Vail Daily column: Cruz gives God a cold shoulder
The presidential campaign has taken a wicked turn. Despite nasty retorts that lack Christian graciousness, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gets endorsed for president by most evangelicals in Iowa and Texas.
Recently, Cruz bagged Phil Robertson’s vote, head of the “Duck Dynasty” reality TV clan. In a video, Cruz crouches with Robertson in a duck blind, aiming to clip a mallard’s wings with a shotgun blast. Decked out in camouflage overalls, Cruz woos prey, blowing a duck whistle.
Robertson honks, “Ted Cruz is my man. He fits the bill. He’s godly, he loves us, he’s just the man for the job and he will go duck hunting!”
While a Princeton University student, Sen. Cruz won a national debating title. Today, he uses those sharp verbal skills to slice opponents. Wielding Christian faith as a cudgel, Cruz clubs captives until they submit to his politics of right-wing purity.
My mother warned me to distance myself from “snotty” people like Cruz. She found snarky tirades contrary to Jesus’ example. He instructed followers to “judge not, that you be not judged,” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1).
My mom wasn’t naive to believe Jesus refrained from rendering judgments. But when Christians weigh alternatives and discern right from wrong, they do so humbly. Truth lacking humility sounds testy. Humility split from truth slips into sentimentality. Christian discernment demands patience, a temperate tone and an ability to admit error. Cruz lacks these Christian virtues.
Former president George H.W. Bush, who served as vice-president in the Reagan Administration, tells how politicians create enemies’ lists and gain a following by bashing opponents. “I found out that jugular politics — going for the opposition’s throat — wasn’t my style,” recalls Bush. “It was a lesson carried over from my experience in business. When competition gets cutthroat, everybody loses. Sometimes confrontation is the only way to solve problems — but only as a last resort, after all other avenues have been explored.”
Such civility didn’t enamor the senior Bush to the right-wing Republican base in the 1980s. Today, Cruz takes the opposite tact from Bush to win voters. He’s curt rather than congenial and censors rather than compliments opponents. He lacks supportive Senate colleagues because he verbally chop blocks at the knees anyone who disagrees with him.
Why does he attract evangelical Christians? These believers hitch their political wagon to an authority figure who charges ahead. Other Christian groups such as Episcopalians place religious authority in a community, a tradition transmitted through set prayers and liturgy. Lutherans center authority in Christ’s sacrifice, remembered in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics anchor authority in church hierarchy with a pope at the top. Presbyterians dilute authority by checks and balances in which parishioners exercise their voices through elected representatives called elders.
Evangelicals, however, find liturgy stuffy. Sacraments feel too formal. They disdain church bureaucracy. Checks and balances slow down clerical entrepreneurs, say evangelicals.
Consequently, they opt for theological swashbucklers to lead them. Evangelicals tend to vote for Christian leaders who fight Satan, offering simple answers to complex questions. Cruz has mastered this way of dealing with enemies. He unleashes multiple zingers that blast those he admonishes. Better to destroy an enemy than converse with him or her. Such verbal authority in pulpits and on political stumps seduces some evangelical Christians.
Normally mild-mannered Republican NPR commentator David Brooks castigates Cruz for lacking Christian graces. In his commentary in The New York Times. Brooks condemns Cruz because the Texas senator has sold out on Christ. “ … In his career and public presentation, Cruz is a stranger to most of what generally would be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace,” states Brooks.
“Cruz’s behavior … is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: An overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy,” declares Brooks.
“Cruz manufactures an atmosphere of menace in which there is no room for compassion, for moderation, for anything but dismantling and counterattack. And that is what he offers,” says Brooks. “Cruz’s programmatic agenda, to the extent that it exists in his speeches, is to destroy things: Destroy the I.R.S., crush the ‘jackals’ of the E.P.A., end funding for Planned Parenthood, reverse Obama’s executive orders, make the desert glow in Syria, destroy the Iran nuclear accord.”
Cruz regularly raises hell against opponents. In contrast, Jesus sparingly used harsh judgment.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.