On the Sunday morning before this year’s South Carolina primary, Dr. Carl Broggi, the pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, turned over his pulpit—emblazoned with the Protestant watchword “sola scriptura,” to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz. I am not sure if it is fair to call Cruz’s speech that morning a “sermon.” The candidate did not open up a biblical text and carefully explain its meaning in the way that I am sure Dr. Broggi had been trained to do at Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Cruz did mention a few verses from the Bible during his message, but they were applied less to the spiritual lives of the souls in attendance that morning and more to the character of the United States of America as Cruz understands it. Let’s face it—this was a stump speech.
The Texas senator’s message was lifted from an old playbook. For nearly 400 years Americans have been conflating the message of the Bible with the fate of the country. Ever since the Puritan John Winthrop said that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a “city on a hill” Americans have seen themselves as God’s chosen people—a new Israel with a special destiny.
Cruz’s message on this Sunday morning was a product of the God-and-country narrative that took America by storm in the 1980s. This was an era when American evangelicals hitched their wagon to the Republican Party and set out to wage a culture war for the soul of America. Unlike any other candidate in the 2016 presidential race, Cruz has mastered the rhetoric first introduced by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others on the Religious Right.
Cruz came of age—as a Christian and an American-- during the height of the Religious Right’s power. During his sermon at Community Bible Church, he told an inspiring story of God’s work in his family. The personal testimony of Cruz’s father, Rafael, who is now an itinerant preacher and spiritual adviser to his son’s presidential campaign, demonstrates the power of the gospel to change the trajectory of a human life and reunite a family broken by alcohol abuse. Because God saved Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz was raised in an evangelical subculture. He grew up studying the Bible and was taught to integrate faith and learning at Second Baptist School in Houston.
As the Cruz family assimilated to American evangelicalism, Rafael, a Cuban immigrant, also wanted to make sure that they assimilated the ideas and values he believed defined the United States. The precocious Ted went above and beyond the call of duty on this front. As a teenager, he memorized the United States Constitution and traveled around Texas reciting it at civic clubs and other patriotic gatherings as part of a group of like-minded kids known as the “Constitutional Corroborators.” His involvement with this group no doubt went a long way toward landing him a spot in the class of 1992 at Princeton University.
In short, there have been few presidential candidates in United States history with such bona fide God-and-country credentials.
Cruz’s Christian worldview is on display in virtually every speech he delivers. His campaign is perhaps best described as a reclamation project. He wants to “restore,” “return to,” or “reclaim” the “Judeo-Christian values” that he believes are “the foundation of this nation.”