podcasts or television programs on which Buttigieg is a regular.
OK, what does “tradition” mean? Also, what did these Baptists (church belief statement here) have to say about the Bible issues at the heart of this story?
The religion component of this story is addressed in the following passage, which is long, but essential.
While Buttigieg’s bid to become the first gay presidential nominee is part of his appeal, his profile as a young, white and married man could also be a burden among some older religious voters in South Carolina, where same-sex marriage continues to stir debate. …
At Mount Moriah, church members considered questions of race and faith as they discussed the scope of Buttigieg’s life, weighing aspects of his personal story with his time as a naval intelligence officer and mayor of a Midwestern city of about 100,000 people.
But there was no clear consensus about whether Buttigieg’s background would be a burden or a boost among state Democrats — and debates at this early stage were divided along generational lines.
Several members suggested that older black Democrats would be interested in hearing more from Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who quotes Scripture, but would probably lean toward Biden, Harris or Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), all of whom have made an effort to build ties here.
“I like what he’s been saying, but the fact is many black Christians are very conservative on that issue,” Shelia Anderson, a 68-year-old Democrat and retired teacher, said when asked about Buttigieg’s marriage to husband Chasten Buttigieg. “Success won’t come overnight,” she said, adding that he will have to make repeated visits to the state to impress voters.
Still, she said, if Buttigieg has a “warm, inclusive message for Christians, he’ll find people are ready to listen.”
So many black Democrats are “very conservative on that issue,” whatever “that issue” means.
Is the issue homosexuality or the biblical status of sex outside of marriage, period? Do these believers have questions about religious liberty trends in America? What I have heard black Christians say, on numerous occasions, is that they do not think that same-sex orientation is the same thing, at the level of DNA and science, as race.
What do these African-American Christians believe and why do they believe it? It’s crucial that Buttigieg openly talks about the Bible. How about these people in the black church? What do they have to say about the Bible?
By all means, ask them how Buttigieg’s beliefs on LGBTQ issues are different than those of, oh, the second-term version of Obama or of the ever-evolving Biden?
It appears that the Post political team talked to people at this church. Did any of them say anything, you know, about religion, as opposed to political realities? Readers get to know their answers to lots of political questions. Is religion relevant or not?
One final question: What did Sheila Anderson mean when she said it would be crucial whether or not Mayor Pete had a “warm, inclusive message for Christians”? What does “inclusive” mean in that sentence? Is that religious-liberty code language, in this context?
Just asking. This will be important in a few months.