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(In the first posting I failed to include a note about my book, Evangelicalism and the Decline of American Politics, that provides an in-depth expansion of how and why partisan evangelicalism distorts the Christian message while corrupting American politics.)

Who would have thought that a 37 year old gay mayor from South Bend, Indiana might save American Christianity?

The story of Mayor Pete Buttigieg is so unexpected that it would make me believe in God if I didn’t already.

I realize all the news at the moment is appropriately focused on the Mueller Report, but it’s Easter weekend and anything that suggests American Christianity just might be saved from the grips of evangelicalism is good news for Christians like me.

Since partisan evangelicalism became a political reality in 1979 when Jerry Falwell, Sr. founded the Moral Majority, the face of American Christianity has been a very ugly one.

Prominent in its ugliness has been a “Christian America” approach to abortion rights, a dehumanizing portrayal of homosexuality, an uncritical support of American foreign policy and its many wars, and a general self-righteousness that must make God wince.

You might think that in the last 40 years evangelicalism would have matured and mellowed. Instead, it has become more militant and morally bankrupt, culminating in its inexplicable support of Donald Trump.

Just when those of us who are Christian are ready to throw in the organized Christianity towel, along comes a man named Mayor Pete, so called probably because his last name is so difficult to pronounce.

Not only is he a graduate of Harvard University, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Navy veteran serving two tours in Iraq, Mayor Pete is a gay Christian.

He doesn’t shy away from talking about either one, being gay or being Christian.

He says it is time for Christians like him to take back Christianity and not allow the evangelical version of it to be its only public face.

How refreshing to hear a prominent politician talk about Christianity as a message of inclusion instead of division…a message of compassion instead of condemnation…a message of justice instead of judgmentalism…a message of joy instead of despair.

His primary foil is Vice-President Pence whose beliefs epitomize the ugly face of evangelical Christianity.

Pence is no match for Mayor Pete when it comes to talking about faith, not because the Mayor is smarter, though he surely is, it’s because the Mayor’s beliefs reflect the life and teachings of Jesus more than Pence’s.

Evangelical Christianity has earned its reputation as judgmental, unkind, self-righteous, un-thoughtful, and anti-intellectual because it is.

The problem is that its reputation has tarnished that of all Christians, which is one reason so many have dropped out of church.

Most Christians still attending church are evangelical, but that doesn’t change the fact that nearly 75% of Christians no longer attend church on any regular basis.

The question that raises is whether or not a largely de-churched Christianity can continue to be vibrant and attractive to people seeking spiritual nurture.

That’s where Mayor Pete’s Christian witness comes into play.

He is a serious politician, having won re-election in South Bend with 80% of the vote after he came out of the closet.

He has skyrocketed in polls and fundraising as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination because people not only see how smart he is, how clear and concise he can be in discussing issues, and how positive he is in the things he says believes our nation can do.

People also see how authentic and genuinely human he is. People see what the citizens of South Bend have seen for several years, that Pete Buttigieg is honest, straight forward, competent, capable, and a man who makes being gay as natural and ordinary as being straight.

And on top of that, and lucky for many of us, he is also openly Christian.

Frankly, I think he is the best thing to happen to American Christianity since the founders established a government that separated church and state.

In fact, he just might save American Christianity from being permanently sidelined by partisan evangelicalism that, as Mayor Pete said, doesn’t have a problem with him, but has a problem with his creator.

Christianity needs some resurrection, some new life, a new face that isn’t as ugly as the one partisan evangelicalism has put on it, Mayor Pete is doing that.

Obviously his basic appeal is political, but I think people are also impressed by his willingness to speak of his faith. The more he does, the better it is for Christianity.

So whatever becomes of his presidential run, without trying or intending to, Mayor Pete just might be saving the future of the kind of Christianity most Christians practice, but which the rest of the country hasn’t seen in public in a long time.

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