“The Theology of Ted Cruz” Wins Award From The Evangelical Press Association


I just got some exciting news.

Some of you may remember my April 2016 piece at Christianity Today:  “The Theology of Ted Cruz.” Today the Evangelical Press Association released its “Higher Goal Awards” for the best evangelical writing of 2016 and this piece won first prize in the “Article Series” category.

Just to be clear, it was actually Christianity Today that won the award for its 3-part “The Theology of Political Candidates” series.  My piece on Cruz was honored alongside essays on the religious beliefs of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders by (respectively) Michael Horton and Yehiel Poupko.

See all the winners here.

Is Steve King Really on the Fringes of the GOP?

Was right-leaning political commentator Margaret Hoover correct earlier this evening on CNN when she described Steve King as part of the Republican Party’s lunatic fringe?

In case you have not heard, King, a congressman from Iowa,  has been making some rather racist comments of late.  (Get up to speed here with our earlier post placing King’s comments in some historical perspective).

If King is part of the white nationalist wing of the GOP, then Ted Cruz might be right there with him.  Let’s remember that King was influential in helping the Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate win the Iowa primary last January.  In fact, Cruz made King the national co-chair for his campaign.

Here is Ted Cruz praising his good buddy:

I have yet to see a Cruz condemnation of King’s remarks.

When “Principled Constitutionalists” Put Politics Over the Constitution

Watch the first five minutes of this CNN interview with Texas Senator Ted Cruz:

Cruz is rejoicing today that Trump nominated a “principled Constitutionalist” to the Supreme Court.  He is not alone.  Conservatives all over the country are singing the praises of Neil Gorsuch.  As I argued last night, it seems Gorsuch is more than qualified to serve on the bench.  But what disgusts me is the hypocrisy of it all.  “Principled Constitutionalists” like Cruz DID NOT FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION with the Merrick Garland pick.  In this interview Cruz said that he and his fellow GOP Senators thought it was best to keep open the seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia because it was an election year and “the people” should be able to decide who the next Supreme Court justice should be through their choice for POTUS.  That may sound like a reasonable request, but it has no Constitutional support.  The Constitution requires the POTUS to nominate a justice and the Senate to advise and consent.  In this case, the Senate did not fulfill its duty.  It did not follow the Constitution.  So please spare me the “principled Constitutionalist” language.

Ted Cruz is a product of the Christian Right’s rise in the 1980s.  He has no political career without the culture wars.  He touts his credentials as a strict constitutionalist but he is really just another politician who will depart from his constitutional principles at the drop of a hat if he can gain political points.

I would love to hear what Gorsuch thinks about the Senate’s failure to give Garland a hearing?  Heck, I wish I could hear what Scalia would have thought about it.

Revisiting Ted Cruz’s Dominionism

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville

Ted Cruz, left, speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville, Tennessee, on February 26, 2016. 

Earlier this year I wrote a few things that connected Ted Cruz to the Christian political philosophy known as dominionism.  In a piece I wrote for Religion News Service which was published in The Washington Post, I suggested the Cruz’s campaign for POTUS was “fueled by a dominionist vision for America.”  A few months later I wrote a piece for Christianity Today titled “The Theology of Ted Cruz.”  If my e-mail box is any indication, a lot of Cruz supporters were not happy about these articles.

Cruz, of course, did not get the GOP nomination and I moved on to other things.  But this conversation about Cruz’s ties to dominionism will no doubt resurface if he becomes the GOP candidate for POTUS in 2020 or 2024.  If Cruz does run again, Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates and an observer of the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) dominionism that often informs the rhetoric and policy of the Christian Right, will be ready.

In a very thorough and extensively researched report titled “Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight” Clarkson offers an introduction to the dominionist movement and how it is shaping GOP politics.  Clarkson draws on some of my stuff on Cruz and on an excellent book by Florida State University professor Michael McVicar titled Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will recall our Author’s Corner interview with McVicar.

Here is a taste of Clarkson’s piece:

All of this was pretty hot stuff and dominionism would no doubt have become more of an issue had Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign lasted longer. But Cruz is 45 years old in 2016 and appears to have a bright—and perhaps historic—political future. He won statewide office on his first try and has benefited from being underestimated. Since arriving in the Senate in 2103, he has made a show of sticking to his principles, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. But following his presidential run, Cruz is now one of the best known politicians in the country and possible heir- apparent to the Reagan revolution. No small achievement for a freshman senator.

Meanwhile Cruz and other national pols comprise the tip of a very large, but hard to measure political iceberg. There are untold numbers of dominionist and dominionism-influenced politicians and public officials at all levels of government and who even after leaving office, shape our political discourse. Roy Moore, the elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has been a rallying figure for dominionists of all stripes for the better part of two decades. Most recently, he has led efforts to exempt Alabama from federal court ordered compliance with marriage equality, citing his view of “God’s law.” Moore’s fellow Alabaman, Justice Tom Parker, has been on the court since 2004, and has employed theocratic legal theorist John Eidsmoe as his chief of staff.15 Others at the top of recent American political life have included Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee,16 and Newt Gingrich.17 Other prominent elected officials in the dominionist camp include Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX),18 Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS),19 Sen. James Lankford (R-OK),20 and Rep. Steve King (R-IA).21

Prominent politicians’ involvement in dominionism is certainly the most visible evidence of the movement’s advances over the past half-century, but it’s not the only result. Dominionism is a story not widely or well understood. Because this is so, it is important to know what dominionism is and where it came from, so we can see it more clearly and better understand its contemporary significance.

Read the entire thing here.


Will Ted Cruz Be Reaganesque Tonight?

Cruz and Trump debate

Ted Cruz has yet to endorse Donald Trump.  Some of you may remember that during the campaign Trump liked to call Cruz “Lying Ted” and mocked the appearance of Cruz’s wife Heidi. Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”  Oh yes, Cruz also called Trump a “serial philanderer.”

When Gerald Ford ran for POTUS in 1976 he faced strong opposition in the primary season from then former California Governor Ronald Reagan. At the time of the GOP convention in Kansas City, Ford had a slight delegate lead over Reagan, but he did not have the 1130 delegates needed for the nomination.  Reagan, the favorite of the conservative wing of the GOP, came to the convention with 1070 delegates.  After a tough battle on the convention floor the Mississippi delegation switched its support from Reagan to Ford and secured the nomination for the sitting POTUS.  Ford would go on to lose the general election to Jimmy Carter.

After he realized he had lost the nomination, Reagan took to the microphone and called for party unity.  Here is what he said:

No historical analogy is perfect. Trump came to Cleveland this week with enough delegates to get the nomination.  Cruz has no chance.  But the Texas Senator will be speaking tonight.  It will be interesting to see what he says.  Will he endorse Trump and call the GOP and his delegates and supporters to rally around the pathological liar, narcissist and serial philanderer?

Remember what happened to Reagan.  In 1980 he ran again and was elected POTUS. Rumor has it that Cruz wants to run again in 2020.  Whatever he says tonight will leave an important legacy that GOP voters might remember in four years.

What If Cruz Makes a Third-Party Run?


Noah Millman of The Week is asking this question.  Here is a taste:

Moreover, if you were still trying to woo enough delegates to win outright, why would you announce your VP choice now? At the convention, that very choice could be the prize that nets you precious delegates from the Marco Rubio or Kasich corner, as well as their admirers among the uncommitted.

So what are you up to?

Well, if Trump is really unacceptable to true conservatives, then presumably true conservatives shouldn’t vote for him, even at the risk of electing Hillary Clinton. And if Trump is really an unprecedentedly dangerous person to elect president — because of his temperament, his blithe ignorance, or his manifest insincerity — then nobody should vote for him, regardless of their ideology.

And if either or both of those things are true, then neither should you. Or your supporters.

The Cruz campaign set out to redeem the Republican Party from its pusillanimous pessimists and appeasers, the very people who are now prepared to pussyfoot with Trump in the hopes of achieving some semblance of party unity. But what if they can’t achieve unity that way at all — because if they try, you’ll free Cruz-Fiorina 2016 from the party?

Read his entire article here.

Some of you may have seen the comments Cruz levied against Trump earlier today. It is clear that he hates Trump.  He called him “amoral,” a “narcissist,” a “pathological liar.” And that was the mild stuff.  Cruz will also not say he will support Trump if he is the GOP nominee.

Is it possible that Cruz sees Trump as a greater evil than Hillary Clinton?  If he does, is it out of the question that he and Fiorina will make a third-party run that would ultimately hand Hillary the presidency?

If Cruz’s loses tonight in Indiana I am not sure he will exit quietly.

David Barton at Liberty University



David Barton

Russ Allen did his undergraduate degree in history at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and just completed his M.A. in history from Liberty University where he wrote an excellent thesis on Jonathan Edwards and children.  Yesterday Russ found his way into a David Barton conversation with Liberty University government students and agreed to write something about the experience for The Way of Improvement Leads HomeEnjoy.  –JF

On Thursday afternoon David Barton came to speak at an event at Liberty University. Barton is an acclaimed (and criticized) evangelical author and political activist. He is also the director of Ted Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” super-PAC.

This is not the first time that Barton has spoken at Liberty University. Barton spoke during two convocations in years past and has been a regular guest at the Helms School of Government. The event held on Thursday was sponsored by “Christians 4 Freedom,” a student organization that seeks to “inform and educate Christians on the Bill of Rights.”

The first time that I heard Barton’s name was in a graduate-level history classroom at Liberty University. In that setting Barton was almost unanimously viewed as a model of someone engaging in historical fallacy. His works are discussed only in light of their faults and supplemented with strong scholarly criticism.

Barton’s appearance on Thursday went largely under the radar, at least from my perspective as a student in the Liberty History Department. The History Department did not promote or advertise his talk.  Frankly, I am not sure if they even knew about it. I was invited by a friend via Facebook on the day of the event. I was under the impression that Barton would be speaking to a large group about government and religion, but when I arrived  at the event I found myself sitting right next to Mr. Barton at a conference table with about 25 people in attendance.

Barton was in friendly territory. Most students, a majority from the Helms School, support his ideas. Barton is a very likable guy. I had a personal conversation with him and he offered me well-wishes for my future. As for the discussion, it focused mainly on two key areas:

FirstBarton traced the beginning of his work in history and politics to a research inquiry that he was asked to investigate many years ago. In a quest to discover the cause of the steep decline in SAT scores among American high school students, Barton concluded that this decline began the same year that prayer was removed from public schools. Convinced that this was not a coincidence, Barton began to publicly argue that moral and social decay in America was caused by the removal of “Christian values” from the public sphere.

While I have numerous concerns about Barton’s argument on this front, several are worthy of mention. Anyone who takes an entry-level statistics class knows that “correlation ≠ causation.” While it remains uncertain how Barton concluded that the removal of school prayer directly affected SAT scores, one can only assume that it stems from his preconceived view of America as a Christian nation. He believes that when God is not honored by the country, “bad things happen.”  Along these lines, Barton also suggested that the legalization of abortion is causing global warming.

SecondBarton spoke strongly in support of Ted Cruz’s decision to appoint Carly Fiorina as his running mate and  suggested that her role  in a Cruz presidency will be much more significant than the Vice President’s role in years past. If elected, the Cruz campaign plans to reinstate the VP’s reign over the Senate in the hopes of nullifying the influence of the president pro tempore, who commonly acts in the VP’s absence. This is another interesting development given the history of Cruz’s clashes with the GOP establishment.

Barton also expressed frustration over liberal media outlets that are refusing to report “dirt” on Donald Trump until after the GOP convention in Cleveland. Barton claims that members in the media already possess damning information regarding Trump but want to withhold the material until the general election in order to “sink him” in favor of Hillary. Barton believes that if this information were rightly exposed now, Cruz would easily win the GOP nomination.

After the formal discussion, I had the opportunity to ask Barton if he or Ted Cruz was a Dominionist.  Barton seemed annoyed at the question, insisting that in no way could he (Barton) be linked to Dominionism because he holds a pre-millennial eschatology that affirms that Jesus will come back to gather true believers before a one-thousand year reign of peace. He claims that Dominionism stems from a post-millennial view in which Christians need to reclaim the earth in order to usher in Christ’s second coming.

Barton did, however, confirm his belief in the “Seven Mountains” approach to culture.  He believes that Christians need to influence every aspect of society. His denial of Dominionism, but his embrace of the “Seven Mountains” approach, is a bit confusing, as it seems the word “mountains” implies “dominion.” Barton also insists that Cruz’s silence on the the Seven Mountains approach is a political tactic.

Barton thinks that the use of the word Dominionism to describe Cruz is just a way for liberals to attach an unfavorable label to the Texas Senator. Calling Cruz a Dominionist is the same as skeptics calling Jesus a “glutton and a drunkard (Matt.11:19).” Rather than address the claim that he is a Dominionist, Barton advises Cruz instead to talk openly about liberty and freedom in order to squelch accusations that he is a theocrat.

David Barton’s support at Liberty University should not be surprising. Many of the students and faculty share his concern for the growing immorality that surrounds them. I certainly sympathize with this view. This mutual concern makes Barton’s historical claims understandably enticing for those who are only “casually” involved in the study of history.

However, it seems that there is also a growing number of Barton opponents on campus. They disagree with him not as much for his faulty views of  history, but for his theology. Barton’s belief that the United States is “Christian nation” or that God will judge the country for its sins, is a regurgitated version of the Puritan belief that America is a “City on a Hill.”  Barton’s conviction that God can bestow blessing and wrath on a nation is a deterrent for many young evangelicals who see a problem with comparing the United States to the biblical nation of Israel.

It is unclear how much impact Barton and Cruz have among young conservative evangelicals.  Liberty University’s voting precinct voted 44% in favor of Marco Rubio. Cruz garnered 33% of the vote.  Russell Moore’s placement of Cruz in the “Jerry Falwell wing” of the GOP evidently did not apply to the students at Falwell’s school. With politics, history, and theology woven together so tightly in the Barton/Cruz campaign, it remains to be seen which thread will be strongest among young Christian voters.

Why Trump’s Rise Does Not Spell the End for the Christian Right

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Trump and rival candidate Cruz cross paths during a break at the Fox Business Network Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston

Here is a taste of my latest column at Religion News Service:

(RNS) There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the rise of Donald Trump represents the decline of the Christian right in American politics.  

In a recent article at The Atlantic, political commentator David Frum suggests Trump has all but captured the GOP nomination by driving social conservatives from power in the party.

In this line of thinking, Ted Cruz is the candidate of the Christian right. Indeed, he has the support of culture warriors such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Glenn Beck. Trump is the candidate of “New York values” who has just happened to attract a few evangelical leaders (Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, for example).  

But what Frum and others miss in this analysis is the fact that many evangelical conservative voters who affiliate with the agenda of the Christian right believe they can support Trump without sacrificing any of their moral convictions about abortion, marriage and religious liberty — the primary Christian right talking points in 2016.

The beliefs of the conservative evangelicals who support Cruz, and the conservative evangelicals who support Trump, are really two sides of the same coin — two ways of understanding evangelical politics that differ only in minor points of emphasis. The Christian right is far from dead; it is just having a bit of an intramural squabble.

Read the rest here.

Randall Balmer Has My Back on Ted Cruz’s Dominionism

Cruz founders

For some folks who read The Way of Improvement Leads Home the sentiment expressed in the title of this post is a good thing.  For others it might be a bad thing.  Whatever the case, I want to thank Dartmouth’s Randall Balmer for referencing some of my stuff on Ted Cruz in his recent piece at Religion & Politics.

Here is a taste of Balmer’s “The Paradoxes of Ted Cruz“:

The paradox that most intrigues me, however, is Cruz’s ties to evangelicalism. At one level, judging by evangelical politics over the past several decades, that claim is unexceptional. As John Fea, of Messiah College, has written for Religion News Service, one of Cruz’s biggest supporters is the faux historian David Barton, who has fashioned an entire career out of arguing, against overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Although Barton and his arguments have been widely discredited—he apparently fabricated quotes to buttress his specious claims, so many that Thomas Nelson Publishers recalled one of his books—Cruz has not renounced Barton’s support. The payoff, according to Fea, is that, having asserted America’s Christian origins, Cruz can more credibly spin his campaign yarn about America’s declension from the piety of the founders, a decline that reaches its predictable nadir in Barack Obama’s presidency.

It doesn’t take much imagination to script the altar call for this declension narrative: Return the United States to its “Christian origins” and restore American righteousness by electing Ted Cruz president.

The corollary, and once again one not unfamiliar to those who have tracked the Religious Right over the past several decades, is the doctrine of “Dominionism” or “Christian Reconstructionism.” This ideology, examined nicely in Julie Ingersoll’s recent book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, traces its lineage to the 1970s writings of Rousas John Rushdoony and aspires to replace American legal codes with biblical law. At the outer fringes of this movement, seldom articulated publicly, is the conviction that capital punishment should be administered for such biblically mandated “crimes” as blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, astrology, premarital sex, and incorrigible juvenile delinquency.

Cruz himself, of course, is politically savvy enough not to be caught articulating such specifics, but there can be little doubt that he falls within the general ambit of Reconstructionism. When he inveighs against the media or complains about the abrogation of religious freedoms, for instance, the underlying conviction is that the media are controlled by diabolical forces and that people of faith are being forced by an evil government to accommodate sinners—by providing business services to gays, for instance, or, in the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Why Thomas Kidd Will Not Be Voting for Ted Cruz


Writing to his fellow evangelicals (and Republicans) at the evangelical history blog The Anxious Bench, Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd has announced that he will not be voting for Ted Cruz in November.  Check out his nuanced post here.  In the end, a lot of his decision comes down to Cruz’s connections to Glenn Beck and David Barton. (Kidd, you may recall, was a member of Marco Rubio’s religious liberty advisory committee).

Here is a taste:

But what about Cruz’s connections with Barton and Beck? It is not just that Cruz has accepted their endorsements, a la John McCain and John Hagee in 2008. McCain eventually repudiated Hagee. Cruz depends on Beck and Barton in his campaign.They are among his most influential supporters and organizers. So a vote for Cruz means, to some extent, a vote for Barton and Beck. And the chance that Barton could end up with a position in a Cruz administration is a real concern, as ridiculous as that prospect might seem at first.

Sorry, folks. If it is Cruz vs. Clinton, I’m afraid that I’ll have to vote for a third party candidate, or not vote for president. In a way, it doesn’t matter what I do – Cruz would win Texas, for sure, with or without my vote. And I “get it” if many of my evangelical friends do support Cruz, and don’t share my alarm about the Barton-Beck connection. But for me, those traveling companions make Cruz a non-option.

Kidd’s decision not to back Cruz is significant.  He has a large following in conservative Southern Baptist circles and his books are popular among educated evangelical laypersons.



David Barton Doubles Down on 7 Mountain Dominionism

David Barton runs a very wealthy Ted Cruz super-PAC.  I wrote about the connection between Barton and Cruz here and here.  Barton compares God’s laws (613 in total, he says) for the Old Testament nation of Israel with the government of the United States.

At about 38:30, Mark Cowart, a pastor of the “Church for All Nations” in Colorado Springs, starts talking about the “Seven Mountains of Influence.” Both Cowart and Barton argue that evangelicals have failed to engage the “mountain” of government.  Really?  What has been happening since the rise of the Christian Right in the late 1970s?

Cowart also argues that the American founding fathers belong in Hebrews 11 right alongside Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, etc…

Cowart, who is the new director of Barton’s school of government at Charis Bible College, also relies on Peter Marshall and David Manuel’s The Light and the Glory and the story of the Black Robe Regiment.  For an alternative Christian take on The Light and the Glory click here.  For our posts on some of the problems with the Black Robe Regiment click here.

By the way, the idea that pastors should be involved in government is something that many of the state governments thought was a bad idea.

On Left-Wing McCarthyism and My “Farcical” Take on Ted Cruz

Cruz founders

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.


Thanks “Everyday Grace” Blog

Cruz speaking

Tom Corcoran, a former evangelical missionary who also blogs, has written an interesting post about my recent piece at Christianity Today on Ted Cruz.  I am glad to see that there are fellow evangelicals out there who find my take on Cruz to be compelling.

Here is a taste of Corcoran’s post, “Try Winning the Argument.”

A couple of days ago I read this article on the Christianity Today website by evangelical professor John Fea analyzing “The Theology of Ted Cruz.”  If you listen to Cruz’s speeches you will quickly notice that they are drenched in a form of evangelicalism that emphasizes a crusade to take back America….

I believe that Fea’s assessment runs pretty close to true, although the dominion theology Cruz spouts is not exactly new.  However, I expected (as did Fea) that many Cruz supporters who share his views would be unhappy.  They were.  Many of the irate responses called for all sorts of mayhem, both divine and human to fall on Fea. This is pretty much par for the course on the internet today.  If you say anything meaningful the trolls will scream and it is only too bad that there are so many Christian trolls.

Yet in some ways one of the most thoughtful responses was the most distressing.  Stan Guthrie, an editor at large for Christianity Today and a big Cruz supporter took exception.  His points were, in many ways, as thoughtful as Fea’s article was and they could have been the basis of a good discussion.  But Guthrie prefaced his remarks with this:

“On the one hand, this is clearly labeled an opinion piece and is within the bounds of evangelical discussion (though the author’s past advocacy for Obama and affiliation with the liberal Sojourners should have been noted).”

While he graciously allows that Fea’s article was “within the bounds of evangelical discussion” he then qualifies that remark by casting doubts on Fea on two levels.  First, he happens to agree with President Obama on some things (Guthrie links to such an incident.)  The message is simple – anyone who agrees with Obama onanything should not be trusted.  I spent some time on Fea’s website and found that he is quick to both agree and disagree with Obama on issues whenever he feels.  He is hardly an Obama cheerleader.  The implication however is that, if you are a real evangelical, you must always oppose the President on everything.

The second complaint is that, even though he says he is an evangelical, Fea has an “affiliation with the liberal Sojourners.”  Just what is that nefarious affiliation?  As it turns out he recently wrote one article for his own website and allowed Sojourners to reprint it on their website.   He also, several years ago, wrote another article for their magazine.  By this standard Fea also has an affiliation with Fox News and Christianity Today.  Even Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, has an affiliation with CT.

Guthrie’s message is clear – don’t trust anyone who differs with his version of reformed evangelicalism.  Even as he engages Fea in debate he shouts for his readers to discount Fea’s tainted judgement.  Guthrie is saying we can’t trust Fea because once in a while he agrees with people we don’t like….

Read the entire post here.

Slacktivist Weighs In


A few months ago Fred Clark (aka “Slacktivist“), the wildly popular progressive Christian blogger at Patheos, was worried about me.  He still is.  (And I still appreciate it).

Here is a taste of his post today:

Back in January, I worried that “A Ted Cruz win could further Bartonize ‘mainstream’ white evangelicalism.” Specifically, I worried that folks like John Fea and Warren Throckmorton would be subjected to the marginalizing tactics long practiced by the right-wing gatekeepers of the white evangelical tribe.

This is what I was talking about. Dr. Fea’s restrained, temperate discussion of Cruz’s Christian nationalism on Christianity Today’s website — “The Theology of Ted Cruz” — prompted a passive-aggressive wailing from CT editor Stan Guthrie.

Guthrie is an enthusiastic member of Team Cruz. To give you an idea of his politics — and how those politics are intertwined with and indistinguishable from his faith — here is a post from his blog, on Thursday, bidding “Goodbye to Rush Limbaugh.” Guthrie has been a long-time fan of Limbaugh, but he has decided to part ways with the reprehensible, racist gasbag — just now, in two-thousand-by-God-sixteen — because Limbaugh is siding with Donald Trump against Team Cruz in the Republican primary.

OK, then.

Read the entire post here.

One clarification.  Some of Slacktivist’s commentators are confusing Stan Guthrie with the official position of Christianity Today.  It should be noted that the editors of CT invited me to write this piece and then, after they read what I wrote, published it.  Slackivist’s commentators should not assume that Guthrie, as an editor-at-large, is more representative of CT than the in-house editorial leadership who solicited and published my article.

Frankly, I am encouraged–very encouraged–that CT was interested in this piece.  The editorial staff, as even Guthrie acknowledges, understand that evangelicals, despite the way the media has been portraying them in this presidential primary season,  are a diverse political bunch.

Should We Take Presidential Campaign Narratives at Face Value?

Cruz speakingSince my post earlier this morning, Stan Guthrie, a critic of my Christianity Today piece on Ted Cruz, has jumped into the conversation on Twitter.  While Twitter is not always the best place to debate and discuss these kinds of topics, I do appreciate his willingness to engage in this way.  Follow @johnfea1.

The Twitter exchange with Guthrie forced me to think some more about his original post. Guthrie wrote:

…my friends at CT could have gotten readers a lot closer to what Cruz actually believes by taking the time to interview him rather than present those beliefs through John Fea’s filter.

I wonder–would Christianity Today readers REALLY get a “lot closer to what Cruz actually believes” by letting him shape the narrative?  Maybe.

Let’s remember that Ted Cruz and every other candidate in this race is a politician.  What they say on the campaign trail  about any topic must be understood in the context of their political ambitions.  I am not saying that politicians always lie, but they do spin a narrative of events and issues–especially in interviews–that are carefully constructed by the men and women running their campaigns.

As a historian, I deal with primary sources.  Sometimes those sources are political speeches or the words of a particular political figure or candidate.  I am trained to be skeptical of such sources by interpreting them in context.  I teach my students to never accept a primary source at face value.  I want them to read critically.

Guthrie describes my piece as a “filter.”  He is right.  All good history and commentary serves as a kind of “filter.” (I prefer “interpretation”).   Does Guthrie really want us to accept a candidate’s positions at face value (through the kind of CT interview  with Cruz he proposes) and then base our decisions about that candidate on those official statements (especially during a campaign) without critical analysis?   I have problems with this approach as a historian and a citizen.

On one level, I want to take a particular source seriously.  I want to understand the source and  even empathize with its author.  I want to let the source speak. I hope I have done that with Cruz.  I even linked to his sermon at Community Bible Church so that readers can hear his words for themselves.  I hope Christianity Today can land an interview with him.

But on another level, a historian is involved in the work of interpretation.  In my work I engage sources, understand them the best that I can, and then offer an interpretation of them.  I hope that my Christianity Today opinion piece reflects that kind of historical thinking.

One final point:  I actually think Cruz would agree with much of what I said about him in this piece.

“The Theology of Cruz”: The Twitter Response

My Christianity Today piece on Ted Cruz generated a lot of response yesterday, especially on Twitter.  Here are some of my favorite tweets: