It’s hardly news that a lot of conservative Evangelical leaders sneer contemptuously at anyone practicing any other form of Christianity as inauthentically Christian. But they are usually a bit circumspect about presuming to judge the faith of other believers in a public way.
Not the famously voluble and extremely self-confident conservative commentator Erick Erickson. I once dubbed him Pope Erick for his presumption in denying that any true Christian could possibly fail to understand that homosexuality is condemned for all eternity. So it’s no surprise that Erickson is now taking up the cudgel against Pete Buttigieg for being outspokenly gay and Christian. Behold this arrogance:
Thus Erickson dismisses a Christian tradition dating back to the 16th century, and in its apostolic succession and creeds, much longer than that. But it’s part and parcel of an extended temper tantrum that Erickson and his colleagues at the Resurgent have been pitching over the ignominy of Buttigieg calling himself Christian. Here’s a sample from Erickson himself:
Buttigieg wants to reject the inconvenient parts of faith he does not like. He is a gay man who got married; he does not think homosexuality is a sin despite express statements in scripture, and he thinks abortion is a moral issue and we cannot legislate our morality. Buttigieg wants to use the social obligations as Christians against the President, but wants to avoid any implication on the personal obligations of Christians in terms of clear Biblical sexual ethics and how we are to live our lives applying our faith even for “the least of these.”
To be clear here, Erickson is not simply asserting that he believes Buttigieg’s interpretation of Christianity is in error (though as the tragedy of church history illustrates, this kind of sectarian disputation often involves un-Christian attitudes), but is judging Buttigieg’s faith (hence the headline “Pete Buttigieg Shows Why Progressive Christianity Is a Hypocritical Farce”) as inauthentic on grounds that it makes no sense from the perspective of his own sectarian biblical-literalist viewpoint. Erkickson believes it’s clear that Christianity is incompatible with homosexuality and legalized abortion. Millions of people who go to Christian churches regularly and pray and try to follow Christ don’t agree. Yet he dares demean their faith as a “farce.”
I occasionally succumb to the temptation to turn these accusations around 180 degrees:
Whatever else you want to say about the Christian Right, many of its leaders are definitely very secular. Their idea of a “Christian Culture” appears based less on the Bible than on the way things used to be in the United States of America the day before yesterday, before uppity minorities and women and unions and “losers” spoiled the capitalist patriarchal paradise God set up as the model of human behavior via the Founders. Pouring holy water over this very worldly vision or fishing around in the Bible for sanctions for it doesn’t make it any less secular. So please, Pope Erick, leave Jesus Christ out of this and just admit you think it’d be a more pleasant world without gay people.
But while my suspicions about the worldliness of the Christian right generally may be accurate, I recant any efforts to deny the authenticity of any individual’s faith. I used to have some rural relatives who refused to acknowledge daylight savings time because standard time was “God’s time.” That’s precisely the kind of confusion between religion and secular traditionalism that I think many conservative Evangelicals tend to nourish. But I don’t doubt my country cousins’ deeply felt desire to do God’s will. So I won’t try to peer into Erick Erickson’s soul and judge his faith. It’s very unlikely he’d ever reciprocate that token of respect and humility. That’s just a cross that progressive Christians must bear.