The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Headed to the Senate Building

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On Wednesday morning, October 10, I will be on Capitol Hill (Dirksen Senate building) to speak to about 100 evangelical leaders gathered for the National Association of Evangelicals’ annual “Washington Briefing.”

The NAE leadership has asked me to talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The event is not open to the public, but I can announce that I will be sharing the day with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Mark Green, Nathan Gonzalez, Shirley Hoogstra, Ali Noorani, Sen. James Lankford, Brian Walsh, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Sen. Marco Rubio, Stephanie Summers, and Os Guinness.

Stay tuned.

Has Marco Rubio Changed His Mind About Philosophers?

Some of you may recall that Marco Rubio once had some pretty harsh things to say about philosophy and philosophers.  Has he changed his mind?

Nice Work Rex Tillerson

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I have been keeping an eye this morning on the Rex Tillerson congressional hearings.  It has been interesting to say the least.  Tillerson, who is Trump’s nominee for Secretary fo State, seems a bit out of his league.  It is clear that he has a lot to learn about how diplomacy works.  But I was pleased with one answer that he gave amidst the barrage of questions he is facing today.

Just a few minutes ago Tillerson told Florida Senator Marco Rubio that a Secretary of State must understand the culture and history of a country where a diplomatic issue may arise.  It was a great comment and certainly one that should bring a smile to the face of any historian.

This exchange was especially interesting in light of Marco Rubio’s disparagement of the humanities when he was on the campaign trail last year.  Here is the infamous “welders-philosophers” comment:

One Way In Which Trump is the New Reagan

Trump and Reagan

Paul Campos says that Donald Trump is the “Reagan Revolution on steroids.”

Jeet Heer compares Trump supporters to Reagan Democrats

Others feel that Trump’s nomination is a rejection of Reagan

Geoff Colvin thinks that Trump has turned his back on Reagan

Rod Dreher calls Trump a “Reaganslayer.”

And these are just some of the Reagan-Trump comparisons that were made THIS WEEK.

I would suggest that there is another way Trump may be the next Reagan.  It hit me today when I listened to Marco Rubio talk to Jake Tapper on CNN.  Rubio says he will support the “Republican nominee” (he did not mention Trump by name) but was clearly not happy about it.  It was obvious that he had his future in mind and was hedging his bets.

As Gloria Borger just said, “If Trump wins, the other GOP candidates do not want to be blamed for not supporting him enough, but if Trump loses the other GOP candidates want to rise up from the ashes.”

For the past twenty-five years, conservative GOP presidential candidates have claimed the mantle of Reagan with a fierce sense of loyalty and nostalgia.  For the next twenty-five years, GOP candidates will be judged–for good or for bad–in light of where they stood on the Trump candidacy in 2016.

In 2020 or 2024 (and beyond) presidential candidates will be talking a lot more about Trump than Reagan.

Ted Cruz’s Religious Liberty Advisory Committee

Cruz Pastor in Chief

Marco Rubio was the first GOP candidate to put together a religious liberty advisory council.  Ted Cruz has followed suit.  Cruz’s committee was formed in February and it has just released its recommendations today. (I don’t seem to remember Rubio’s committee issuing any recommendations).

Here is the press release:

HOUSTON, Texas – Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz today received initial recommendations from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, formed last month to advise his campaign and future administration on policies to defend religious liberty domestically and internationally.
 
“During this Holy Week, as Christians prepare to celebrate spiritual freedom in Christ, we remember also that religious liberty is the first American freedom,” said Cruz. “I thank this learned and committed group of leaders for their wise recommendations, and as president I will be proud to work with them to protect our religious liberty. Defending religious liberty has been a lifelong passion, and I’ve been blessed to help win national victories, preserving the Texas Ten Commandments monument, the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.”
 
The recommendations comprise 15 initial actions, both legislative and executive, to emphasize and bolster the freedom of religion in the United States. Included are the following proposals:

  • Issue an executive order preventing the federal government from discriminating against Americans who believe that marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.
  • Reinstate thorough and protective conscience rights protections in federal healthcare programs.
  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate.
  • Update and revise military regulations to reflect a robust constitutional understanding of the first amendment rights of military personnel, particularly chaplains.
  • Pass the First Amendment Defense Act “to prevent discriminatory treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage.”
  • Direct the IRS to publicly clarify the generous rights of non-profits and religious leaders to engage in political speech without compromising their tax-exempt status.
  • Rescind executive orders which limit the government from partnering with faith-based non-profit organizations.
  • Order the Department of Education to issue guidelines which accurately address the rights of students, teachers, and other school personnel to live out their faith in a school setting.

Here are the members of the committee:

Chair – Tony Perkins
President, Family Research Council

Ryan Anderson, Ph.D.
William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation

Dr. Tony Beam
Vice President for Student Services and Christian Worldview, North Greenville University

David Benham, entrepreneur

Jason Benham, entrepreneur

Ambassador Ken Blackwell
Former US Ambassador to the UN for Human Rights

Teresa S. Collett
Professor, University of St. Thomas

Jim Garlow, Ph.D.
Pastor, Skyline Church, San Diego, CA

Dr. Mark Harris
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC

Pastor Jack Hibbs
Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA

Bishop Harry Jackson
Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church, Bishop, International Communion of Evangelical Churches

Richard Lee, Ph.D.
President, There’s Hope America

Paige Patterson, Ph.D
President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Everett Piper, Ph.D.
President, Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Jay Richards, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor, School of Business & Economics, The Catholic University of America

Dr. Steve Riggle
Senior Pastor, Grace Community Church

Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, Ph.D.
President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Kelly Shackelford
President and CEO, First Liberty Institute

Carol Swain, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University

A few thoughts:

As expected, and as I have argued this before, Cruz’s committee understands religious liberty in a very limited way.  For example, there is nothing here defending the right of Muslims to practice their faith freely without government interference.  This seems to be a very pressing religious liberty issue in the United States right now. (As far as I can tell, all the members of the council are Protestant or Catholic). Why not address it? If one reads between the lines, the board’s recommendations are related almost entirely to religious liberty issues that conservative Christians are facing.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Christians today do have some serious religious liberty beefs–especially as it relates to Obamacare and marriage.  But Cruz and his committee are going to have to convince me that they see “religious liberty” as anything more than code for the defense of their own beliefs.

The differences between Cruz’s religious advisory committee and Rubio’s religious advisory committee are worth noting.  Cruz has filled his committee with Christian nationalists and culture warriors.  Rubio reached out to Christian intellectuals, some of whom had more nuanced views om these religious liberty issues.  (Only Samuel Rodriguez was on both committees).

I am sure I will return to this issue soon.  Stay tuned.

A Rubio Recap

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Marco Rubio is out of the race.  Over the last several months I have tried to make sense of his campaign.  Here are some of my efforts:

Do GOP Candidates Want Religious Freedom or the Closing of Mosques.  They Can’t Have Both

Marco Rubio’s New Religious Advisers

Rubio’s Appeal to Iowa Evangelicals

GOP Candidates and Their Evangelical Constituencies

When Faith Meets Presidential Politics

Where’ Rubio Went Wrong on Faith and Politics

Evangelicals in Iowa Last Night

Borowitz: Christie Drops Out of the Race So He Can Criticize Rubio Full Time

Image of the Day

Evangelicals are the Prize in South Carolina

The Culture Warriors and Suburban Evangelical Moderates Battle for Second Place in South Carolina

Marco Rubio is Praying the GOP Primary Season Ends This Way

The Tragedy of Marco Rubio

Is Marco Rubio reaping the whirlwind tonight?

The Cleveland Quagmire

frontrunners

This the most succinct and clear explanation of the various scenarios that could play out in the GOP between now and the July convention in Cleveland.  Thanks to Benjamin Ginsburg at Politico for writing it and Brian Franklin of SMU for bringing the piece to my attention:

A taste:

Trump can put all the contested convention talk to rest by securing a majority of delegates before July, and winning Ohio and Florida would go a long way to achieving that. If he doesn’t win both, the talk will continue.

While Trump is the frontrunner, he has won only about 44 percent of the delegates awarded in states that have voted so far. By comparison, Mitt Romney had won 56 percent of the delegates at this point in the 2012 primary; he became the presumptive GOP nominee in mid-April and secured a majority of delegates in late May. If Trump maintains his current rate of 44 percent, he will go into Cleveland with just 1,088 of the 2,472 total delegates—149 short of the 1,237 needed for a majority.

Trump suggested in Thursday night’s debate that the leading candidate, even one shy of a majority, should automatically receive the nomination. But to allow a candidate to be declared the nominee with only a plurality of delegates would require the unprecedented amendment of the existing rules, a feat of rules wizardry as transformative as denying a candidate with a majority the nomination.

Rather than a wholesale rewriting of the rules, the more likely scenario is that if Trump goes into the convention without a majority, he will need to convince enough of the few unbound delegates there to support him. (The unbound delegates consists of those from five states that decided not to hold statewide votes, as well as 54 from Pennsylvania who were directly elected without declaring a presidential preference.) That approach is consistent with the existing rules—but it won’t be easy. In fact, it could lead to convention mayhem.

President Gerald Ford, who went into the 1976 convention without a majority, had to do this to defeat Ronald Reagan. But Trump would be in a tougher spot: In the first presidential roll call vote at the convention, a rule in effect for the first time in 2016 automatically binds more than 90 percent of delegates to specific candidates based on those delegates’ statewide votes. That leaves only a very small pool of delegates that Trump could win over in order to reach a majority on the first ballot: 166 delegates who are already unbound, plus an unknown number whose state laws will unbind them if their candidate drops out by the time of the convention. (There are currently 12 of these delegates, but, importantly, that number will increase if one of the current candidates drops out. For example, should Marco Rubio drop out without winning any additional delegates, 152 delegates would be added to the unbound pool, nearly doubling the number available to Trump’s powers of persuasion to gain a first-ballot majority.)

As things stand now, however, Trump would need to win over a dauntingly high portion of the 166 unbound delegates—nearly 90 percent—in order to get the 149 delegates he would need to reach an overall majority. And many of these unbound delegates are likely to be supporters of candidates Trump has defeated, and could have a less-than-kind view of him.

Read the entire piece here.

Another Perspective on Evangelicals and Presidential Politics

RubioPaul Matzko, a graduate student in American religious history at Penn State, has an extensive essay at his blog analyzing the role of evangelicals in the GOP presidential primaries and caucuses.

Matzko joins the chorus of those who have suggested that Trump appeals to evangelicals who do not regularly attend church. (Even if you don’t read the entire article, his maps and graphs are worth checking out).

Matzko also discusses the role that evangelical intellectuals have played in the Rubio campaign, with a particular focus on Baylor historian Thomas Kidd.

Here is a taste:

A few months after Barton signed on to Cruz’s Super PAC, Kidd joined a pro-Rubio religious liberty advisory board along with megachurch pastor Rick Warren, theologian Wayne Grudem, and a bevy of other evangelical heavyweights. In his explanation for signing on, Kidd referred to Barton’s support for Ted Cruz. Kidd had helped discredit Barton’s historical work and now he sought to minimize his influence with evangelical Republican voters. While the position seems mostly honorary, Kidd has since published several blog posts criticizing the Cruz campaign for its faulty use of history in the service of Christian nationalism.

It’s a remarkable moment. In the past evangelical intellectuals mostly stayed on the sidelines of intramural Republican politics. I can’t imagine Mark Noll, George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, Grant Wacker, or the previous generation of evangelical academics getting involved in partisan politics quite like this. They certainly took a few shots at a prior generation of Christian nationalists, but not in the formal, political arena. And their ideas did not penetrate very deeply into most church pews. Stop by an evangelical church book store today and you’re much more likely to find The Light and the Glory than you are The Search for Christian America. Up until now, the amateur evangelical historians have roundly beaten the professionals at their own game, but Kidd and other evangelical academics have been getting more play among evangelical clergy and laity than has previously been true. While it’s much too early to declare an end to the “scandal of the evangelical mind,” these are positive developments.

Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said of the three leading candidates, “I would say that Ted Cruz is leading in the ‘Jerry Falwell’ wing, Marco Rubio is leading the ‘Billy Graham’ wing, and Trump is leading the ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ wing.” I don’t think this is a particularly useful taxonomy because 1) you’d think that Cruz, with his Pentecostal background and the backing of several prominent Pentecostal preachers, would be best qualified for the Swaggart nod and 2) Graham’s legacy is so widely embraced by evangelicals that the comparison with Rubio is mostly meaningless. Moore likes Rubio the best so he compared him to the historical doppelganger he admires the most. That said, I think Moore is right to try and put a finger on some substantive differences between the candidates and their supporters.

There’s a better historical comparison to be made between Cruz/Barton and Rubio/Kidd, but you have to go back several centuries. In short, Thomas Kidd’s view of evangelicalism hearkens back to the First Great Awakening, while David Barton is the heir of the Second Great Awakening. These two historians are promoting authentic but contradictory evangelical visions for engagement in the public square. And the tension between them says something about present day disagreements over the future of American evangelicalism.

Read the entire piece here.

Who Are the Evangelicals?

Trump evangelical

Everyone (including me!) is trying to make sense of the so-called “evangelicals” who are supporting Donald Trump.  Even The New York Times is curious about this.  They have gathered four evangelical writers to discuss the meaning of the term “evangelical” and how it has been used in this primary season.

For example, Gabriel Salguero, the President and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, begins his piece this way: “The term evangelical should not be reduced to a political category.” Salguero argues that “evangelical” is a theological category–something akin to the so-called Bebbington Quadrilateral.

Here is a taste:

But while the evangelical vote is not uniform, there are three strong theological tenets that broadly define what evangelicals — across racial, ethnic and political lines — believe: We have a high view of the authority of Scripture, we value sharing our faith (and building it within the community), and believe strongly in salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Our unity is around theological concomitants, not political priorities.

As I have argued before, there seems to be a slight distinction between evangelical voters and “values voters.”  On one level, nearly all evangelicals in the GOP are values voters.  In this election cycle they want voters who are pro-life, support traditional marriage, and defend the right of evangelicals to uphold these views without government interference (They call this “religious liberty”). If any of the GOP candidates were to reverse their positions on any of these issues, I think it is fair to say that they would not garner much evangelical support.

Evangelicals who think these values are non-negotiable make up a large subset of the Republican Party.  But within that subset, evangelical voters might prioritize different things.

Some evangelicals support Trump because of his business savvy, his anti-immigration and anti-Muslim positions, his economic plan (is there one?), or his tough talk on foreign policy.

Other evangelicals support Ted Cruz because the Texas Senator believes in limited government, defends the Constitution, is pro-Israel, or gives high priority in his stump speech to the replacement of Antonin Scalia.

More moderate evangelicals support John Kasich because they like his positive campaign and his compassionate conservatism informed by his Christian faith.

Some evangelicals might like Rubio because he is willing to stand up to Donald Trump.

I think the media is just starting to make sense of these differences among evangelicals. Some members of the media may be starting to realize that the paradigm they have used to understand evangelical voting habits is outdated.

When Jimmy Carter ran for POTUS in 1976 and told the nation that he was a “born-again Christian,” journalists had no idea what that meant.  When Newsweek declared that 1976 was “The Year of the Evangelical,” the magazine almost seemed to suggest that it had uncovered some strange creature from another planet.  And then Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority came along and turned conservative evangelicals into one or two issue- voters (abortion always being one of those issues).

Until this year, members of the media and political pundits who know a lot about politics but little about religion, have found this old narrative useful.  But with the arrival of Trump as a candidate who has managed to attract large numbers of “evangelical” voters, this narrative has become much more complicated.

Pundits and experts are no longer thinking about evangelicals as a monolithic voting bloc. They are now trying to dig deeper, analyzing evangelicals in terms of church attendance (or non-church attendance), class, and even race.  (I see the phrase “white evangelical” used in this election cycle more than I have in the past).

Stay tuned.  I am not done with this New York Times forum.

Is Marco Rubio Reaping the Whirlwind Tonight?

RubioLast week I wrote about the “tragedy” of Marco Rubio.

Here is a taste:

Rubio’s raw ambition has been on display during the last week.  He is desperate.  He is willing to do anything to stop Donald Trump, even if it means getting down in the mud with the GOP front-runner.

It wasn’t too long ago that Rubio was in Iowa and South Carolina trying to paint himself as the evangelical alternative to Trump and Ted Cruz.  What happened to this apparently Christian candidate?

This kind of eye-for-eye campaigning is embarrassing for the GOP.  But it is especially problematic for someone who goes out on the campaign trail and names the name of Jesus Christ.

I imagine that Rubio still thinks he is a Christian candidate.  In a world in which “evangelical” is defined by one’s position on abortion, marriage, and religious liberty for Christians, Rubio remains faithful.  As long as he tows the line on these issues, no matter how he behaves, he can claim the Christian mantle.  On this front, he is no better than Trump.

I know I was rough on Rubio, but as I watch the “Super Saturday” election results tonight it appears that many evangelicals were indeed turned-off by Rubio’s decision to get in the gutter with Trump.

As I write this, it looks like Rubio will finish a distant third in Kansas. He is currently in fourth place in Maine and may finish fourth in Kentucky as well.  His only hope is Florida, but Trump currently has a large lead in the polls.

It may be over.

Post-Super Tuesday Thoughts: Little Has Changed

Last night both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump moved closer to winning the nomination of their respective parties. They both racked-up large numbers of delegates.

But for those of us who have been following this election closely, it will feel like little has changed when we wake up on Wednesday morning.

Trump will continue to hold large rallies and say controversial things about Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and immigrants.  Last night he compared Marco Rubio’s attacks on him to the comedy of Don Rickles.  Reports are surfacing that Sheckey Green and Buddy Hackett (despite the fact that he died in 2003) are offended by this comparison.

Ivanka will have her baby and Donald will figure out some way to use the birth of his grandchild to endear himself to voters.

Chris Christie, who is now playing Ed McMahon to Trump’s Johnny Carson, will wonder what has happened to his political career as he travels around the country and gives speeches on Trump’s behalf. Christie will look back and realize that his career may have peaked at this moment:

The KKK accusations will not go away. This exchange between Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord and CNN commentator Van Jones will not help matters:

Ted Cruz will claim that his victories in Texas and Oklahoma must be interpreted as evidence that he deserves the nomination.  Though he can no longer say that he is the only Republican to have beaten Donald Trump (see comments on Marco Rubio below), this will not stop him.  Instead he will announce that he is the only candidate who has defeated Trump more than once.  He will hammer Trump and urge Rubio, Carson, and Kasich to leave the race and unite around him.

Rubio’s win in Minnesota means that he can finally claim to have defeated Trump in a presidential primary.  He will spend the week reminding Ted Cruz of this fact and, with the Florida primary coming up, will ramp-up his assault on Trump. The comedy act is not over.  Or perhaps it is a tragedy.

Ben Carson should quit.  If he does not, he will be in danger of damaging his reputation among evangelicals.  His book sales will decline. People will wonder if his hands are as gifted as they once were.  (There is a rumor circulating that GOP officials will approach Carson today and ask him to drop out of the race and run for Senator in his home state of Florida).

I am sure John Kasich will try to get as much mileage as possible out of his strong showing in Vermont.  He will hang around until the Ohio primary and try to stay above the fray. He will still be a breath of fresh air.

The Democratic race will intensify.  Bernie did well enough last night to sustain the “revolution.” More money will flow into his campaign.  Sunday night’s debate should be a good one.

Meanwhile, the “kinder and gentler” Hillary Clinton–the candidate who throws out fake John Wesley quotes–will keep citing 1 Corinthians 13 and talk about loving one another.

As Kasich would say: “fasten your seatbelts.”

The Tragedy of Marco Rubio

Rubio

Have you had a chance to see Marco Rubio’s stand-up comedy act?  He has been getting a lot of laughs on the campaign trail at the expense of Donald Trump.  When Rubio says that Trump has an orange face, has “small hands,” or wets his pants, the crowds at his rallies go wild.

I recently saw a spokesperson for the Rubio campaign talking about the need for his candidate to “hit back.”  Rubio is trying to beat Trump at his own game–insults and personal attacks.  Many politicos are wondering why he did not do this earlier.

Rubio’s raw ambition has been on display during the last week.  He is desperate.  He is willing to do anything to stop Donald Trump, even if it means getting down in the mud with the GOP front-runner.

It wasn’t too long ago that Rubio was in Iowa and South Carolina trying to paint himself as the evangelical alternative to Trump and Ted Cruz.  What happened to this apparently Christian candidate?

This kind of eye-for-eye campaigning is embarrassing for the GOP.  But it is especially problematic for someone who goes out on the campaign trail and names the name of Jesus Christ.

I imagine that Rubio still thinks he is a Christian candidate.  In a world in which “evangelical” is defined by one’s position on abortion, marriage, and religious liberty for Christians, Rubio remains faithful.  As long as he tows the line on these issues, no matter how he behaves, he can claim the Christian mantle.  On this front, he is no better than Trump.

Rubio appears to be yet another product of the unholy alliance between Republican politics and American evangelicalism that came with the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s. The leaders of the Christian Right–Falwell, Dobson, LaHaye, Bauer, Kennedy, Perkins, Reed, and Robertson–were successful in politicizing American evangelicalism by boiling it down to two or three moral issues.

I am beginning to wonder if it is possible in this day and age to run for President of the United States and still keep one’s integrity as a Christian.

Maybe Stephen Prothero was right when he said that Jesus would vote for Bernie Sanders.

How Evangelicals Voted in South Carolina

Trump Cruz RubioOver at Religion News Service, Tobin Grant has a nice post about the way South Carolina evangelicals voted in Saturday night’s primary.

It is worth noting that Cruz did not win a single county.  The Texas Senator lost to Trump in the heavily evangelical counties in the Upstate.

Here is a taste:

The geography of the South Carolina primary fits the story coming out of the exit polls. Rubio did well among Republicans who want a candidate who can win. Trump voters want someone who can shake up Washington and “tell it like it is.” Cruz needs to secure most (if not all) of the evangelical and values-voters. He’s leading among these voters, but many of them are backing Rubio and Trump instead. 

So here is my take:

I think evangelicals in South Carolina are all “values voters” in the sense that they want a candidate who is pro-life on abortion, “protects” (to use Trump’s term) Christianity, and believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.  It seems like these things are non-negotiable.  Since all of the GOP candidates still alive in the race fit the bill here (or at least claim to fit the bill), they need to be distinguished in other ways.

Many self-proclaimed evangelicals are supporting Trump for economic and cultural reasons.  Economically, they believe, like Jerry Falwell Jr., that Trump’s business background will help him “make America great again.”  But they also like the fact that Trump wants to deport immigrants, sees Islam as a threat, and stands against political correctness.  The position of South Carolina evangelicals on all of these issues is often informed by their understanding of Christianity.

Cruz seems to be attracting more traditional, 1980s Moral Majority style, evangelical values voters. They are concerned about the economy, religion, immigration, and Islam, but these things take second place to issues such as abortion and traditional marriage. They are much more sensitive to the makeup of the future Supreme Court than the people voting for Trump.

Rubio continues to attract evangelicals who are politically conservative and evangelically moderate (in terms of how they apply their faith to politics).  As Grant notes in his article, these are the evangelicals who think Rubio has the best chance to win in November.

I think Jeb Bush’s votes will be split between Rubio and Kasich.  If Carson get’s out of the race, the doctor’s votes will be split between Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz.

 

The Cultural Warriors and Suburban Evangelical Moderates Battle for Second Place in SC

2f9be-rubio-1024x757CNN just called the South Carolina primary for Donald Trump.  It is now time to turn to the battle for second place.  Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are running neck and neck.  Both candidates are appealing to South Carolina evangelicals, but they are appealing to different kinds of evangelicals.  Here is what I wrote earlier this week in USA Today:

Cruz appeals to the most aggressive Christian culture warriors in America.  They are the descendants of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell’s effort in the late 1970s and 1980s to reclaim America for Christ.  These evangelicals have a righteous hatred forBarack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The Texas senator’s followers want to restore the United States to a Christian country.  They do not believe in instituting a theocracy, as some of their opponents in the media have suggested, but they come close. These evangelicals want to live in a culture that privileges Christianity…

The Florida senator has put together a religious liberty advisory board made up of scholars and religious leaders from the evangelical thinking class. This suggests that he is targeting suburban evangelicals who normally avoid Pentecostal prayer meetings and change the channel when televangelists show up on their big screens. They read religious opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and subscribe to Christianity Today.

These are evangelicals who send their kids to schools like Wheaton College (the alma mater of Eric Teetsel, Rubio’s Director of Faith Outreach) or Moody Bible Institute or even Liberty University (despite Jerry Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump). In South Carolina they relate more to the warm-hearted piety of Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College) than the militant fundamentalism of Bob Jones University. These evangelicals attend churches with pastors who have seminary degrees from places like Fuller Theological Seminary,Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Rubio’s evangelicals are sympathetic to the culture warriors who want to retake America, but they sometimes worry that the evangelical quest for political power may undermine the Gospel. They believe that the primary role of the church is not to help create a Christian nation, but to bear witness to the saving message of Jesus Christ. They prefer Billy Graham Sr. over Franklin Graham and Rick Warren over Jerry Falwell Jr.

My Column at *USA Today*: Evangelicals Are the Prize in South Carolina

e3b01-cruz-at-value-voters-summit-2015

I am told that this piece will be in the print edition of USA Today later this week, but in the meantime, you can read “Evangelicals are the prize in S.C.” online at usatoday.com

Regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will find little new here.  I have been writing about these themes for the last several months.

Here is a taste:

…Whatever evangelical votes Kasich wins in South Carolina and beyond will be votes taken away from Rubio. The Florida senator has put together a religious liberty advisory board made up of scholars and religious leaders from the evangelical thinking class. This suggests that he is targeting suburban evangelicals who normally avoid Pentecostal prayer meetings and change the channel when televangelists show up on their big screens. They read religious opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and subscribe to Christianity Today.

These are evangelicals who send their kids to schools like Wheaton College (the alma mater of Eric Teetsel, Rubio’s Director of Faith Outreach) or Moody Bible Institute or even Liberty University (despite Jerry Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump). In South Carolina they relate more to the warm-hearted piety of Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College) than the militant fundamentalism of Bob Jones University. These evangelicals attend churches with pastors who have seminary degrees from places like Fuller Theological Seminary,Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Read the entire column here.

The Kasich Way

Here is John Kasich’s closing statement in last night’s CBS GOP debate.

I got an e-mail last night from a political editor at a national newspaper in which he/she called Kasich’s closing remarks a “naked pitch to evangelicals.” This editor is correct.  But it is a very different “pitch to evangelicals” than the appeals the other evangelicals running for president are making.

Kasich’s theology of politics comes from a slightly different place than the religious sensibilities informing the Cruz, Rubio, and Carson campaigns.  Kasich doesn’t tout his evangelical credentials or talk about his conversion experience or claim (at least not yet) that he wants to restore America to a Christian nation.

Kasich’s campaign seems to focus on the idea that we are created and called for community.  His remarks about people being “special” seem to reflect the Judeo-Christian idea that human beings have dignity and worth because they are created in God’s image. If God created everyone “special,” then this belief should be the basis of neighborliness and local community.

I also picked up a bit of the Catholic idea of subsidiarity in his comments about the way problems should be solved locally.

Kasich’s remarks early in the debate urging Obama not to appoint a replacement for Scalia sound like he doesn’t respect the constitutional process.  Maybe he doesn’t.  Maybe he is simply putting politics over the constitutional appointment of a new justice in the same way that everyone else is doing.   Here is what he said:

If you listen carefully, you hear Kasich the healer coming out in these remarks.  The reason he does not want Barack Obama to appoint a new justice is because he does not want to see more political fighting and acrimony in a country that is already eeply divided. Again, maybe this is just a shrewd and politically savvy way to frame this issue.  But in framing it this way Kasich separates himself from the raw politicization of this issue that we are seeing from Cruz and Rubio.

Borowitz: Christie Drops Out of Race So He Can Criticize Rubio Full-Time

17462-christieconventionAndy Borowitz of The New Yorker is up to his old tricks:

NEW HAMPSHIRE (The Borowitz Report)—In a stunning announcement on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that he was dropping out of the Presidential race to focus his energies on tormenting Florida Senator Marco Rubio full-time.

“At the end of the day, running for President was interfering with what I really love, which is making Marco Rubio’s life a living hell,” he said. “Now I can get up every morning and spend all day just doing that.”

Christie said that he had tired of fielding questions about ISIS, immigration, and the economy and having to find some contrived way of answering them with a scathing attack on Rubio. “Don’t get me wrong, I was great at it,” he said. “But it’ll be so much easier to just get out there and start tearing him apart with no pretext whatsoever.”

Read the rest here.  Just to clarify, this is sarcasm.