Marco Rubio has freely declared that his faith comes first and that it impacts both his private and public life, while Ted Cruz has said that he is a Christian first and an American second. Are these dangerous statements for political leaders? Do they violate the separation of Church and state?
Writing for the ultra-liberal Daily Kos website, Ian Reifowitz took strong exception to these sentiments (he was referring specifically to Cruz’s comments) claiming that they were an example of what he called “Christian Privilege.”
He asked, “Could you imagine, for example, a Jewish candidate for president saying that he or she was a Jew first and an American second? Now imagine the sheer outrage if a Muslim American of any prominence whatsoever declared that he or she was Muslim first and American second. People’s heads would explode.”
He concluded his article with vigor, writing, “I want, no, I demand, a president whose first loyalty is to the Constitution, and to the people — all the people — he or she was elected to serve. Only a Christian has the privilege — and only ones like Ted Cruz, who present themselves as holier than thou, would have the gall — to claim otherwise.”
What Reifowitz seems to forget, though, is that our Founding Fathers presupposed that Americans would be a moral and religious people, also presupposing that Christianity — not Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or even Judaism — would be the primary religion of the people. And it is hardly a secret that the source most quoted and referenced by our founders in their government-related writings was the Bible.
There is, then, no conflict between being a committed Christian and upholding the Constitution. In contrast, as Ben Carson rightly observed, a devout Muslim would have a conflict with total allegiance to the Constitution because of his higher allegiance to Sharia Law.
Not surprisingly, a common theme among commenters to the Daily Kos article was that the “Christian first, American second” statement smacked of theocratic thinking rather than democratic thinking:
“They basically want a theocracy that rules everything until the rapture.”
“That’s where Cruz goes over the line: dominionism is all about the imposition of theocracy via the mechanisms of government and private-sector power.”
“Cruz is thinking just like a theocrat, and a Christian one to boot. We don’t need that.”
Actually, I can understand how some readers came to these conclusions, especially given the worldwide rise of radical Islam and the media’s often inaccurate representation of conservative Christianity. But, as Marco Rubio replied to an atheist who questioned whether he would impose his faith on others if elected president, the fact the Rubio is a committed and unashamed Christian does not mean that, as president, anyone else would be forced to share his beliefs.
And that is where these readers betray their ignorance of the nature of the Christian faith and the meaning of a theocracy. In a theocracy, religion is enforced firmly by the government, as is the case in countries like Islam and Saudi Arabia, where apostasy from Islam is punishable by death and where strict Islamic guidelines are imposed on the society as a whole.
Similarly, in ancient Israel 3,000 years ago, adultery, idolatry, and Sabbath breaking were all punishable by death, since ancient Israel was a theocracy. God was the King of Israel, the people made a covenant with Him to observe all His laws, and failure to comply with those laws could be deadly.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson and Rick Santorum — among other conservative Christian candidates — do not desire this for America. Instead, they believe that the nation is still majority Christian, that it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and that life and liberty flow directly out of those Christian principles.
Does that mean that, should a strong Christian candidate win, Americans would be forced to attend church services, forced to pray, forced to read their Bibles, and forbidden to speak against Jesus? Of course not. In fact, some have argued that in a country founded on Christian principles, an atheist is free to be an atheist, whereas in a country founded on atheistic principles a Christian would not be free to be a Christian.
And in contrast with a theocracy, these Christian candidates believe that the way to point America in a right direction — a godly direction — is through the democratic process. That’s why they’re running for office rather than trying to take over the government by force.
As for being Christians first and Americans second, what else would a devout Christian say? I would expect a devout Jew to say that he was a Jew first and an American second and I would expect a devout Muslim to the same for himself. Why should it be any different for a devout Christian? And can you imagine some Christians in ancient Rome saying, “We’re Romans first and Christians second!”? Hardly.
Being a Christian means having Jesus as your Lord, and that means that He comes first. That’s why the early Christians were martyred: They refused to call Caesar “lord” and they refused to sacrifice to him. They had a higher allegiance, and they would not compromise, even to the point of death.
But no one is asking these candidates to swear allegiance to an earthly king rather than to Jesus or to renounce Him in order to be president. To the contrary, Christianity in one form or another has been the openly-proclaimed faith of almost all our presidents, and it is as natural for a Christian leader to uphold the Constitution as it is for a Christian father to love his wife and children.
The reality, then, is that there is nothing scandalous with a political leader saying, “I’m a Christian first and an American second.” The scandal would be if they said the opposite.