A recent confrontation between a pair of protesting Christians and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has put on clear display the disconnect between the church and the secular society in which it exists, perhaps offering a lesson about the best (and worst) ways to engage with our unbelieving friends.
The incident in Fort Dodge, Iowa, when two protesters shouted “Sodom and Gomorrah” toward Buttigieg, who is openly gay and identifies as Christian, prompted a bit of a rebuke from MSNBC analyst Zerlina Maxwell, who took umbrage with the demonstrators’ brash opposition to the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s sexual orientation (he married his husband Chasten in 2018).
“Sodom and Gomorrah” is, of course, a reference to the account in Genesis 18, when God destroyed the two cities over residents’ “grievous” sins. Traditional understandings of Scripture have linked the cities to homosexuality.
Maxwell blasted Christians who outwardly oppose progressive ideology on issues like same-sex marriage, noting she has authority to speak on the matter because she “was raised by two pastors.”
Frequently hearing arguments against homosexuality, Maxwell said, “I would always push back and say, ‘Listen, if Jesus is so great, why aren’t you nicer? Why aren’t you kinder? Why aren’t you more fair and kind to your neighbor and to your fellow human beings?’ Jesus needs new PR. I mean, I always had that line when I was growing up.”
My immediate reaction to seeing the two protestors at Buttigieg’s rally was heartbreak, because that’s not how we should engage with one another. By shouting at the mayor, the demonstrators immediately turned him into the enemy — and that’s not how we should see one another. Shouting is the fastest way to slam the door in the face of a person in search of healing.
Maxwell is right insomuch Christians should be kinder in our confrontations with a world that doesn’t always reflect the Bible’s teachings. That’s not to say we should sacrifice our principles — we shouldn’t — but we should approach our unbelieving brothers and sisters with humility, understanding they aren’t just walking ideological targets; they are human beings with complex feelings and experiences, searching — whether they know it or not — for significance and salvation.
The MSNBC commentator went on to say, “Honestly, I think what Mayor Pete is doing is he’s demonstrating how to actually be a Christian, to embrace people, to be more compassionate. And I think that’s an example that crosses partisan boundaries, actually.”
I agree with Maxwell in part: the two protesters certainly demonstrated how not to be Christians. But her praise of Buttigieg’s cherry-picked theology — something we’re all, to varying degrees, inclined to embrace — as “more compassionate” is ultimately missing the full picture of the Gospel.
The sacred and the secular will always be in competition with one another, and in that friction, we should still be able to tolerate our differences and live compassionately with one another.
Unlike the two demonstrators at Buttigieg’s Iowa rally, we should stand firm on our convictions, but first listen to our disagreeing neighbors so we can better communicate our faith in a way they will hear. Because I can assure you, shouting your perspective — even if it’s rooted in Scripture — will return void.
Jesus is “so great.” We just sometimes need to be better at reflecting that.