Pete Buttigieg's rise exposes a deepening rift in the Christian right

Pete Buttigieg is having a moment in the national spotlight. Buttigieg, as most of America now knows, is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination. He’s also gay, married to a man, and a regular churchgoer. And his meteoric rise has brought the debate over faith and sexual ethics clearly into focus.

This debate over same-sex relationships has been tearing apart American churches for years. Sometimes it presents itself as a dividing line between denominations. For example, Episcopalians, of which Buttigieg counts himself, have largely embraced gay rights. Evangelicals mostly have not. Last month, conservative commentator Erick Erickson said that “if Buttigieg thinks evangelicals should be supporting him instead of Trump, he fundamentally does not understand the roots of Christianity. But then he is an Episcopalian, so he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”

The debate is also alive and well within denominations themselves. For example, the United Methodist Church — the largest in U.S. mainline Protestantism — recently strengthened its prohibitions of same-sex wedding ceremonies and gay clergy, even while many similar churches have been liberalizing their teachings on homosexuality. Ministers within the Methodist Church are to be celibate while single, and monogamous within marriage.