When religion and politics combine, at least one group gets left out of democracy. You’re fine with that, you say? What if it’s your group who’s out?
As a former evangelical minister, I have friends on all sides of the aisle on social media. Some are further left than others and some are so far right I can’t see them. They just pop in with an anti-Obama meme once in a while and disappear. I call that behavior “grenade throwing.” Both sides do it. There is no discussion to be had, just a hostile show of force to assert one’s “rightness.”
Many of my friends identify with the Christian faith, those on the far right, as well as those on the far left. Both versions are mutually disgusted with each other’s expression of that faith, wondering how they could possibly call themselves Christians.
Over the last few years there has been a rise in fundamentalist Christian candidates, usually Republicans, who believe God has called them to become president and “take back” the country for Him. There were several in the 2016 election cycle, including Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and of course, Ted Cruz.
According to Pastor Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz’s father, Ted, and his wife Heidi had been praying for six months about whether or not Ted should run for president. Rafael said:
“We were on our knees for two hours seeking God’s will. At the end of that time, a word came through [Ted’s] wife, Heidi. And the word came, just saying, “Seek God’s face, not God’s hand.” And I’ll tell you, it was as if there was a cloud of the Holy Spirit filling that place. Some of us were weeping, and Ted just looked up and said, “Lord, here am I, use me. I surrender to you, whatever you want.” And he felt that was a green light to move forward.”
Ben Carson told the Washington Post the only reason he ran for president is because he felt God called him to do it. Scott Walker said, “I am certain: This is God’s plan for me and I am humbled to be a candidate for President of the United States.”
Mike Huckabee said, “Our country is in real trouble and a lot of it is because we’ve divorced ourselves from common sense. We’ve divorced ourselves from understanding that we cannot survive as a Republic if we do not become, once again, a God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God.” Thus, he went on to explain, that he was the person who needed to run for president, not because he wanted to.
According to a Pew research poll, 70.6% of the United States identifies as Christian, while 90.3% of congress identifies as Christian. Huckabee’s lament of becoming a “God-centered nation” isn’t really what he means. What he means is a God-centered nation according to his beliefs. Herein lies the problem. These GOP candidates state they want to bring the nation back to God, but what they really mean is their version of Christianity, which excludes a majority of believers in the rest of the country, and congress.
According to the same Pew research poll, of the 70.6% of people in the United States who identify as Christian, only 25.4% of those identify as the same kind of evangelical Christianity as the GOP candidates who believe God told them to run for office.
One site, called the USA Church, provides a voting guide for evangelical fundamentalist Christians, and grades the candidates by how well the webmaster, Rev. Steven Andrew, believes the candidates exemplify the purity of their version of Christianity. Mike Huckabee received an A, Ben Carson a B-, and Ted Cruz a C-, but with “concerns.” Marco Rubio was “Biblically unqualified” to be president, as was, not surprisingly, all of the Democratic nominees. And Donald Trump. (Finally, something I agree with.)
There are over 41,000 Christian denominations, according to Pew Research. Views on a variety of social issues, such as gay marriage, are vastly different, though all fall under the label of Christian. Public Religion Research Institute says, 28% of white evangelicals support gay marriage, as do 62% of white mainline Christians and 60% of Catholics. Certainly, the gay Christians I know align more with the left on this and other moral issues, than with those on the right.
And let’s not forget when the Pope made the Christian conservative GOP nervous by calling capitalism the “dung of the devil.” He also called for the abolition of the death penalty, as someone truly prolife, and said it was their responsibility to take in refugees, stating, “We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”
When President Obama, who also identifies as a Christian, ordered schools to provide access to transgender students in keeping with the non-discrimination laws of Title IX, Texas GOP Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said, “This goes against the values of so many people.” Obama’s directive came after the “religious freedom” laws of states like North Carolina’s HB2, which made it illegal for transgender persons to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity.
While members of congress condemn Sharia law of the Muslim faith, which condones stoning people to death for adultery, amputation of limbs for stealing and lashings for the consumption of alcohol, some see no problem with bringing their own version of Christianity into government. The irony is that if Sharia law were enacted, many of these very same members of congress would be on the receiving end of that law’s punishments.
Similar to the battles between Christian sects, the war with ISIS and other Muslim nations is based on believing the Islamic faith in the “right” way. Muslim fundamentalists kill followers who don’t convert and follow the law according to their interpretation. The Muslim political fight is over which sect holds the power. Both sides, Sunnis and Shiites, claim to teach the correct version of Islam as directed by God and believe they should be in power.
Christianity’s sordid history was similar with the Massacre of Verden, the Spanish Inquisition, and even the “convert or die” tactics used against Native Americans. But for those who still believe peaceful Christians are nothing like violent Islamists, let me give a more recent example.
My friend, Suzanne DeWitt Hall, who also identifies as a Christian, recently wrote an article in the Huffington Post called Jesus: The First Transgender Man. She says she felt prompted by the Holy Spirit and assumed the “purpose was simply to provoke thought about the creation process and the complexity of gender.” Some of her conservative reader’s didn’t appreciate the provocation. Her post was picked up by multiple conservative publications and shared with their audiences. Here are just a few of the comments:
“I shared it so we can put together a stoning party”
“maybe some peolpe (sic) can look up where the office is of the huffington post, and we can do a charlie hebdo 2. they had it comming to!!!!!!!!!! REAPE WHAT YOU SOW!”
“I am so appalled, i could wring her neck right now!”
“Are they out of their mind calling Gods messenger/prophet a transgender burn their office!”
And in November of 2015, Ted Cruz’s father called for the death penalty, adding that homosexuals should be given time to repent before executions begin. Donald Trump, to appease some of his evangelical conservative audience, said women who get abortions should receive, “some form of punishment.”
As it stands, congress is not a true reflection of society in regards to religious belief. There are a higher percentage of self-identifying Christians in congress than there are self-identifying constituents. The most outspoken, when it comes to “family values” hold the most extreme views, which is getting more and more out of touch with the values of the people they claim to serve.
A recent study, published in the book Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme, found that 83% of Americans believe it is extreme to “refuse to serve someone because the customer’s lifestyle conflicts with their beliefs.” 60% said it is extreme to try and convert others and 75% now see this religious extremism as a threat to society. A Pew poll found that 22% of people are less likely to vote for an evangelical Christian.
The irony for someone like Ted Cruz is that despite all of his religious talk and self-piety, people don’t generally like him. Cruz may believe he exemplifies Christian values, but his GOP colleague, John Boehner, also a Christian, famously called Cruz, “Lucifer in the flesh,” and then went on to say, “I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” One lady in a focus group described Cruz as a mosquito or a hornet, adding, “You just want to bat it away.”
The problem with any religion is that its interpretation is subjective. As I’ve written, the fundamentalist evangelical Christianity that many of these candidates espouse is a relatively new interpretation, dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Not so ironically, all the people who believe God told them to run for president in this election cycle, have been displaced by Donald trump. Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady, played by Dana Carvey, in a skit even mocked Cruz’s caricature, asking him, “Was it God’s plan for you to get humiliated by an orange mannequin?”
Those who believe that enacting a theocracy is a good idea, only believe so if it’s their version of the theocracy. Most people still want a president who believes in God, though that number has dropped from 63% of the population in 2007 to 51% in 2016. Ben Carson famously denounced having a Muslim president because he believes Muslim values aren’t consistent with American values. He also believes a Muslim president goes against the constitution, though the constitution strictly prohibits any religious test.
The job of the president isn’t to be a pastor and decide who’s in and who’s out of God’s grace. Nor is it the president’s job to interpret the constitution in light of the Bible, or any other religious book. The president is there to uphold the constitution and ensure everyone is entitled to the same unalienable rights granted by their creator – whoever or whatever that may be. That’s the part the rest of us get to decide without interference by the government.
Photo – Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian