Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Can Cubans Be Evangelicals?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know how frequently faith and politics intersect. Partly, that is because of my training and interests. However, it is also because they simply do. Donald Trump provided another example of that yesterday.

Those surveying the political landscape know that Trump is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President in 2016. But they also know that Sen. Ted Cruz (R–TX) is leading the polls in Iowa. The Iowa caucuses will occur early next year, and are considered a barometer for the candidates’ chances going through the rest of the primaries (though they have not been as influential in the last few election cycles).

Trump and Cruz have largely avoided criticizing one another, which in my opinion has been an especially good strategy for the latter. However, Trump is obviously feeling the pressure from Cruz’s recent surging. The senator is having particular success with evangelical Christians like himself, and those Christians are a vitally important bloc in the Iowan Republican party.

“Out of Cuba”

For Trump to win in Iowa, conventional wisdom would suggest that he needs the support of evangelicals. That may not be the case next year, but if so, he is in trouble. Cruz has wrapped up a number of key endorsements from influential evangelicals. He is also deeply attuned to the concerns of evangelical Christians. He has proven himself to be one of them, and to be a champion of their causes. The trust that has been forged means that they are likely to stand with him.

This is obviously a problem for Trump, and he is trying to shore up his evangelical support. You might think that would require showing a sensitivity to their key issues. Of course, he would have to understand them to do so. Failing that, he has leaned back on what has gotten him this far: personal attacks. At a rally yesterday, Trump held up a Bible and said, “You got to remember in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba.”

This is a perfect example of the type of man Donald Trump is. He is attempting to tap into an urge he sees as motivating the average Republican voter. I hope he is wrong about them, because this is nothing more than rank xenophobia. He is suggesting that Ted Cruz is ineligible for the presidency because he is foreign.

One minor problem with that: it isn’t true. Cruz is a natural-born American citizen. He is not from Cuba. And that fact that his father is, does not mean he cannot be an evangelical Christian.

The Nationality of Christianity

That is what I find most insulting. Trump is suggesting in no uncertain terms that faith is dependent on race. But if he knew anything about evangelical Christianity, he would know the Bible. And if he knew the Bible, he would be familiar with Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11.

In these two passages, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that Christianity is not a matter of where you were born or who your parents are. None of those distinctions have any meaning, because we are all united into one family by the work of Jesus Christ. Faith in Him makes us the same, no matter where we come from.

It is obviously wrong to suggest a candidate is untenable merely because of his heritage. It is a whole other level to say they cannot have faith because of it. I do not know Ted Cruz personally, and even if I did, I could never be absolutely certain of what he believes. Faith is too personal for that. However, it is possible to gain relative certainty, and Cruz has done enough to convince me of his sincerity. Still, that is not the point. Even if I doubted him, it would not change the fact that his ethnicity has nothing to do with it. Christianity is a human religion, not an American one.

Godwin’s Law

Have you ever heard of “Godwin’s Law?” It says that in an argument, particularly an online one, someone will eventually turn to comparing his opponents to the Nazis. When he does that, he has lost. It is a lazy ad hominem attack that essentially admits he cannot defend his ideas, so he is just going to make the other person out to be a monster.

The problem with Godwin’s Law, at least as it is commonly understood, is that it means you can never compare anyone or anything to the Nazis. If you do, you open yourself up to accusations of violating the “law.” Since, however, the Nazis were actual people who did actual things, there will be occasions in which the comparison to them is an apt one. I believe this is just such a case.

Germany already has a state church before the 1930’s and 40’s, which was bad enough. However, when the Nazi’s came to power, they attempted to make it into something even more grotesque. The Gospel was changed from a message of sacrifice and forgiveness into one of power and conquest. And it was also morphed from something for humanity to something for Germany. As with everything else the Nazis did, it became a project of exclusion.

For the record, and to avoid prosecution in the courts of Godwin’s Law, I am not saying Donald Trump is a Nazi. But on this matter, at least, there is a worrisome parallel that I hope is obvious. Trump is trying to tie religion so closely to nationality that anyone who does not belong to the latter cannot be in the former. Therefore, they cannot be trusted.

If Christianity can be unmoored this way from one of its foundational truths, then it can be taken to other terrible places. It always takes on a national flavor, but it needs to keep a supernational character. When it does not, it is no longer something to share. It no longer teaches us to love others. Instead, it encourages the suspicions inherent in nationalism, leading to irrational hatreds. National Christianity can be a dreadful evil.

Doing the Hard Work

I can only hope that my fellow believers will see the error of this type of thinking, and share the truth about it. It can be harder than it seems. Many of us are worried about our nation, as we have every right to be. Those concerns are quite real, and in this republic, we have a responsibility to seek leaders who will respond to them. But that does not give us the right to abandon higher truths and right reason. We need to live by them more than ever, actually.

Real, positive change can only come through a close alignment to the Gospel. Trying to shut anyone out of it in a vain attempt to prove the sole superiority of your nation is foolish and futile. It is the easy way out, an assumption based on pride rather than knowledge. On the other hand, inviting everyone to enjoy the Gospel and its byproducts is a way to show this nation is still special. And special, but not superior, is an important distinction, because only “Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11). The humility to admit that makes us better.

Knowing the Truth

Ted Cruz did not “come out of Cuba.” His father did. He is Cuban in the sense that he is of that descent, just as he is Irish and Italian. More importantly, he is American not only by birth but also by philosophy. Most importantly of all, he is Christian by faith. That last element is not contingent on any of the ones that preceded it. And in the end, it is the only one that will matter.

May God have mercy on Donald Trump for having the arrogance to wave the Bible around as a weapon when he has no idea what it means. May the American electorate know better than to place any power in such a man’s hands. And may the Gospel of Jesus Christ shine forever bright above every cloud of division and strife. In Him, and only in Him, we can find unity. So long as we stay true to Him.

(Des Moines Register)

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