I understand that politics is different than ministry and that running campaign ads is different than preaching from the pulpit. But is it too much for us to expect committed Christian candidates to step higher than some of their opponents? Shouldn’t their deep-seated faith color their public comments?
It is true that many evangelical Christians currently support Donald Trump, but I doubt that many (if any) of them feel that he is a real evangelical Christian, and they don’t expect him to conduct himself like a true Christian. Neither do I. And so when Trump raises questions about the authenticity of Ted Cruz’s faith, I can only smile and say, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
But there are a number of Republican candidates who are serious Christians — some evangelical, some Catholic, and one Seventh Day Adventist — yet as the race begins to intensify, their rhetoric is rising. This is regrettable, and so I appeal to these leaders, who are presumably Christians first and candidates second, to step higher and set a better example in the midst of expressing serious differences and raising genuine concerns. You can disagree forcefully without engaging in character assassination or spiritual accusation.
It was disappointing, then, to hear Armstrong Williams, the business advisor for Ben Carson and himself a respected conservative leader, claim that of all the candidates, Dr. Carson is the only “authentic Evangelical Christian” in the race. He even said, “There are a lot of people who talk a good game about their faith, including Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz. Dr. Carson lives it.”
What in the world was Williams thinking? How could he compare Cruz’s Christian commitment to that of Trump? And what of someone like Mike Huckabee? Is he not an “authentic Evangelical Christian”? Thankfully, Carson himself did not make these comments, but what about some of the rhetoric coming directly from the candidates?
According to Carly Fiorina, “Ted Cruz is just like any other politician. He says one thing in Manhattan, he says another thing in Iowa.” She continued, “He says whatever he needs to say to get elected, and then he’s going to do as he pleases.” But has this really been his track record? (Cruz does have a track record that can be traced for a couple of decades.)
Fiorina, who has been forthright about her faith, was referring to a tape from a private Manhattan fund-raiser in which Sen. Cruz said that opposing same-sex “marriage” would not be a top-three priority for him. Rather, enforcing the Constitution would be his priority. Yet this has been his consistent position, vocally speaking out against same-sex “marriage” and putting his name on commitments to fight against it, while at the same time saying that he believed it was a matter for the states to decide (this is based on his understanding of the Constitution). As CNN.com noted, “Recordings of Cruz speaking about gay marriage to donors in New York City appear to differ in style, but not substance, from his speeches to conservative supporters.” (Note to the reader: CNN is not famous for defending right-wing conservatives.)
Others, however, have joined in the personal attack as well rather than focusing on what the real question is, namely, should we push for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or is it a matter for the states to decide? Rick Santorum, a committed Catholic, had this to say about Cruz, “He’s not the social conservative that he’s portraying himself as … this is when people do their homework.” He even stated that if you let the states decide on marriage, that same strategy could lead to polygamy. To be sure, Santorum’s emphasis was on natural law, a very strong line of argument that can be made against same-sex “marriage.” But that argument gets lost in the midst of the personal attacks, which he not only launched against Cruz. It was with good reason that Glenn Beck spoke of Santorum’s attacks on Cruz as “ridiculous” and “beneath him.”
Mike Huckabee has also joined in the attack, tweeting, “Should conservatives support a corporately-funded candidate [meaning Cruz] that says one thing at a Manhattan fundraiser & another at a Marshaltown church?” And, “Shouldn’t candidates be expected to have authenticity & consistency, instead of looking at a map to decide what to believe & what to say?” Once again, the real issue here has been obscured by the personal attacks. (Huckabee supports a Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex “marriage” rather than letting the states decide the issue.) More importantly, the Christian witness of these candidates is getting compromised by these personal attacks just at a time when the nation could really use some godly role models — including in politics.
Only a few months ago, these same candidates presented themselves at a gathering of thousands of Christian leaders at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, where rhetoric like this would have been completely out of place. Was this just a show, or does the faith of these candidates impact every area of their lives, including their politics?
Wanting to believe the best, my appeal is simple and clear: Dear Christian candidates, please step higher!