I am a Christian First: Ted Cruz and Christian Priorities

AP PhotoWhen GOP Presidential candidate Ben Carson rose in the polls a couple of months ago, a buzz started — mostly among activists and agitators — about the religious statements made by his now-chief of staff, retired Gen Bob Dees. (Dees had long been on Carson’s staff, but Carson’s rise brought sudden attention to otherwise old information.)

Now that Ted Cruz has risen to be Donald Trump’s primary challenger, critics of faith and liberty have shifted the “religious analysis” to him.

At the liberal-leftist Daily Kos, Ian Reifowitz called on his readers to imagine if a Jew or Muslim had said what Cruz had. Citing Politico, Reifowitz quoted Cruz:

“I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth…I’ll tell ya, there are a whole lot of people in this country that feel exactly the same way.”

Reifowitz assessed:

Could you imagine, for example, a Jewish candidate for president saying that he or she was a Jew first and an American second? Now imagine the sheer outrage if a Muslim American of any prominence whatsoever declared that he or she was Muslim first and American second. People’s heads would explode.

Reifowitz’s argument was almost immediately undermined by people pointing out that a politician had, essentially, said she was a ‘Jew first’ — and it wasn’t even a Republican. Last fall, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who is also the Democratic National Committee chair, went on CNN’s State of the Union and defended her Jewish credentials, saying, among other things

There’s nothing more important to me, as a Jew, to ensure that Israel’s existence is there throughout our generations.

A sitting member of the US Congress arguably elevated not just Judaism but also another country as her ‘first priority’… and heads did not explode.

Late to the show but not to be outdone, MRFF ally Ed Brayton (who previously claimed more military expertise than Cruz) similarly criticized Cruz’s “jaw-dropping” statement, using the same appeal to sensationalist emotion:

Now just imagine: “I’m a Muslim first, American second.” Cruz would be losing his damn mind over someone who made that statement. He’d be screaming SHARIA LAW at the top of his lungs.

Ed, Ian — Take this little mental stroll: Assume for a second that a supreme, all-powerful, eternal God exists. Now when a hypothetical believer meets that God one day, how do you think that omnipotent God would react to being told the believer had valued his government, his family, his politics, or anything else above God during his lifetime? How would that sincere believer react, knowing that he had valued the temporal and mortal — less than a vapor — above the eternal?

Intellectually, can’t even an atheist use his reason to understand why a religious person who believed in such a God would take that position? You don’t have to agree with it, but certainly even an atheist can respect the logic of it. (Like Penn Jillette, an avowed atheist who has expressed strong respect for proselytizing — saying “how much would you have to hate someone” to not proselytize them, if you thought they were going to hell?)

The three Abrahamic religions all declare the exclusive truth of an eternal God (in other religions, their gods’ mileage may vary). The Abrahamic faiths affirmatively state that this life is temporary, and that all men will eventually be called to account in front of an eternal God. A person of faith who does not say they are a Muslim, Jew, or Christian “first” is demonstrating a weak or immature faith, cognitive dissonance, or humanistic opportunism. Ultimately, it should be no surprise to find that a Jew, Muslim, or Christian declares their faith in God to be their ultimate priority — above their jobs, their families, and even their very lives.

Unfortunately, rather than respect, such statements now increasingly attract derision — another log in the fire of hostility toward public expression of faith (and Christianity, in particular). True to form, Brayton’s ally Michael “Mikey” Weinstein frequently attacks Christians in the military who dare to say they are a “Christian first” or that their God is their first priority, as he did with Maj Christina “Thumper” Hopper, MajGen Craig Olson, LtGen Ronnie Hawkins, and many others.

And Weinstein doesn’t just criticize these men and women: The tin foil hat-wearing Weinstein calls for their conviction and ouster, claiming they’re part of a secret ““Christian triumphalist” plan to subdue America,”” apparently part of a “shadow government” that includes James Dobson, Dick Cheney, and Col Sanders. (Weinstein has previously said Cruz was “a Dominionist opponent of the US Constitution.”)

In other words, Mikey Weinstein claims he is defending the US Constitution (or trying to save the world) by demanding a “religious test” that violates the US Constitution.  He wants the heads of Christians on pikes for the very logical statement that their first priority is to a Supreme Being — from whom, notably, our rights and freedoms originate, a point even the founders of the American experiment acknowledged.

Regrettably, attacks like these on Christians are “free” to the antagonist, apparently because it is politically popular to bash Christianity. Those of other faiths receive no such criticism from the same voices; in fact, such criticism might even be labeled anti-Semitic or Islamophobic.

Fortunately, the US military has grown thick skin toward Mikey Weinstein and rarely accedes to his calls to cut off the heads of Christians in the US military. In fact, high level military leadership now officially rebuffs Weinstein’s accusations, frequently with the assistance of nonprofit religious liberty groups.  Unfortunately, every now and then a military leader may, ignorantly or willfully, find it politically expedient to kowtow rather than defend the liberties of his troops, and that’s why Weinstein’s attacks on military religious freedom continue even today.

Notably, public hostility has strengthened Christian movements like I Am Second (an evangelistic ministry based upon living like God is first) and even the recitation of Bible verses many learn as children in Sunday School:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 1:16

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

It would appear, then, that Ted Cruz is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Like many Christians who happen to be in public service, he rightly acknowledges the priority of God in his life. As a self-described Christian, he should be commended for taking a typically Christian stand. That Reifowtiz, Brayton, Weinstein and others take issue with Christians acknowledging the supremacy of their Supreme God detracts nothing from that truth.

A Muslim who believes in the Koran should say that he identifies as a Muslim first and an American second. Someone who is Jewish or Christian should say they identify as followers of their faith first and Americans second. If nothing else, it is logical and consistent.

It is also an explicitly protected freedom in the United States. Thus, it is a great and ongoing irony that members of the government or the US military can stand up — are encouraged to stand up — and talk about their sex lives (if they’re homosexual), but they’re told to sit down and shut up if they want to talk about the One who saved their soul.

I am a Christian first.

What are you?

Photo Credit: AP Ty Hester.

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4 comments

  • Atheist Fighter Pilot

    I am an American first. But I enjoyed (and even agreed with parts of) this post.

    I do take issue with your opening comments, however. Your comparison between the Cruz statement and the Wasserman statement implies similarity when there is little or none at all. Consider:

    Cruz statement: “I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth…”

    Wasserman statement: “There’s nothing more important to me, as a Jew, to ensure that Israel’s existence is there throughout our generations.”

    First, let’s be honest about this… read the following sentences the way the Daily Kos author specifically intended:

    “I’m a Jew first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth…

    “I’m a Muslim first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth…

    Despite your excellent treatment of the notion that any sincere religious person SHOULD declare that they are first and foremost a Christian/Muslim/Jew, I think it is clearly the case that any public figure who were to say that they are a Jew first or a Muslim first – in the same context as Cruz – would experience very different treatment than the Christian making this declaration. And Cruz was criticized (by one quarter, anyway) so I suspect the Jew or Muslim would get hammered. But maybe I am wrong.

    Second, it seems to me that you are taking Wasserman’s comments completely out of context. If you read the link to the CNN/Wasserman story you provided, you have to know that Wasserman’s comments were made in the context of a foreign policy discussion that had specific ties to Israel. She was by no means asked to itemize the things that are most important to her in life (or even politics, for that matter) yet you represented it that way.

    Cruz, on the other hand, apparently made his remarks while defending his Christian bona fides. This is the precise context in which such remarks are relevant and therefore perfectly reasonable to interpret them as the Daily Kos author did. It’s wrong to use Wasserman’s comments as if they were made in this context, as you did.

    And again, if a Jew or (god forbid) a Muslim were to make such a statement in the same context that Cruz made his declaration, I don’t think the general public would be quite as supportive as you seem to be.

  • The problem is that Mr Cruz is running for the highest office in the land and will be making laws based on an obvious religious bias that will affect the lives of those who don’t share those beliefs. As a private citizen that is his right. As the POTUS this is a huge concern for many people, Especially when he tries to pass laws based on his interpretation of the Bible and not the Constitution.

    As a front runner for the Presidency yes he has the right (and should) make his beliefs truly know to all and then it is up to the voters to decide if he does represent all Americans or simply just some of them.

    As an outsider looking in All I see from any of the republican candidates is exclusion and divisiveness. Not one of them represent ALL Americans of is interested in those that do not agree with them (or have the correct place of birth or skin colour). This is no way to run a country and will only breed resentment from those that no longer have a voice.

    The end game for this can only lead to either the GOP being relegated to irrelevance or revolution. Lets home it’s the former and not the latter

    • @Robert
      Remember that in the American government, one man does not make laws. For the US government to pass laws with an “obvious religious bias,” you’d have to get a majority of 536 people to agree.

      More importantly, every single person conducts themselves, and would attempt to legislate or lead, based on their personal moral character (or “bias”). The fact that a person’s moral character might be Christian or another religion does not automatically delegitimize it, but you are correct that voters have the right to decide their own opinion of how that affects the candidate’s electability.

      Further, I am unaware of any legislative proposal that is based solely on religious bias. Some are unfairly characterized that way (opposition to abortion, for example), but that ignores the fact there are irreligious arguments for, and irreligious people who hold, those same views.

      Finally, you unfairly attributed all divisiveness to only “republican candidates.” Just as “bias” is present on every side, so is what you call “divisiveness.” The only difference is the demographic to which that viewpoint is addressed.

      In effect, your observations about American politics might be accurate, but only if they’re fairly applied to everyone on both sides, not just one person or one ideology.

  • I am French and Christian. I am glad that a presidential candidate says such things. I admire America for staying a Christian country. In Europe, countries are far less religious. Without Christianity you have Islam to replace it. More precisely, without strong religious convictions, peoples don’t have the strength to defend their heritage towards alien and anti-Western cultures. On the other side, agressive secularization in France tries to suppress the last signs of Christianity in the public sphere (even in books! http://www.christianophobie.fr/breves/christianophobie-chez-hachette-jeunesse#.VqsQHFJXLv8 ). In my country, I see the consequences of dechristianization (even if there are minorities which are still fervent religious).

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