Morris: Pence and Buttigieg

April 8, 2019

by Leo Morris

Would you like to see a self-professed strongly committed Christian in the White House?

Which one? Democratic South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Republican Vice President Mike Pence? Both are quite candid about their religious faith, so we may presume it informs their political sensibilities, but the synthesis takes them in very different directions.

Pence, “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” is a member of what the mainstream culture calls the “religious right,” a champion of traditional values and proscriptive edicts. He is so mindful of his marriage vows and even a hint of impropriety that he won’t dine alone with a woman or attend an event without his wife where alcohol is served.

Buttigieg represents the “religious left” movement that seeks to justify every progressive, secular proposal with a religious underpinning. Jesus was a compassionate liberal, you know, so he certainly wouldn’t have disagreed with Mayor Pete’s assertion that “Scripture teaches us to focus on lifting up the marginalized – to be skeptical of the wealthy, the powerful, the sanctimonious, and the boastful.”

If we have trouble sorting out this dichotomy of Christianity going forward, I’m sure these two proselytizers will help us out.

Buttigieg has already disparaged Pence’s brand of faith that would lead him to be “a cheerleader of the porn star presidency . . . I thought he at least believes in our institutions and he’s not personally corrupt, but then how could he get on board with this presidency?”

Pence hasn’t been that explicit about Buttigieg’s brand of Christianity (that I’ve been able to find), but we can infer his view from the fact the mayor is in a same-sex marriage, and the vice president supported a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

I wonder what Buttigieg thought of President Bill Clinton’s serial sexual misdeeds, up to and including credible accusations of assault? Did he chastise Vice President Al Gore for aiding and abetting a predator, or did he, like some members of the feminist community, look the other way because of compatible political views?

My point isn’t to argue whether Trump or Clinton is the worse human being or whether Buttigieg or Pence is the better Christian.

It’s just to note that two men could profess to observe the same religion, following the dictates of the same Bible for most of their adult lives, and arrive at such different places. Thank goodness we have a system that allows the country to survive presidential religious idiosyncrasies as well as the moral failures of rogues and scoundrels.

Even if we can disagree on what the Constitution means about the “separation of church and state” since those actual words do not appear there (and we have, numerous volumes worth), we should accept that the Founders purposely kept those two institutions at a respectful distance from each other. The fact that too many people today forget that the purpose was to protect religion from government, not the public from religion, does not negate the wisdom of the decision.

The Constitution does say, directly and plainly, that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office of public trust under the United States.” That doesn’t prevent voters from litigating the issue, as John F. Kennedy learned when he felt compelled to swear he would not be an agent of the Pope. It is easy to predict that both Buttigieg and Pence will face similar public pressure in their political journeys.

We’d be much better off talking about morality.

One of these days, I might compile a list of “the dumbest things” we have ever argued about, and near the top of the list will be the idea that “you can’t legislate morality.” People who used to say that – and a lot of people did, over and over – usually meant, “I don’t want the law telling me what to do.” The law shouldn’t legislate morality in general, in other words. It should legislate my morality.

But the whole point of the law is to strive for the common good. Some actions are beneficial to the community, and some are harmful; it is the law that draws the line between the two and punishes that which is harmful. That is a moral purpose. Some evils are so fundamental that they are always wrong, and sanctions against them can be found in many societies across time and geography. Some of our notions of right and wrong change as our communities evolve.

It really doesn’t matter what a president’s religious convictions are. What matters is what the president understands about the role of the chief executive and whether that understanding translates into action furthering our progress toward being a more moral civilization.

Every president we’ve ever had has fallen short of such a lofty goal to one degree or another, and we have survived. We will survive a President Buttigieg or a President Pence.

If you want to pray that I’m right, go ahead.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at


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