Today (March 23, 2015) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced his candidacy for the presidency. He did so via video-tweet early in the morning and will follow the social media announcement up with a formal declaration of his bid for the White House at Liberty University. He is the first candidate to formally announce his campaign for 2016.
Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the U.S. and extremely influential among evangelicals, was founded by the late Jerry Falwell Sr. and it regularly plays host to political leaders and faith-filled influencers. For example, last year's commencement address was given by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana) who also might be running for president in 2016.
Given the location of Cruz's announcement and the fact that his senatorial state, Texas, is renowned for both its Bible belt mentality and a growing diversity of faiths in its major urban centers it makes sense to wonder what makes Cruz's soul tick. This is pertinent to apperceiving how this might shape the way he campaigns, governs, and represents the U.S. not only in the halls and chambers of the U.S. Capitol, but potentially in the White House. Furthermore, will it have an impact on Cruz's performance in the primaries?
Back in 2012 when Cruz was running against Paul Sadler (D) in the race for U.S. Senator I had the chance to talk to him about his faith. Cruz was congenial and kind, relaxed as he gave his interview in the early hours of the morning.
Cruz grew up in a Christian home and is Baptist. He sees his faith and spirituality as an integral part of his character, but was careful to remind me (and yes, you the voter as well) that he holds it at arms length when it comes to policy decisions and governance.
Cruz attended Faith West Academy in Katy, TX, a conservative and expanding suburb west of Houston. He later went to Second Baptist High School. Both Faith West and Second Baptist are among the top ten largest, and influential, Christian schools in the Bayou City. His wife and he are members today at Houston’s First Baptist, another large and affluent congregation in Houston.
The senator said he “gave his life to Christ” at age eight at Clay Road Baptist Church. Religion was an integral part of his upbringing. Born to a Cuban refugee father and mother from Delaware Cruz joked that "I'm Cuban, Irish and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist."
His father, Rafael Cruz is reportedly the Director of Purifying Fire International Ministry, founded by Suzanne Hinn, wife of mega-pastor and spirit healer Benny Hinn. Often appearing at functions with his son, Pastor Cruz has been quoted in speaking to a gather of Christians, "The majority of you… your anointing… is an anointing as king. God has given you an anointing to go to the battlefield. And what’s the battlefield? The marketplace. To go to the marketplace and occupy the land. To go to the marketplace and take dominion.”
Reminiscent of "Christian dominionism" -- the idea that Christians should work toward a nation governed by Christians or at least by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law -- Ted Cruz's father (whom he is named after as Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz) seems to contradict his son's sentiments regarding faith and politics. But so do some of Cruz's own actions.
“Your faith impacts every aspect of your life,” said Cruz. He commented that it guides him to serve others, to have a positive impact in his community and insisted that on the campaign trail it means trying to conduct a campaign with civility.
When it comes to governance, Cruz said his touchstone is the U.S. Constitution and that he tries, “to stay out of theological disputes.
“I am running for U.S. senator, not theologian-in-chief,” he said.
And yet it appears that Cruz regularly weaves theology and faith into his politics. In 2014 he passionately led a news conference at his home church, Houston's First Baptist, denouncing Mayor Annise Parker's move to attempt to subpoena pastors' sermons. That event served as a rallying cry for Christian conservatives across the country and Cruz was sure to capitalize on the moment.
David Brody, host of the Christian Broadcast Network's "Brody File," said concerning Cruz's speech:
While he may be the golden child of religious freedom for some evangelicals, Cruz differs from a sizable core of evangelical leaders on immigration reform. He voted against a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in 2013 that would give a path to citizenship to some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Although Cruz is the first Latino to serve as a U.S. senator from Texas he has criticized his party's pandering to Hispanic voters, saying it is akin to “Democrat Lite." Cruz also tries to remind leader that Latina/os are deeply religious and socially conservative. “There is a wide and varied faith tradition in my family and it’s the same for the Hispanic community,” he said.
Beyond disputes about immigration reform Cruz has proven a divisive figure in conservative politics with his crusade against Obamacare, his filibuster in the Senate, and his positions on Israel and Christians in the Middle East giving witness to his fire-brand style of Tea Party politics. Yet, Cruz is seen as the frontrunner among Tea Party faithful and has been lauded by some conservative evangelical circles -- indicated by his speech at Liberty in Lynchburg, VA today. In 2014 he placed first in the Values Voter Summit presidential straw poll for the second year in a row. He beat out second-place Ben Carson (20%) and another evangelical favorite, Mike Huckabee, who came in third with 12%.
A recent Pew Forum study reported that America’s 60 million religiously unaffiliated don't care much about a candidate’s faith. While 67% of the general public and 75% of the religiously affiliated believe it is important for a candidate, specifically a presidential one, to have strong religious beliefs, only 32% of America’s religious “nones” think it is.
As much as there may be a religious gap when it comes to caring about a candidate’s faith, there is also a generational one. The Public Religion Research Institute revealed that Millennials are evenly split on the issue, with 49% saying it is somewhat or very important and 48% responding it is not too important or not at all.
Nonetheless, some still believe it is important to understand a candidate’s faith and gives you insight into who a candidate really is.
“Sometimes you have to get at religion to understand what a politician really means with their policies and comments,” said Amy Sullivan, who covers religion and politics for TIME magazine. But, she said, “The implications are more important than the religious positions themselves.”
The question is not how much Cruz's faith will impact his electability, but how it will shape and form his potential presidency. While in rhetoric Cruz is plain about the separation of church and state his deeds and maneuvers are more ambivalent -- as his announcement at Liberty University makes clear.