As Democrats continue campaigning for the 2020 presidential primary season, some candidates appear to be highlighting issues of faith as they seek to appeal to a wider swath of voters.
During an appearance on “Morning Joe” on March 20, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., responded to a question about his religious views by talking about his own faith and what he sees as a distortion of Christianity among U.S. conservatives.
“I think the time has come for more of a religious left to emerge in our country that lets people know that they are not alone when they look at faith and think that it teaches us to reach out to others, to humble ourselves, to take care of the immigrant and the prisoner and frankly, the sex worker,” said Mr. Buttigieg, who at 37 is among the first of the so-called Millennial generation to take steps toward a presidential run.
“Literally, Jesus spends his time with sex workers, among others. Lepers,” continued Mr. Buttigieg, who though not Catholic, told The New Yorker that he used an “Ignatian” process of discernment when considering a presidential run. “And here we have this totally warped idea of what Christianity ought to be like when it comes into the public sphere that’s mostly about exclusion, which is the last thing that I imbibe when I take in scripture in church.”
Mr. Buttigieg attended a Catholic high school in South Bend and both his parents were professors at the University of Notre Dame. When asked if he experienced tension with Christian teaching because he is gay, he said he and his husband celebrated their wedding at their Episcopal church and feel welcome, though he added, “Certainly going to Catholic school you experience those tensions.”
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., responded to a question about his religious views by talking about his own faith and what he sees as a distortion of Christianity among U.S. conservatives.
During a CNN town hall appearance on Mar. 19, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren recalled her time teaching religious education to children at her Methodist church and reflected on the passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers that how they respond to the poor and those in need is what will determine their fate in the afterlife.
“What I hear in that is two things that guide me every day,” said Ms. Warren, riffing on a story found in Matthew 25, which she accidentally referred to as Matthew 26. “The first is there is God, there is value in every single human being. Every single human being. And the second is that we are called to action.
“It says, ‘You saw something wrong; you saw somebody who was thirsty; you saw somebody who was in prison,’” she continued. “You saw their face. You saw somebody who was hungry, and it moved you to act. I believe we are called on to act.”
Sister Simone Campbell, a social justice activist with the lobbying group Network, told America that when she counsels Democrats on how to speak to their religious values, she sometimes hears that they feel too vulnerable and prefer to stick to talk of policy.
During a CNN town hall appearance on Mar. 19, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren recalled her time teaching religious education to children at her Methodist church and reflected on the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.
“They’re way more engaging when they speak from the heart than when they talk about academic policies,” said Sister Campbell, who spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. “I love policy, but it never convinces anybody.
“It’s when I speak from the heart that people can change,” she added.
Other candidates have also drawn inspiration from faith communities.
In an interview with Religion News Service in October, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker talked about being raised “very much in the black church tradition” and how the values he learned then animate his life today.
“The life of Jesus is very impactful to me and very important to me. He lived a life committed to dealing with issues of the poor and the sick. The folks that other folks disregard, disrespect or often oppress. He lived this life of radical love that is a standard that I fail to reach every single day but that really motivates me in what I do,” Mr. Booker said.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, so frequently invoked Pope Francis on the campaign trail in 2016 that he inspired an online quiz challenging people to distinguish between his words and the pope’s. Mr. Sanders, who announced he is running for president again, even visited the Vatican for a conference about climate change during the grueling 2016 campaign season.
Of course, not all candidates are embracing faith as they make their pitch to voters.
Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart noted that neither former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke nor New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand mentioned “God” in their campaign’s opening messages. (Then again, neither did Ms. Warren nor Mr. Sanders.)
“Today’s white liberals don’t only talk about faith less than their predecessors did. They talk about it in a strikingly different way,” Mr. Beinart wrote, pointing to passages where religion is held by some politicians as a force that divides rather than unites.
The number of Democrats who identify as religious is shrinking, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. According to a 2017 report, 40 percent of Democrats claim no religious affiliation.
Americans as a whole are also becoming less tied to traditional religion.
According to recently released research, the percentage of Americans who claim no religion is now more than 23 percent. That means the two biggest “religious” groups in the United States are Catholics and those with no religion.
But for Sister Campbell, urging those in political life to speak about faith is about more than trying to win votes. Instead, she said, it provides them with the language to express values they hold dear.
“I hope that faith anchors us in what really matters—and not just in the 24-hour news cycle but in the needs of our whole nation and our call to care for everyone, for the 100 percent,” she said.