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Stop Calling Ted Cruz a Dominionist

The Christian candidate's faith influences his platform, but not in the ways most critics assume.
Stop Calling Ted Cruz a Dominionist

Senator Ted Cruz has often stated that Jesus Christ is central to his life. He talks about how his father had left his family but returned after receiving the gospel, how his mother turned to Christ, and how this changed his life:

I was raised in the church.… When I was eight years old… [I] gave [my life] to Jesus. … [To] know that… I am redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, nothing is more important to me. I am a new creature in Christ, and it [is] central to who I am today.

I couldn’t run for president without relying heavily on my faith…. From the day we launched the campaign, Heidi and I have prayed simply that his will would be done. Each day, we try not to seek his hand (asking for help winning the race), but rather to seek his face (praying that his love and glory would be seen every day in the campaign).

Cruz’s unashamed affirmation of Christ resonates deeply with many Christians. But it has also created concern among many Christians and non-Christians alike. In this article, we’d like to clarify what we believe are misrepresentations of Cruz’s faith and its relationship to his politics.

Some have charged Cruz with being a “dominionist.” John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College, raised this issue in an article in Religion News Service(picked up by the Washington Post). Another version of his views was recently published in Christianity Today. Fea is echoed by Warren Throckmorton, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and by Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (1997). Then there is the provocative article by Jay Michaelson, an LGBT activist and religion columnist at The Daily Beast, “Does Ted Cruz Think He’s the Messiah?

Dominion theology and dominionism were terms coined in 1989 by sociologist Sara Diamond (Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right), referring to Christians who want to take over the government and six other facets of society (the media, business, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion), together known as the “Seven Mountains.” Diamond views this as “the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right.”

The term has become elastic, encompassing Christians who believe the United States was once a predominantly Christian nation as well as those who hold “right-wing” views. But as many writers have noted, this elastic sense has become a bogeyman. Jewish journalist Stanley Kurtz called it “conspiratorial nonsense,” while Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson declared: “Thin charges of dominionism are just another attempt to discredit opponents rather than answer them.” Even the liberal journalist Lisa Miller called the loose accusation of dominionism “the paranoid mot du jour” (On the dubious ways that this term is used, see also Joe Carter.)

Cruz, however, is not a dominionist. As a teenager he joined the Constitutional Corroborators, travelling throughout Texas reciting from memory the text of the Constitution up through the Bill of Rights. He was taught law at Princeton by Robert George, and at Harvard Law School by Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz, who is Jewish, observed that he was “one of the brightest students we ever had.” Cruz, with his formidable knowledge of the Constitution, is a passionate proponent for a republican form of government with checks and balances, accessible to all.

Accordingly, he stands against those who would use the Constitution as a cipher for personal ideology. Liberal proponents of a “living Constitution” seek to amend the Constitution by the fiat of unelected liberal jurists, bypassing the constitutionally-prescribed process of amendment. As Abraham Lincoln said, if American citizens accepted the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, they would “have ceased to be their own rulers, having … practically resigned their government into the hands of that … tribunal.” Cruz’s view is consonant with two contemporary Catholic giants of jurisprudence: his professor, Robert George, and his mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. George wrote us:

”The contemporary religious Left’s version of McCarthyist red-baiting is to smear opponents by labeling them ‘dominionists.’ … Ted’s not a dominionist; he’s a constitutionalist. I’ve known Senator Cruz for more than half his life. I supervised his junior year independent project and senior thesis at Princeton, working with him closely on the Constitution’s protections of liberty by way of structural limitations on power. I’ve stayed closely in touch with him in the years since, sometimes discussing constitutional questions (especially those pertaining to religious freedom). In 31 years of teaching constitutional law and civil liberties, and 25 years of serving on various capacities in public life, never have I met a person whose fidelity to the Constitution was deeper than Senator Cruz’s.”

When Ben Carson asserted he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Cruz rejected that view: “The Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office, and I am a constitutionalist.” At a CNN Milwaukee Republican Presidential Town Hall discussion, Cruz responded to the concern that his Christian faith would interfere when “making decisions for all religions in the United States.” He replied,

“I’m not asking you to vote for me because of my personal faith with Jesus Christ. I’m asking you to vote for me because I’ve spent a lifetime fighting to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” --Ted Cruz

“With me, as with many people in America, my faith is an integral part of who I am. I’m a Christian, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. … I’m not asking you to vote for me because of my personal faith with Jesus Christ. I’m asking you to vote for me because I’ve spent a lifetime fighting to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, fighting to defend the American free enterprise system, and we need a leader who will stand up every day and protect the rights of everyone, whether they’re Christians or Jews or Muslims or anyone else.

“The Bill of Rights protects all Americans…. That’s the beauty of the Bill of Rights.… We have the freedom to seek out God, to worship and to live according to our faith and our conscience, and I think the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a unifying principle that can bring us together across faiths, across races, across ethnicity.”

So, then, Cruz is committed not to a theocratic state, but to Judeo-Christian values that benefit all of America, and affirms the right of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to act consistently with their beliefs. If Cruz’s religious guidance had led him to progressivist policies, liberal politicians would have little objection. In our view, the objection from liberals arises from his conservative views.

In a Washington Post article, John Fea charges Cruz with dominionism on the issue of abortion: “Cruz wants to defund Planned Parenthood because it threatens the traditional Christian understanding of the family.” What pro-life voter doesn’t want Planned Parenthood defunded? Abortion’s most immediate threat is not to the “traditional understanding of the family” but to those in the womb. We’re unclear how this is a sign of dominionism.

He claims that “when Cruz talks about the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, he almost always discusses it in the context of persecution against Christians.” We don’t deny that Cruz’s faith plays a role: “When I fight to defend religious liberty, it's not purely a constitutional matter; it's a lifelong passion and personal commitment. When I stand to defend life and marriage, it is a core tenet of my faith.”

There is good reason to give special (though not exclusive) attention to the religious liberty of Christians. Christians have been targeted for state prosecution: bed-and-breakfast owners, photographers, florists, bakers, Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, Gordon College, and even “the Little Sisters of the Poor.” This is only the tip of the iceberg for Christians. Cruz has stated that he would work toward the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act in his first hundred days as president and consider recommendations to protect American citizens from state-sponsored religious discrimination, made by his Religious Liberty Advisory Council.

Some have also accused Cruz of being a “Christian Zionist.” However, his support for Israel is based significantly on analytical and strategic grounds. He judges Israel’s faults in the Middle Eastern conflict to be slight in comparison to Palestinian terrorist activities, and acknowledges Israel as a valuable democratic ally. In this, as in other matters, Cruz is a non-interventionist. Asked about the best future political scenario for that troubled area, he responded: “I think that is a question to be decided by the nation of Israel and the Palestinian people.”

The charge of dominionism, applied to the father, is exaggerated. Applied to the constitutionalist son, it is farcical.

Cruz has also been accused of holding a simplistic view of the Founding Fathers’ faith, on the grounds of this address to a South Carolina Congregation. It would have been pointless in this context for Cruz to have identified which Founding Fathers were confessional Christians and which were theists or deists. Instead, Cruz moves from some extraordinary things that God did in his life, and then asks those listening to consider that God is also able to work in the nation as a whole. He is simply asking Christians to be “salt and light” in a world moving away from the firmer foundation upon which its framers stood. He closes his comments not as a political agitator, but exhorts the congregation to get involved in the electoral process, to let their light shine, and to pray.

Some argue that, while Cruz has never used the term dominionism, he has never publicly rejected these beliefs. They attribute guilt by association, citing the views of Cruz’s father or David Barton of WallBuilders, a prominent supporter. Particular attention is focused on a much-excerpted 2012 sermon of Rafael Cruz Sr. One might not be comfortable with the style of worship or preaching, or agree with the biblical interpretation, the prosperity gospel, or eschatological scenarios. What is preached, however, amounts to an encouragement to his congregation to determine their gifts (administrative or spiritual), to be active and pleasant in their work places, and to influence society for good. (Watch the entire sermon, not just the clips.) The preacher hopes for Christ to come and restore balance, but there is no sense of a theocratic takeover here.

The detractors, however, should be talking about Ted, not Rafael. One shouldn’t fear a theocracy from a politician whose avowed intent is to return power to the states. The charge of dominionism, applied to the father, is exaggerated. Applied to the constitutionalist son, it is farcical.

Some also have associated Cruz’s supposed dominionism with military intervention overseas. For example, John Fea implies that Cruz’s statement about “carpet bombing” ISIS shows him to have a hypocritical disregard of human life that undermines his pro-life claim. Cruz’s explanation makes clear, however, that he was not referring to the targeting of the civilian population, but to the deployment of massive air power, increasing the current 15–30 air strikes per day to 1,100 (as in the first Persian Gulf War). Furthermore, Cruz is hardly a trigger-happy hawk. Cruz has called the 2003 Iraq invasion a mistake. He has also critiqued efforts at regime change in Syria through military intervention, given the destabilizing opportunity for ISIS already seen in the regime changes in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. It’s hard to see how all this adds up to dominionism.

In step with these concerns over traditional morality and triumphalism is the complaint leveled at him by David Brooks concerning his “brutalism”— that he is a modern-day “Pharisee” more concerned for legal niceties in a Supreme Court case than the plight of a particular incarcerated man. Lawyer David French comes to a very different view. Anyone who reads the oral arguments will discover that Cruz himself suggested another way for this man to get the shorter sentence he deserved. It was Cruz’s job as state Solicitor General to care about the precedent this case would set: he was supported in his decision by six of the nine the Supreme Court justices.

Our point in all this is not to convince readers to vote for Ted Cruz, but to try to clarify the actual relationship of his faith to his politics. To be sure, he clearly wants Christian values to shape this country. But this does not make him a dominionist. It makes him a conservative constitutionalist who takes his Christian faith seriously—someone who believes that many Christian values could be beneficial for the whole body politic.

Robert Gagnon, a member of the PCUSA, and Edith M. Humphrey, who is Eastern Orthodox, are colleagues and professors of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Gagnon is author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, and other books and scholarly articles. Humphrey is author of seven books, including Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven, and Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says.

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Stop Calling Ted Cruz a Dominionist