Watch this video if you want to see how the white evangelical church has been co-opted by politics. It is the February 14, 2016 Sunday morning service at Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Pastor Carl Broggi uses his pulpit to “endorse” Ted Cruz as POTUS. (He says that the congregation does not “officially” endorse candidates, but he uses his power to essentially tell those in attendance that he believes Cruz is the most biblically-sound candidate).
In my USA Today column yesterday I wrote that Cruz represents the “cultural warrior” wing of American evangelicalism. These are Christians who think that the links between conservative evangelicalism and the Republican Party forged during the Reagan Era have been good for the church and the country.
After Broggi gives his endorsement, Ted Cruz takes the pulpit and delivers a sermon. Just to be clear about what happened here: Broggi and the leadership of Community Bible Church made a decision to turn their Sunday morning pulpit over to a politician. (Remember, Cruz is not running for “pastor-in-chief.” By his own definition, he is a politician).
Much of Cruz’s sermon came from his stump speech, but it is still worth a closer look.
33:00: Cruz offers his declension narrative about the loss of the Judeo-Christian values that the country was supposedly founded upon.
33:18: Cruz makes a veiled reference to the Seven Mountains Strategy.
33;43: Cruz references the “Shining City on a Hill.” In doing so he echoes Matthew 5, John Winthrop and, of course, Ronald Reagan.
33:45: Again, Cruz talks about the need to “return” to the Christian roots of the country. Here, I am afraid, he is appealing to a golden age that never existed, at least not at the time of the American founding.
33:55: Cruz says “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And I am convinced morning is coming.” Here Cruz merges Psalm 30:5 with Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” political ad. It is a brilliant move because it mixes God and country, the Bible and Reagan. Conservative Christians of a certain age love this stuff.
34:13: Cruz starts talking about the “spirit of awakening” and the “spirit of revival” that is “sweeping” the country. He connects this revival with “remembering who we are.” Here Cruz is subtly (or maybe not so subtly) suggesting that this act of remembrance is linked to the Christian founding principles he mentioned a few seconds earlier. Of course terms like “awakening” and “revival” will strike a chord with evangelicals everywhere.
Cruz then makes the customary GOP defense of life, traditional marriage, and the Second Amendment.
Then Cruz moves on to religious liberty. He continues to propagate the myth that all of the colonies were founded on religious liberty and that colonial governments did not get in the way of people practicing their faith. And all of his examples of religious liberty are focused on Christians. (I should say here that I think the Little Sisters of the Poor and Christian colleges have a real religious liberty beef. But that is a post for another day).
At the 1:11:00 mark, Cruz laments that so many evangelical Christians did not vote in the 2012 election. If these evangelicals voted, he says, they could turn the country around. Here Cruz assumes that all evangelicals are going to vote the same way. Of course he only has to look at the current GOP race to realize that this is not the case. In fact, most self-proclaimed evangelicals are voting for Donald Trump.
Cruz conflates scriptural teaching with American nationalism. At 1:11:40 Cruz starts talking about Christians being “salt and light.” (Mt 5:13-16). He equates being “salt and light” in the world with voting in an American presidential election.
1:12:00ff: Here is more of the spiritual and political awakening (they are indistinguishable) theme. Cruz believes that if Christians go to the polls and vote their values a great spiritual awakening will take place in the United States and “the entire country will change.” This, I might add, is what is really going on when Cruz talks about his “ground game.” It is a grassroots attempt to “restore” America to a “Christian nation.” It comes straight out of the playbook of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and the Religious Right.
Cruz mentions that members of his campaign staff are in the foyer of the church to help people get to the polls on Saturday. He needs as many people as possible to be “salt and light” and participate in this great spiritual/political revival. He implies that he is the best candidate to lead this revival from the Oval Office. Cruz presents himself as a cross between Ronald Reagan and George Whitefield.
1:18:23: Cruz quotes Matthew 7: 16: “you shall know them by their fruits.” He applies these words of Jesus, which were meant to help his followers identify false prophets, to the selection of presidential candidates. For Cruz the “fruits” are not something akin to the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Instead “fruits” is a metaphor for a political candidate’s commitment to an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.
When I give lectures on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction, I often spend time talking about my argument in Chapter 6: “The Revolutionary Pulpit.” In that chapter I argue that the Founding Fathers and patriotic clergy used the Bible during the American Revolution, but they also twisted the message of certain Bible verses to suit their own political and patriotic ends. I usually suggest that the current use of the Bible by politicians to promote their own political ends is not a new practice in the United States.
After listening to Cruz’s sermon on Sunday, I am reminded again of the continuity on this front between the patriotic Christians of the eighteenth century and the patriotic Christians of today.
But what is most troubling is that Cruz is peddling fear. He is trying to scare people. I am disturbed by the way Cruz offers political solutions to quell the fears of Christians who believe that “perfect love,” not politics or the government, “casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18).
And he is doing it in a church.
At one point in the sermon, while he is discussing a religious liberty case in Houston, Cruz says that “Caesar” (or the government) “has no jurisdiction over the pulpit.” Amen. But if this is true, and Pastor Broggi believes it as well, then the pastor needs to answer for why he has invited Caesar into his pulpit and politicized his sanctuary.
If any of this happened in the conservative evangelical church that I attend, regardless of my political convictions or the convictions of the politician in the pulpit, I would have walked out.