A couple of weeks ago a friend called my attention to a Facebook post criticizing my Washington Post article about Ted Cruz’s dominionism. It was written by Robert Gagnon, a New Testament professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and, from what I have been able to glean from his Facebook page, an ardent Cruz supporter. (I could be wrong about his support of Cruz. I am happy to be corrected).
I have never heard of Gagnon before, but when I looked at his Facebook page I noticed that he is very popular among Christian conservatives for his defense of traditional marriage. Some of my friends and colleagues (in real life) are friends with him on Facebook. Since I respect many of the folks who follow him on Facebook, I concluded that I needed to take his criticisms seriously.
Then today I learned that Gagnon and his colleague Edith Humphrey had taken to Christianity Today to respond to my recent piece, “The Theology of Ted Cruz.” Their essay is entitled “Stop Calling Ted Cruz a Dominionist.” In the essay that compare me to Joseph McCarthy and say that my take on Cruz is “farcical.”
Here is a response to their piece. Sorry for the bullet points, but I am at a conference this weekend, making it hard to craft something more formal. It looks like Christianity Today is going to give Gagnon and Humphrey the last word on this issue. I understand why this is the case. But if they would allow me to respond I will be happy to write something more formal. Here goes:
- I share Gagnon’s and Humphey’s (and Robert George–although it’s not clear if the article actually quotes George since there are no quotation marks) concerns about the overuse of the word “dominionism.” I actually wrote about that here.
- I agree with Gagnon and Humphrey on the point that Ted Cruz is a strict constitutionalist. (Who wouldn’t?)
- When Robert George says (again, is this him or Gagnon and Humphrey?) that Cruz is “not a dominionist; he’s a constitutionalist” I got a bit confused. I would argue that it is possible to be both. For example, Glenn Beck, a Cruz supporter who has introduced the Texas Senator at rallies , believes that the Constitution is inspired by God, that Ted Cruz is anointed by God to be President, that God took the life of Antonin Scalia as part of His plan to make Cruz president, and that Cruz will restore the United States to a Christian nation. Is this a case of guilty by association? Probably. But when Beck and Cruz appear on the same stage it raises legitimate questions. Does Cruz also believe all of these things? Is Cruz willing to denounce or separate himself from Beck’s constitutionalist dominionism even it means possibly losing the support of Beck’s large following? I seem to remember John McCain denouncing Rev. John Hagee in 2008. I also remember Barack Obama denouncing Jeremiah Wright in the same year. Both of these candidates were accused of being “guilty by association” with religious leaders. Both eventually cut ties.
- Is religious liberty an issue for Christians right now? Absolutely. I am bothered, for example, by last year’s case at Gordon College. Faith-based institutions that hold traditional views on marriage based on deeply held religious convictions should be not be punished for those beliefs. The same goes for the various issues related to contraception, Obamacare, and the Little Sisters of the Poor. This is why I argued in my Christianity Today piece for something akin to a “principled pluralism.” In order for this kind of pluralism to work we need to figure out some way to live together amid our deepest differences. But, as I also I argued in the CT article, Cruz seldom talks about specific cases where non-Christian groups are facing discrimination. Yes, he opposed Ben Carson’s view that a Muslim could not be President, but at the same time he proposed religious profiling in Muslim communities. One could make a pretty strong argument that Muslims are facing just as many threats to their religious liberty as Christians. It would seem that someone as deeply committed to the First Amendment as Cruz would also be talking about these threats.
- In his interview with Megyn Kelly before the Wisconsin primary (picking up at the 17:40 mark of the linked video), Kelly asked Cruz what he would say to an atheist who felt uncomfortable with other students praying to God at a school function. Cruz said that an atheist in this situation has the “right not to participate” in the prayer, but “does not have the right to silence everyone else.” It appears that Cruz is suggesting that religious liberty issues should be decided by an appeal to democracy, or the idea that the majority of the people at a school function have the privilege of exercising their religious beliefs regardless of whether or not that exercise violates the conscience of another student. This approach seems to run roughshod over minority rights. (James Madison had a thing or two to say about this). I wonder what Cruz would say if the majority of students in the classroom decided to pray to Allah and a Christian student in the class was offended by this. Would Cruz say that the complaint of the Christian student was the equivalent of a “heckler’s veto?” I am guessing that Cruz would be screaming bloody murder because this Christian’s religious liberties were violated. Perhaps I am wrong about this. Whatever the case, I would like to hear Cruz address such a scenario.
- When Megyn Kelly asked Cruz if his faith informed or inspired his policy, Ctuz dodged the question. When Kelly asked Cruz general questions about his faith, he stated openly that he is a Christian. He also said that he is not “running for pastor-in-chief.” In the interview with Kelly he said that as President of the United States it is not his job to preach, evangelize or tell people that they are going to hell. This, in a nutshell, is Cruz’s understanding of the separation of church and state. Ministers have jobs to do. Presidents have jobs to do. And those jobs are different. No argument here. In fact, I think John Winthrop, the first governor of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay colony and the great defender of his settlement as a “city on a hill,” would have said the same thing. Winthrop was not a clergyman, he was a political leader. His job was to govern. It was the job of the ministers in the colony to preach. But anyone familiar with the story of 17th-century Massachusetts Bay knows that Winthrop and the clergy worked together–the religious arm and the civil arm, so to speak–in building a civilization that privileged the Puritan’s particular brand of Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that if Cruz becomes President he will start punishing non-Christians. What I am saying is that the claim that he is not going to be a”pastor-in-chief” is different from the practice of employing his religious beliefs to shape public policy, especially if he is working with the model made popular by the Christian Right in the 1980s.
- I should also add that I have no problem with a faith-informed presidency. I think that Barack Obama Christian’s faith played a role in his presidency. Back in 2008, at the Compassion Forum at Messiah College, I listened to Obama lay out, in very specific ways, how his faith would inform his time in office. Now I want Cruz to do the same and stop hiding behind this “I am not a pastor-in-chief” line.
- Gagnon and Humphrey suggest that Cruz’s support of Israel is based entirely on “analytical and strategic grounds.” Perhaps. But Cruz’s close ties to Larry Huch, a so-called “Hebrew Christian” who pastors a large megachurch in Texas, makes me wonder if there is a theological basis for his strong commitment to Israel and his desire to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which he is always quick to describe as the “once and eternal capital of Israel.” See my post on this here.
- Cruz needs to answer for his connections to David Barton. Over the last couple of weeks Barton has been talking openly about Seven Mountains Dominionism. He is opening schools at Bible colleges around the country to teach this view. Let’s not forget that Barton runs a Cruz super-PAC. This means that Barton, an outspoken dominionist, is raising a lot of money to get Cruz in the White House. Guilty by association? Perhaps. Only Ted Cruz can set the record straight. Let’s remember that this guy is running for President of the United States. I think he needs to come clean on his connections to people like Barton and Beck.
- And what about Rafael Cruz? His sermons and public statements sound a lot like dominionism to me. He believes in the “end times transfer of wealth.” He believes that his son is anointed to be President. Let’s just say he is controversial. Ted says that his father has been a great influence in his life. Here is what Gagnon and Humphries write about Rafael: “One might not be comfortable with the style of worship or preaching, or agree with the biblical interpretation, the prosperity gospel, or eschatological scenarios. What is preached, however, amounts to an encouragement to his congregation to determine their gifts (administrative or spiritual), to be active and pleasant in their work places, and to influence society for good.” This is their way of dismissing some of these out-of-the-mainstream beliefs. I guess the readers of our respective CT articles can decide.
- And what about carpet-bombing and Cruz’s failure to uphold a consistent ethic of life? Again, you can be the judge. Cruz is fond of talking about killing terrorists and “carpet-bombing.” Other times he says he will protect women and children. As someone who believes in the dignity of all human creation, this does not sit well with me..
- I am also bothered by Cruz’s Christian nationalism. He believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must be “restored.” I still want to know what he means by this since there are some historical problems with such an assertion.
- I am also uncomfortable, as a Christian, with the way Cruz mixes politics and faith. I will stand by my conviction that politics do not belong in churches. Neither do nationalistic displays. (And this does not mean that I do not love my country!) When Megyn Kelly asked Cruz to explain his God and country language, Cruz said that when he is on the campaign trail he focuses his message on “jobs, freedom, and security.” This seems disingenuous to me. As Kelly notes (and as I referred to in my CT piece), Cruz manipulates scripture to suit his political ends, he brings his political team into churches to show people how to go to the polls and vote [presumably for him], he talks about leading a spiritual awakening that he subtly connects to his winning of the presidency, and he even told his supporters to “strap on the full-armour of God.” (This phrase comes from Ephesians 6:11-12. It is worth quoting the verse in full in order to illustrate my point: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” I will let you draw your own conclusions on this one).
- Ted Cruz stands unapologetically for many things that are important to evangelical Christians and to the God they worship and serve. At the same time he appeals, like his political rival Donald Trump, to our fears, anxieties, and idols.As we think about Cruz’s candidacy, let’s remember that “perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), even when it seems that our country is on the edge of “the abyss.” Let’s also remember to be “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6-7). After all, as Christians, it is God, not the government or its leader that is the source of the “peace which surpasses all understanding.” And, perhaps most importantly, let’s remember that the United States, while a great and exceptional nation, is not the Kingdom of God. As the Apostle John reminded us, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21).
So where does this lead us? Gagnon and Humphrey want us to ignore the issues I have raised in my two articles on Cruz. I want Cruz to address these issues. These questions will not go away, especially if Cruz manages to take the GOP nomination away from Trump at a contested convention.