Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who’s seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, and Vice President Mike Pence (former governor of Buttigieg’s home state) are both Christians from Indiana – yet you might have noticed that they don’t agree on much.
Pence is known for his anti-LGBTQ views, a stance that Buttigieg, who’s gay, not surprisingly finds troubling. During a recent speech, Buttigieg laid into Pence, remarking, “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me – your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Pence and Buttigieg read the same Bible but have come to radically different conclusions on what that book says. Their sharp disagreement is a reminder of an uncomfortable fact for the Religious Right: Despite their claims, what they seek is not a society based on the Bible but their interpretation of the Bible – and those can be two very different things.
That’s why I had to chuckle the other day when I received a press release from Sam Rohrer, president of a Religious Right group called the American Pastors Network. Rohrer boldly announced that he has determined what truth is – quite a feat considering that philosophers have been grappling with that question for thousands of years.
But let’s play along. So what is truth? According to Rohrer’s email, “Truth Is Absolute and Comes from Only One Source – the Bible.”
Says Rohrer, “In every aspect of life and culture we can consider, biblical truth has a role – gender, marriage, immigration, fiscal responsibility, government leadership, religious liberty, sanctity of life issues and much, much more.”
According to Rohrer, the Bible not only speaks to every political issue we confront today, but the things it says about those issues just happen to dovetail exactly with the far-right political views held by Rohrer and his pals. How convenient!
What about Buttigieg’s truth, which also derives from his Christian faith? Well, according to Rohrer, Mayor Pete’s truth is false. But if you ask Buttigieg, he’d probably tell you that Rohrer is the one who has misread the Bible.
On it goes. Now add in the many Americans who derive their truth from religious books other than the Bible or from secular sources. Those sources are deeply meaningful for the people who value them but false to Rohrer. (Let’s face it, most religions and all secular philosophies are false to Rohrer.)
I get nervous when I hear Religious Right types talk about building a “biblical” society, not only because such schemes erode the church-state wall, but because I know that someone will have to decide what “biblical” means. And if the someone is a budding theocrat like Rohrer whose truth resembles The Handmaid’s Tale, we’re all in trouble. (And just to be clear, we should not adopt policies based on progressive readings of the Bible either. There should be a secular rationale for all of our laws.)
As the late James Dunn, a Southern Baptist champion of freedom of conscience was fond of saying, “The trouble with a theocracy is everyone wants to be Theo!”
Right on, Dr. Dunn. There is a better way. It’s called separation of church and state, and the founders gave it to us for a reason – chiefly so that we’d always have the right to make up our own minds about religion and never have to live under someone else’s narrow, repressive and dogmatic version of “truth.”