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Who is really a Christian? Will that question be a part of 2020 presidential race?

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg answers questions from employees during a campaign stop at a dairy company in Londonderry, N.H., on Friday.
Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg answers questions from employees during a campaign stop at a dairy company in Londonderry, N.H., on Friday. AP

After the last presidential election came to its merciful conclusion, I remember thinking that we had all witnessed a spectacle that could never be equaled. I figured that all the Democrats would need to do to score an easy win next time around would be to nominate a mentally stable and marginally likable individual whose political persuasions were not too extreme.

Yes, they could have gone that route, but what fun would that be? What the 2016 campaign should have taught me is that what we want most from our presidential elections is to be entertained. And the Democrats are doing their best to oblige by trotting out a wide assortment of candidates for 2020 whose personalities, ideologies and agendas are all over the map.

So far there are 18 officially announced candidates in the race to be the Democratic standard-bearer, and it’s likely that a few more will throw their hats in the ring over the next few months. They have each taken turns grabbing a piece of the spotlight as they’ve announced their entry into the race, and currently a man by the name of Pete Buttigieg is enjoying a fair amount of media attention.

Mr. Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and that seems to be the extent of his political resume. That might lead you to wonder why he is being talked about at all. It might have something to do with the fact that he is a gay man who is not shy about discussing his Christian faith.

Having a gay man talk openly about his religious beliefs has thrown a bit of a curve ball to Republicans, who are used having a virtual monopoly on the subject. Buttigieg took the fight directly to them when he took Vice President Mike Pence to task for his views and policy positions that he perceives as being hostile to LGBTQ Americans.

Pence has labeled the criticism as an attack on his faith, but Buttigieg maintains that he is criticizing Pence’s policies and not his personal beliefs. When asked directly whether or not he believes that Buttigieg’s faith is genuine Pence has offered diplomatic answers about respecting everyone’s right to their own beliefs.

Conservative media bomb-throwers have shown less restraint towards Buttigieg, of course, and they’ve been quick to label his faith as counterfeit. Telegraph contributor Erik Erkison (who has taken me to task on this page in the past over my theological views) openly challenged the validity of Buttigieg’s Christianity on Twitter.

Erik stated that if Buttigieg thinks that evangelicals should support him over Trump that he “does not understand the roots of Christianity.” He also said that since Buttigieg is an Episcopalian that he “might not understand Christianity more than superficially.”

Erik’s swipe at the Episcopalians took me back to my experiences as a teenager growing up in the Southern Baptist church. I specifically remember many of the adults in the church openly questioning the validity of pretty much any denomination that diverged from what they considered to be to be orthodox beliefs and worship practices.

If a church didn’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible or failed to stress the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus, they were judged to be not truly Christian and were spreading a false doctrine. Catholics, other mainline Protestant denominations, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses were on the long list of churches who failed to measure up to this standard.

That same spirit of questioning who is a real, true Christian is very much alive today and animates the debate within many churches over whether or not the faith of people involved in homosexual relationships can be valid. And now, thanks to Buttigieg’s candidacy, it’s a question that might be a factor in the upcoming presidential election.

If he wins the nomination it will be interesting to see if the Republicans want to challenge the validity of his faith, especially given the fact that (professed Christian) Donald Trump has a well-documented history of adulterous behavior which he has stated he never felt any need to seek God’s forgiveness for.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.