Beliefs Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

Ted Cruz’s evangelical problem

Ted Cruz speaking at the Value Voters Summit in 2011
Ted Cruz speaking at the Value Voters Summit in 2011

Ted Cruz speaking at the Value Voters Summit in 2011

By rights, Ted Cruz should be locking up the evangelical vote in Iowa. Donald Trump is a mainline Protestant who barely goes to church. Ben Carson’s 15 minutes of fame is over. Marco Rubio’s faith journey has taken him from Catholicism to Mormonism to evangelicalism and back to Catholicism.

By contrast, Cruz is the real deal, on paper anyway. He’s a Southern Baptist born and bred, a preacher’s kid. He announced his candidacy at the university Jerry Falwell founded and has made the rounds from pastor to evangelical pastor. No one has a better record in Congress on the social issues.

And yet, according to the latest accounting, Trump all but matches him for evangelical support in the Hawkeye State, 29 percent to 31 percent. Carson’s at eight percent and Rubio’s at ten. What gives?

He’s got enemies. Listen to this radio spot from a Super Pac called Americans United for Values. It might well be titled, “Ted Cruz, Hypocrite” — telling a New York fundraiser he won’t make gay marriage a priority, contributing little to “charity or church” despite being a millionaire, having a wife who worked for Goldman Sachs, taking a secret loan from the same Wall Street bank. Talk about New York values!

But an ad like this begs the question. There’s got to be something more that’s made a lot of evangelicals wary of throwing their support to Cruz, and I think I know what it is. Take a look at the following video clip, from the first Republican presidential debate last August.

It’s his testimony, and (as he notes) he gives it all the time. But the conversion he’s talking about is his father’s, not his own. Evangelicals hate hypocrites as much as the next Judeo-Christian, but what they really want to experience is a fellow sinner explaining how Jesus turned his life around. Instead, Cruz gives them: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, / That saved a wretch like Dad.”

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Much to my surprise, the governor of our evangelical state of Alabama, endorsed Katich early in the race.

  • I wonder if this sort of thing is common to kids whose parents were religious leaders? Probably difficult to carve out your own spirituality when it’s always in Dad or Mom’s shadow. I know when people used to ask me if I was a Christian my answer in variably swerved into my “My Dad has been a pastor for XX years. He lead . Dad did this, that, etc..”

    It was usually enough to for folks to let me into the “inner circle church club”

  • If it were about all that, Huckabee would be the chief mopster.

    Evangelicals are not the deep thinking, theological giants of our day (see Fallwell –gunslinger of Toombstone)

    Evangelicals, it seems to me, are much more in tune with New York values these days. Sorry Ted. Money speaks louder than the Word.

    If Ben, Hillary and Trump were all in line to be the next pastor of the Rise and Shine Baptist (evangelical) church:

    Ben gets 10% of the vote in spite of his integrity and sincerity, not to mention his theological maturity. But they don’t want to sleep during the sermon.

    Hillary gets 20% because of the novelty of it all. (never mind the church split)

    And Donald, he becomes the new pastor by a landslide at 65% (5% wrote in Cruz)

    First Sermon is on 2 Corinthians
    First communion is pass the little crackers and juice please.
    First year is weekly lessons on the personal pronoun “I”.

    And all the people said, “Amen!”

  • Cruz is a dominionist who wants to inflict his brand of Christianity on us all by redirecting the government to favor his views. This would be a joke except that the guy is running for president and some very rich people support him.

    According to one study, “57% Of Republicans Say Dismantle Constitution And Make Christianity National Religion.”

    If you like your brand of faith — and if you accept that others will have different views — you really need to know about dominionism, while you still have a choice.

  • You’ve just got to love evangelicals. For decades they’ve cultivated a persistent, simmering undercurrent of sanctimonious outrage. It’s become so pervasive, and so powerful, that it’s consuming them, and is now causing them to eat their own (figuratively, that is).

    For the record, Cruz himself is just as much an evangelical (if not moreso) as his evangelical opponents. He’s the dominionist son of the dominionist preacher Rafael Cruz, who was raised to do what exactly what he’s doing, which is to refashion the government into a Christocracy. At the moment he’s forced to do this from the perspective of an “outsider” but over time he’s becoming more and more of an “insider” and will be able to agitate for (and as president, should he be elected, impose) the religiofascism he and his father have demanded for years.