(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.)