2020 Election: How Would Jesus Vote? Mayor Pete Buttigieg says Christian faith leads in a "progressive" political direction. Conservatives disagree. The debate reshapes old questions about the relation between religion and politics.
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How Would Jesus Vote?

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How Would Jesus Vote?

How Would Jesus Vote?

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Your religious faith - it's personal. But how should your faith guide your voting? That's a question once again popping up in politics, specifically the presidential election. Mayor Pete Buttigieg provoked some conservatives recently when he suggested Christian beliefs lead in a, quote, "progressive direction." People on the religious right have argued the opposite. NPR's Tom Gjelten says some faith leaders are troubled by the debate.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: When former governor Mike Huckabee was running for president in 2008, he said the Constitution should be changed to make it line up with, quote, "God's standards." Over the years, many Republicans have associated the Christian faith with conservative causes. Here is Senator Ted Cruz from an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2015, when he was running.

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TED CRUZ: If Christians will simply show up and vote our values, we'll turn this country around.

GJELTEN: What's new this year is that a Democratic candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is making basically the same argument - that by voting your values, you can turn the country around. It's just the values that are different. In an interview last week with the NowThis website, Buttigieg said protecting the poor and welcoming immigrants is a Christian obligation.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG: It has a very clear set of moral and policy implications, none of which are things I would associate with the right wing. Christianity, to me, is about humility. It's about love. And if we want to put those values into political practice, at least by my lights, they lead us in a very progressive direction.

GJELTEN: Christianity has been linked before to liberal politics. It's done every week, for example, at Riverside Church in New York City, famous for its promotion of progressive causes. Pastor Amy Butler says her Easter Sunday sermon tied the message of Christ's resurrection to what people encounter each day via the news.

AMY BUTLER: Just the constant barrage of indignities coming from the White House. And I don't think you can talk about resurrection and second chances and new life without addressing some of those things.

GJELTEN: This year, that view is likely to be echoed by Democratic candidates if the Pete Buttigieg faith-and-politics message gets picked up by others, as if to answer the religious right. Peter Wehner wrote some of President George W. Bush's best-known speeches. He's also a devout Christian. But he says he has never advocated tying the Christian faith too closely to a political agenda.

PETER WEHNER: Christianity, as a faith, stands in judgment of all political ideologies and all political parties. So to try and say that the Christian faith will lead you to only a set of liberal or conservative policies or only to the Republican or Democratic Party, I think, is wrong.

GJELTEN: That approach, Wehner says, reduces the Bible to a governing blueprint. In times of uncertainty about how to act in the modern world, Christians sometimes ask, what would Jesus do? Pastor Duke Kwon, who ministers at Grace Meridian Hill Church in downtown Washington, says it's a good question, given that Jesus was, in his words, the truest example of love and justice.

DUKE KWON: That question can be problematic at times, though, because we don't always know exactly what Jesus would have done in X, Y, Z case study or circumstance. And so we end up speculating.

GJELTEN: Of all people, Kwon says, Christians ought to show humility in their public discourse.

KWON: Humility, respect, patience, self-control - virtues that are informed by the Gospel of Christ and, all too often, the opposite of what you hear from Christians when speaking out on policy issues.

GJELTEN: Many Christian leaders would say it's good that candidates are discussing their faith publicly. Their disagreements over what their faith means may even enrich the political debate. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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