Ted Cruz’s evangelical problem (COMMENTARY)

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Republican presidential candidate, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) attends a Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee hearing on "Revisiting IRS Targeting: Progress of Agency Reforms and Congressional Options" on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CRUZ-FAITH, originally transmitted on August 5, 2015.

Republican presidential candidate, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) attends a Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee hearing on "Revisiting IRS Targeting: Progress of Agency Reforms and Congressional Options" on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Yuri Gripas *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CRUZ-FAITH, originally transmitted on August 5, 2015.

(RNS) By rights, Ted Cruz should be locking up the evangelical vote in Iowa.

Donald Trump is a mainline Protestant who barely goes to church. Ben Carson’s 15 minutes of fame is over. Marco Rubio’s faith journey has taken him from Catholicism to Mormonism to evangelicalism and back to Catholicism.

By contrast, Cruz is the real deal, on paper anyway. He’s a Southern Baptist born and bred, a preacher’s kid. He announced his candidacy at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, and has made the rounds from pastor to evangelical pastor. No one has a better record in Congress on the social issues.

And yet, in recent polls, Trump all but matches Cruz for evangelical support in the Hawkeye State. Then on Tuesday (Jan. 26), Jerry Falwell Jr., the current Liberty president, endorsed Trump. What gives?

Cruz has enemies. A radio spot from a super-PAC called Americans United for Values might as well be titled “Ted Cruz, Hypocrite.” In it, two women complain that Cruz won’t make gay marriage a priority, contributes less than 1 percent of his income to “charity or church” despite being a millionaire, has a wife who works for Goldman Sachs and took a secret loan from the same Wall Street bank.

Talk about New York values!

But an ad like this begs the question. There’s got to be something more that’s made a lot of evangelicals wary of throwing their support to Cruz, and I think I know what it is.

In the recent Republican presidential debate, Cruz gave his testimony, and (as he notes) he gives it all the time. But the conversion story he tells is his father’s, not his own.

Evangelicals hate hypocrites as much as the next Judeo-Christian, but what they really want to experience is a fellow sinner explaining how Jesus turned his life around. Instead, Cruz gives them: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, / That saved a wretch like Dad.”

(Mark Silk is professor of religion in public life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a contributing editor for RNS.)

  • “but what they really want to experience is a fellow sinner explaining how Jesus turned his life around.”

    The whole business of religion is about affirming a dishonest bias.

  • Re: “Evangelicals hate hypocrites as much as the next Judeo-Christian, but what they really want to experience is a fellow sinner explaining how Jesus turned his life around.”

    I don’t think evangelicals “hate hypocrites.” They’re as likely as any other kind of Christian to be hypocritical. And despite their Jesus’ own explicit injunctions against hypocrisy, historically, Christians have raised hypocrisy to an artform.

    Don’t believe me? Just look at any example of them engaging in public expressions of piety … something else their Jesus expressly forbid. They love their national days of prayer, where they get together in front of the mass media to pray, and they also love Decalogue monuments, which they put up all over the place, especially on government property, to show off their righteousness. Those are acts of hypocrisy … but they never will admit it.

  • The real shame here is that the reasons cited here for why evangelicals are turning away from Cruz are not because of his positions on the issues. His force first mentality on foreign policy issues, his blanket support for Israel that seems to attribute all sins to the Palestinians and none to Israel, his removing the right to bear arms from the context of the militia which was part of the 2nd amendment, his opposition to the religious liberties of those whose religion allow for same sex marriage, and his reigning in of Washington which was also done before the financial collapse of 2008 and fits the desires of those who work on Wall Street are not positions that evangelicals shoud hold.

    In addition, there is the natural born question. While he cites McCain’s birthplace, he neglects to mention that McCain was born on a US military base which made McCain a natural born citizen. Cruz was not born in an area ruled by the US.

  • Nancy

    Good point Mr. Silk!

  • George the Truth

    I find it odd that the allegedly heterosexual Mr. Cruz is having a “crisis” over … OTHER people getting married.

    More than passing strange, that!

  • George the Truth

    Re: “Evangelicals hate hypocrites as much as the next Judeo-Christian”

    I can only WISH that were a true statement. But, from OBSERVATION, quite the opposite is true, Mr. Silk.

  • George the Truth

    Re: “He’s a Southern Baptist born and bred”

    In reality, he is a CANADIAN-born Baptist.

    Just sayin’.

    Re: ” No one has a better record in Congress on the social issues.”

    In reality, no one has a WORSE record, since ALL of his votes are to infringe on SOME citizens’ rights and freedoms. I understand that this goal is shared between you (Mr. Silk) and him, but it’s quite un-Constitutional.

    Re: “Trump all but matches Cruz for evangelical support”

    That just shows how very, VERY gullible so many evangelicals are. More’s the pity.

  • Jack

    Mark, that’s an interesting thought, but my hunch is that evangelicals themselves don’t know exactly what it is that prevents their full-throated support for Cruz.

    I think it’s that he doesn’t communicate on the kind of heart-to-heart level that many evangelicals naturally expect when it comes to politics as well as religion. He is not at all a touchy-feely type.

    Also, he is so “on-message,” he loses authenticity.

    He’s also more edgy and crafty than most heartland evangelicals.

    Finally, while evangelicals can be quite intellectual when it comes to defending the Gospel, many are anti-intellectual in general. This goes back nearly a century, to when evangelicalism became insular and separatist, eschewing both culture and politics.

    Cruz is an interesting character, with one foot in the Ivy League and the other in the evangelical heartland. While Ivy League and evangelicalism once went together, that has been far less true for the past century.

  • I agree, Jack. It’s telling that he has criticized climate change activism as being religion not science. Can you imagine an evangelical pastor saying that?

  • Jack

    Well, Mark, among the more culturally and politically engaged evangelical pastors to the right of center, yes, I actually have heard that. Obviously, if taken the wrong way, it can be seen as an implicit criticism of religion as unthinking and blind, but such pastors often are intellectually engaged, as are many of their congregants.

    The problem with climate change denial is the same as its opposite, namely the doomsday prophets who, like end–times pastors, are good at scaring people with warnings of coming destruction. The truth is probably in the middle. But from a risk management perspective, if we had to choose one or the other extreme, we’re better off choosing the denial extreme….because the human costs of moving seriously against the risk of a climate calamity are both certain and prohibitive. As with other examples of environmental hysteria, the people who bear the brunt of radical mitigation strategies are often the world’s poorest.

  • Thomas mc

    Don’t confuse Christianity with Evilgelicalism, the Satanic religion of self-righteous bigotry and hate. The religion of the Antichrist.

  • RE “He is a Southern Baptist born and bred”
    RE “In reality he is a Canadian born Baptist.”

    Well, at least is was Southern Canada.

  • @Thomas,

    “Evilgelicalism”

    Apparently it is perfectly fine for you to insult religion all you want.
    But because you are religious, you get a pass.

    Whenever I try to point out how religion gets a free pass. , I get censored.
    Religion hates freedom of speech.

  • Jordan

    Silk – Americans United for Values is nothing but an arm of Americans United. Remind your readers what Americans United stands for, and its antithetical views toward the Bible, and how they LIE about it and those who believe in it. Go to the link YOU wrote about and all you see there is money spent on nothing but attack ads; and they don’t do much outside attacking Christians. Where do they source that Ted Cruz only gives less than 1 percent of his income to “charity or church”? Your story here on Cruz is dubious at best because of this discredited source.

  • Katherine

    Think the problem with Cruz is that he hides so much; via legal maneuvers blocks all Freedom of Info Acts re his citizenship problem; via legal maneuvers takes down/out of public view the documents that prove he has accepted big donors monies and lied and told publicly he “loaned” himself the monies. When that too – doesn’t add up. (He added $400k to his personal wealth at time he was liquidating); and his FEC filings are only to hide [the] loans. He states on his 10/2015 FEC (which did become public) filing that the “loans” he purports to have made himself were paid off via “a contribution” to his campaign. Though he hid this on a “Cruz For Senate 2018” filing, which really doesn’t exists – except he made it up to exactly hide over a miliion dollars received from the same big donors (G Sachs and Citicorp) that have made life impossible for average Americans.

    It’s the “Ted lies” (records prove) that is bothersome; and that is not a good Christian, Evangelical or…

  • Rodney Griffin

    Very good reads. Thanks for the insight into Ted Cruz. And yes it was Canadian born Baptist.