For the last 27 years, Democrats have been trying to win over evangelical Christians who last voted in large numbers for their party's presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, in 1976.
At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Al Gore gave it a go, but misquoted Scripture. In his acceptance speech for the vice-presidential nomination, Gore said, "In the words of the Bible, Do not lose heart. This nation will be renewed." The verse actually says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Paul is speaking of our earthly bodies and the hope that awaits those who believe in Jesus, not the Democratic Party.
Next up in the religious batter's box Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is expected to declare his candidacy soon, and who calls himself a Christian of the liberal Episcopalian variety. In an interview with Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, he said, "I think there's an opportunity hopefully for religion to be not so much used as a cudgel but invoked as a way of calling us to higher values."
What "values" might those be? Are they the values of a secular progressive? Buttigieg is all for government helping the poor (under Trump, applications for U.S. unemployment have declined to a 49-year low, driven by the roaring economy, not social programs) and standing up against "the wealthy and the powerful and the established."
One doesn't need to be Christian, or even religious, to support such goals. What is it about Buttigieg's faith and political positions that distinguishes him from a person who doesn't believe in God?
Buttigieg questions the faith of president Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Of the president, he said, "I do think it's strange, though, knowing that no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us, that a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like this can have any credibility at all among religious people."
He must have missed the passage about not judging others. For evangelicals, the gospel is about a Person, not "inclusion." In fact, it is about exclusion for those who refuse its central message of repentance and conversion. Yes, a byproduct of that faith is humility and care for the least among us, but genuine faith comes before works. Most evangelicals would argue the command to care for "the least of these" is not about government programs, but the responsibility of individuals. This is the central teaching of Jesus' Good Samaritan parable about a man beaten by robbers and left half-dead by the side of the road. Several people pass him by, but the Samaritan stops to care for him and pay for his lodging while he recovers (Luke 10:31-35).
Republicans criticized Democrats in 2012 for leaving God out of their party platform. At that same convention, some delegates heckled Rev. Cynthia Hale, who prayed for Hillary Clinton. Hale's partisan appeal to God was interrupted by those chanting Bernie Sanders' name. Both parties should ponder this verse: "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
Buttigieg thinks the religious left can keep Trump from being re-elected. It is unlikely Trump's evangelical and conservative supporters will leave him, especially if the alternative is a candidate who favors socialist policies.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll puts Buttigieg's approval rating among Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters at 4 percent. That could change with the predictable media hype, but the religious left has had little influence in past elections and there is no reason to have faith in their ability to influence the next one.