Cruz, Rubio and God

Steve Chapman
|
Posted: Feb 04, 2016 12:01 AM
Cruz, Rubio and God

If you attend a Republican presidential event on the campaign trail, you may come to wonder if you made a wrong turn and ended up in church. If you are not a believer -- an evangelical Christian believer, that is -- you may feel ever so slightly unwelcome.

The deity-centric approach is working for Ted Cruz, who began his victory speech in Des Moines Monday by pointing heavenward, pursing his lips and uttering an especially unctuous line: "To God be the glory."

Among all the glorious wonders that his Creator has wrought, delivering slightly more than a quarter of the vote in an Iowa caucus has to fall pretty far down the list. You would think the Almighty would be powerful enough to produce a comfortable majority, or even a unanimous vote.

Cruz finished first on the strength of his appeal to evangelicals, who made up two-thirds of all caucus-goers. His success was not entirely the work of the Big Guy Upstairs. During the campaign, Cruz has done everything but run ads identifying him as "The Official Candidate of the Son of God."

He launched his campaign at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, where he celebrated "the transformative love of Jesus Christ." During the campaign, he has missed no chance to quote the Bible and hoist the cross.

Ben Carson said he would not accept a Muslim as president, but Cruz goes even further. "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation," he thundered. That rules out atheists, agnostics, non-Christians and any faithful churchgoer who feels perfectly capable of praying while seated.

At one event, the Texas senator urged his audience to pray every day as follows: "Father God, please, continue this awakening. ... Awaken the body of Christ, that we might pull back from the abyss."

With his trademark gift for hilarity, he said the job of a military chaplain "is to be insensitive to atheists." If this political gig doesn't work out, he'll do fine as a televangelist.

Though Cruz is the most overbearing candidate in his religiosity, his general theme is not unusual. Marco Rubio explained why his faith will play a large role in how he will govern: "Because in the end, my goal is not simply to live on this Earth for 80 years but to live an eternity with my creator."

He put out a video of a town hall encounter he had with a man identifying himself as an atheist. The senator insisted he would respect the guy's right to disbelieve -- while somehow managing to make it sound as though he posed a threat to Rubio's religious freedom. The ad could have been titled: "St. Mario vanquishes the infidel."

Mike Huckabee is a former Southern Baptist minister whose announcement speech last summer recalled the good old days when students were taught the Lord's Prayer -- in public school. He also insisted that its liberal enemies are on the verge of "criminalizing Christianity."

The contenders often frame their sectarian appeals as promises to protect religious liberty. But when they talk about threats to religious liberty, they aren't thinking about municipalities blocking the construction of mosques or a Jewish student being forced to listen to Christian prayers at public school events. Christian religious liberty, expansively defined, is their sole concern.

About the only consolation for non-Christians in this campaign- a very small one -- is the popularity of Donald Trump, despite his impious lifestyle and obvious indifference to religion. But even Trump made the obligatory pilgrimage to Liberty University and touted his endorsement by President Jerry Falwell Jr.

The problem is not that politicians invoke faith to bond with audiences, attest to their good character and explain their motivations in public life. Even Hillary Clinton has been known to do that. So has Barack Obama. But they don't use it as a club against those whose beliefs are different.

Republicans often convey the impression that God is their exclusive property and that everyone else doesn't belong. But treating Christianity as a de facto requirement for office amounts to making nonbelievers second-class citizens. It suggests that Christian candidates owe nonbelievers no logical rationale for the policies they champion.

The Constitution, which Cruz and his rivals claim to revere, forbids any religious test for office and makes no claim to fulfill the word of God. Somebody ought to take the hint.