Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats

As a free-market secularist, I see Ted Cruz, politically, as a split personality. On one hand (to list a few examples), he speaks eloquently for freedom of political speech,1 he opposes politically controlled health care (at least as manifest in ObamaCare),2 and he used his tenure with the Federal Trade Commission to move that agency in a direction less hostile to free markets.3 On the other hand, he makes religion a centerpiece of his politics; for example, for religious reasons he advocates various restrictions on abortion (although he has been remarkably cagey about how far he’d prefer to go with such restrictions).[Update: See my December 4 article about Cruz’s support for abortion bans.]

What most worries me about Ted Cruz as a presidential candidate are not those explicit elements of his platform that clash with the principles of liberty, but his open pandering to evangelical voters, even to outright theocrats. This matters, not only because Cruz will be beholden to the voters who elect him (if he wins), but because Cruz is actively supporting and helping to organize a religious-conservative movement likely to play a major role in American politics for many years. To those who, like me, worry that the Republican Party began to slide toward faith-centered politics many years ago, Cruz’s acceleration of that trend is frightening.

From the beginning, a centerpiece of Cruz’s strategy has been to win evangelicals to his side. In March, Cruz delivered his campaign announcement at Liberty University, a Christian institution (which, incidentally, features the “Center for Creation Studies” that promotes a “young-earth creationist view”).5 During his faith-heavy remarks, Cruz said, “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”6 This is a theme that Cruz has emphasized repeatedly.7

The fact that Cruz is so actively and thoroughly tying his campaign to the evangelical movement is by itself alarming. Cruz’s campaign has (as examples) issued news releases announcing the formation of a “national prayer team” and bragging that Cruz’s “Faith Leadership Team [includes] more than 200 faith leaders from around the nation.”8 When it comes time for Cruz (should he win) to nominate Supreme Court justices (among other things), it’s pretty clear where his loyalties will lie.

But Cruz has done far more than ally himself with mainstream evangelical voters; he has openly pandered to outright theocrats. Anyone who thinks my use of the term theocrat is hyperbolic or exaggerated is welcome to try to explain how treating abortion legally as murder, from the moment of conception, as many of Cruz’s allies wish to do, or arguing that states justifiably execute homosexuals or abortion providers at least in some circumstances, as at least two of Cruz’s allies do, is not theocratic in nature.

I must pause to distinguish my approach here from that of leftist provocateurs. (I consider myself to be on the political right, as Craig Biddle defines it, which I consider to be the natural home of rational secularists of the broadly Enlightenment tradition.)9 I am well aware of the Saul Alinsky-inspired techniques of character assassination10—indeed, I and my friends have at times been the targets of such attacks. My criticisms here include rather than exclude the relevant context, and I blame people only for what they have demonstrably said or done. I do not blame Cruz for the remarks that his allies make; I blame him only for actively allying himself, in the context of a presidential campaign, with people who express frankly horrific views. It is intellectually dishonest of leftists to make spurious character attacks on their opponents—and it is also intellectually dishonest of conservatives to rationalize away well-grounded criticisms of a conservative. Hopefully readers can bear that in mind as we proceed.

Troy Newman on “Bloodguilt”

First consider the case of Troy Newman. On November 19, Cruz’s campaign issued a news release bragging that Cruz picked up Newman’s endorsement. The release states:

Today, Presidential candidate Ted Cruz secured the endorsement of leading pro-life activist Troy Newman—a driving force in the recent effort to expose Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of baby parts in a series of undercover videos. Newman is the President of Operation Rescue, one of the most prominent pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation. . . .

“I am grateful to receive the endorsement of Troy Newman,” Cruz said. “He has served as a voice for the unborn for over 25 years, and works tirelessly every day for the pro-life cause. We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”11

Remember, then, that Cruz and Newman are not connected merely in some casual way; Newman has openly expressed his support for Cruz’s presidential bid, and Cruz has publicly welcomed that support and touted his political alliance with Newman.

So what does Troy Newman advocate? Consider some of Newman’s views as expressed in his book Their Blood Cries Out, which he coauthored with Cheryl Sullenger. That book states (among many other bizarre things): “[T]he United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.”12

Newman claims that this passage has been taken out of context. So what is the context? Here is how Newman’s own organization, Operation Rescue, explains it:

In that book, which was a theological study of the Biblical doctrine of bloodguilt, Newman and Sullenger discuss the Old Testament principle that required those who commit murder should be sentenced to death by a court of justice. They surmised that if indeed abortion is murder, then it would be acceptable, based on the Old Testament teachings, for governments to treat it as it does any other murder with those convicted through a court of law subject to the same punishments other murderers would face, including capital punishment.

Yet, not surprisingly, [Terri] Butler [an Australian critic] neglected to mention that later chapters in that now out of print book referenced the New Testament concept that mercy is preferable to judgement, and that repentance and restoration is available through Jesus Christ to all men who seek it.13

Notice that this is the explanation that’s supposed to make us feel comfortable with Newman’s remarks and persuade us that Newman is a perfectly reasonable fellow.

So is Newman’s organization claiming that state executions of abortion providers was justified only in Old Testament times, and that, today, “mercy” always should push aside “judgment”? No, it is not. Newman leaves open the possibility that “Old Testament teachings” might still be relevant for modern governments—and his book explicitly mentions the United States in the context of a government that may properly execute abortion providers.

The same release quotes Newman’s coauthor Sullenger, now Senior Vice President of Operation Rescue (under Newman): “There is a distinct difference between saying that the Bible gives the authority to governments to execute justice, as we explained in the book, and advocating that individuals commit murder of abortion providers.” Yes, there is a distinct difference. Newman and Sullenger advocate only state executions of abortion providers, not vigilante executions. So helpful of her to clear that up.

Incidentally, Sullenger herself did not always so keenly recognize the distinction between state-sanctioned violence and individual violence. The same Operation Rescue statement discusses “Cheryl Sullenger’s conviction in 1988 of conspiring to bomb an abortion facility in San Diego, California the previous year.” She “expressed remorse” for her actions, and she now works “within peaceful and legal means” to ban all abortion from the moment of conception and to empower government to execute abortion providers.

The same statement by Operation Rescue explains Newman’s earlier remarks about the Reverend Paul Jennings Hill, who murdered an abortion provider and his bodyguard in 1994 and who was subsequently executed for the crime.

At the time, Newman stated, “A Florida judge denied Rev. Hill his right to present a defense that claimed that the killing of the abortionist was necessary to save the lives of the pre-born babies that were scheduled to be killed by abortion that day.”

That was a perfectly reasonable position for Newman to take, Newman’s Operation Rescue assures us:

This statement has been frequently misinterpreted as “evidence” of Newman’s support for the position that murdering abortion providers is justifiable homicide. That is a gross mischaracterization of his statement.

Newman deplored the fact that Hill had murdered two people, but felt the need to express disappointment that the court refused to allow Hill to use the defense of his choosing. . . .

Do you see the distinction? Newman was not claiming that Rev. Hill’s execution of two people constituted “justifiable homicide”; he was merely claiming that Rev. Hill should have been able to argue in court that the executions were justifiable homicide. (Readers of Newman’s original 2003 release, with its language about “the innocent victims of abortion that Hill endeavored to rescue” and the “many examples where taking the life in defense of innocent human beings is legally justified,” might forgive Newman’s critics for thinking that Newman was defending Hill’s actions.)14

Bearing these background facts about Newman in mind, recall that Ted Cruz, currently one of the Republican frontrunners in the race to become the next president of the United States, said on November 19: “I am grateful to receive the endorsement of Troy Newman. He has served as a voice for the unborn for over 25 years, and works tirelessly every day for the pro-life cause. We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”

Contra Cruz, we do not need such leaders—nor do we need leaders who count such people as allies.

Kevin Swanson on “The Death Penalty for Homosexuals”

During the “Freedom 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference” held November 6–7 in Des Moines, Iowa, Ted Cruz appeared on stage with Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson to discuss religion in America. Swanson’s appearance at the conference was not incidental; Swanson’s organization Generations with Vision organized and sponsored the conference.15 Moreover, Swanson is listed as one of six “keynote speakers” for the conference, and, according to the schedule listed, he offered the introductory remarks, the “closing keynote,” and other talks—in addition to his interview with the three presidential candidates who attended (Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal joined Cruz there). It’s fair to say that Swanson hosted the conference and was its driving force.

At this very conference, Swanson said the following (you can watch the video of him):

Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. Yes, Romans, chapter one, verse thirty-two, the Apostle Paul does say that homosexuals are worthy of death. His words, not mine. And I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . .

And I know, I’ve taken the counsel, many have told me this weekend, “You be careful. You choose your words carefully. We have presidentials coming down to this conference this weekend.” I understand that. But I am not ashamed of the truth of the word of God, and I’m willing to go to jail for it.

Then they ask me, “Yes, but do you advocate for our civil leaders to do this today?” And my answer is no. But why? Here’s why, because that’s not such a big deal. We are not to fear those who can kill the body. Yea, Jesus says, fear rather the one who can cast body and soul in hell forever.

The discussion concerning the capital punishment of homosexuals is nothing, is not all that important when contrasted with hellfire forever. You say, “Why wouldn’t you call for it?” I say it’s because we need some time for homosexuals to repent, that’s why.

He goes on to say that “there’s not much difference between adultery and homosexuality,” morally speaking; that he considers adultery to include “illegitimate” cases of divorce and remarriage; and that pornography is equally bad. He says (referring to others asking him the question), “Why don’t you call for it?”—with “it” referring to execution for “crimes” such as homosexuality. He answers, “America needs time to repent, of their homosexuality, of their adultery, and their porn addictions.”16

Quite obviously, here Swanson is calling for the future execution of unrepentant homosexuals by the state, after America has had “time to repent”—and only by the most fantastic act of evasion can a listener pretend that he said otherwise. He says that “civil leaders” should not execute homosexuals “today . . . because we need some time for homosexuals to repent” first. Then, after they (and the vast numbers of other “guilty” Americans) have had “time to repent,” government should execute unrepentant homosexuals (and apparently other “sinners” as well). That’s what Swanson clearly says and clearly means to say.

Notice the structure of Swanson’s argument. He claims that, today, American government should not execute homosexuals, because today American culture is too evil for that to happen. But, in the future, when America becomes morally virtuous (by his perverted religious understanding of the terms), then America will be ready to institute the death penalty for homosexuality.

Even those who pretend that Swanson did not really mean what he said still are left with the uncomfortable fact that the potential execution of homosexuals was a serious part of the discussion at this conference. The best-case scenario is that attendees seriously discussed whether government officials, in America, should execute homosexuals, and, if so, whether they should do so immediately or at some point in the future. That’s the sort of conference that Ted Cruz chose to attend and address as part of his political campaign for the presidency.

But did Cruz, despite the existence of the Internet, not know what he was getting into? Did he have no idea what sort of views Swanson espouses? No, Cruz knew exactly what sort of views Swanson espouses.

Before Cruz attended Swanson’s event, Cruz appeared on television with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Tapper said to Cruz:

You are speaking at a conference this weekend, the National Religious Liberties conference in Des Moines. It’s organized by a guy named Kevin Swanson. You’ve been very outspoken about what you deem liberal intolerance of Christians. But Kevin Swanson has said some very inflammatory things about gays and lesbians. He believes Christians should hold up signs at gay weddings, holding up the Leviticus verse, instructing the faithful to put gays to death because what they do is an “abomination.” I don’t hold you responsible for what other people say, but, given your concern about liberal intolerance, are you not in some ways endorsing conservative intolerance?

Cruz began his answer, “Listen, I don’t know what this gentleman has said or hasn’t said”—and then he proceeded to completely evade Tapper’s question.17 Even if Cruz was not aware of Swanson’s views prior to the interview with Tapper—which is wildly implausible—he certainly was aware of some of Swanson’s views prior to the conference, because Tapper told him about them. Cruz obviously was aware of Swanson’s views by the time of the conference and probably well before that (unless Cruz wishes to argue that he did not hear what Tapper said and that his campaign is run by idiots who do not watch his television interviews and do not know how to conduct simple Google searches).

Here is the most plausible interpretation of the facts: Swanson organized the event in question, Cruz knew that Swanson organized it, Cruz knew the sorts of views that Swanson espouses, and Cruz went to the event anyway in order to pander to the evangelical voters that Swanson attracts. Put bluntly, Cruz calculated that his political gain from rubbing shoulders with Swanson and his acolytes would outweigh the political damage of, well, rubbing shoulders with Swanson and his acolytes.

Incidentally, Swanson’s tirade about homosexuals was not the only lunacy on display at the conference. Another speaker at the event, a pastor, distributed literature calling for the death penalty for (you guessed it) homosexuals.18 Less horrific but also bizarre, another speaker explained how the Disney film Frozen encourages children to turn away from God and follow Satan.19 That’s just a taste. Given that Swanson’s organization planned the event, the fact that it attracted some of the most fanatical representatives of modern American Christianity (in addition to Swanson) should surprise no one.

Note that I am not claiming that Cruz agrees with Swanson; obviously he does not (because Swanson is a bloodthirty fanatic). What I am claiming is what is true: that Cruz intentionally sought an alliance with Swanson and with Swanson’s acolytes by attending and speaking at Swanson’s hate-filled event, even talking with Swanson on stage about religion in the context of Cruz’s political campaign. Is that not sufficiently damning?

It isn’t according to Cruz’s campaign spokesperson, Rick Tyler. In reply to Rachel Maddow, Tyler first claimed that Swanson’s remarks were “not explicit” enough to justify the concerns expressed (!), then claimed that Cruz should not be held “accountable for something he did not say nor believes.”20

But Tyler misses the point. Cruz should not be held accountable for what Swanson says; Cruz should be held accountable for actively allying himself with Swanson, considering what Swanson says. If that is not obvious to a man seeking to become president of the United States, it’s obvious that that man is unsuited to the position.

As Ted Cruz himself openly acknowledges, religious faith is a centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency. A major part of Cruz’s political strategy is to ally himself with evangelical leaders and voters—including the outright theocrats Troy Newman and Kevin Swanson. Anyone who takes seriously Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” must condemn Cruz for these tactics and alliances.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State

Related:

Endnotes

1. “Sen. Ted Cruz Objects to Democrats Attempt to Repeal Free Speech Protections,” Senator Ted Cruz, September 9, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXAYFzhNhQg.

2. “Senate Session, Part 2,” C-SPAN, September 24, 2013, http://www.c-span.org/video/?315212-2/senate-session-part-2.

3. Asheesh Agarwal and John Delacourt, “What No One Seems to Know About Ted Cruz’s Past,” PJ Media, September 30, 2015, https://pjmedia.com/blog/what-no-one-seems-to-know-about-ted-cruzs-past. Ted Cruz’s campaign web site lists a number of other issues on which Cruz is friendly to freer markets; see “Jobs & Opportunity,” Ted Cruz 2016, https://www.tedcruz.org/record/jobs-opportunity/ (accessed November 30, 2015). By contrast, Cruz’s positions regarding immigration are decidedly protectionist in nature; see “Cruz Plan to Top Illegal Immigration Highlights,” Ted Cruz 2016, https://www.tedcruz.org/cruz-immigration-plan-summary/ (accessed November 30, 2015).

4. See “Life, Marriage & Family,” Ted Cruz 2016, https://www.tedcruz.org/record/life-marriage-family/ (accessed November 30, 2015); see also Peggy Fikac, “Ted Cruz Says Questions about Mourdock Rape Comment Are ‘An Unfortunate Distraction from the Issues that Matter,’” Chron, October 31, 2012, http://blog.chron.com/txpotomac/2012/10/ted-cruz-says-questions-about-mourdock-rape-comment-are-an-unfortunate-distraction-from-the-issues-that-matter/ and Lisa Desjardins, “What Does Ted Cruz Believe? Where the Candidate Stands on 10 Issues,” PBS News Hour, July 1, 2015, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/ted-cruz-believe-candidate-stands-10-issues/.

5. “Center for Creation Studies, Liberty University, http://www.liberty.edu/academics/arts-sciences/creation/ (accessed November 30, 2015).

6. Ryan Teague Beckwith, “Transcript: Read Full Text of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Campaign Launch,” Time, March 23, 2015, http://time.com/3754392/ted-cruz-liberty-university-speech-transcript/.

7. See, for example, Abby Livingston, “Cruz to South Carolina Evangelicals: I’m One of You,” Texas Tribune, November 16, 2015, http://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/16/cruz-south-carolina-evangelicals-im-one-you/.

8. “Ted Cruz Announces Formation of National Prayer Team,” Ted Cruz 2016, November 19, 2015, https://www.tedcruz.org/news/ted-cruz-announces-formation-of-national-prayer-team/ (accessed November 30, 2015); “More than 200 Faith Leaders Endorse Ted Cruz for President,” Ted Cruz 2016, November 20, 2015, https://www.tedcruz.org/news/more-than-200-faith-leaders-endorse-ted-cruz-for-president/ (accessed November 30, 2015).

9. See Craig Biddle, “Political ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Properly Defined,” Objective Standard, June 26, 2012, https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2012/06/political-left-and-right-properly-defined/.

10. Linn Armstrong and Ari Armstrong, “The Saul Alinsky Connection: Obama’s Unprincipled Class Warfare Threatens the Nation,” AriArmstrong.com, September 16, 2015, http://ariarmstrong.com/2011/09/the-saul-alinsky-connection-obamas-unprincipled-class-warfare-threatens-the-nation/.

11. “Troy Newman, Activist Behind Planned Parenthood Videos, Endorses Ted Cruz,” Ted Cruz 2016, November 19, 2015, https://www.tedcruz.org/news/troy-newman-activist-behind-planned-parenthood-videos-endorses-ted-cruz/ (accessed November 30, 2015). Newman’s work with the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood is not at issue; in my view those videos raised some important questions about some of Planned Parenthood’s practices, leading to reforms within that organization.

12. Miranda Blue, “Anti-Planned Parenthood Activist Troy Newman’s Terrifying, Woman-Shaming, Apocalyptic Manifesto,” Right Wing Watch, September 14, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/anti-planned-parenthood-activist-troy-newmans-terrifying-woman-shaming-apocalyptic-manifesto. Those who do not trust Right Wing Watch as a source should notice that the author of the piece obviously obtained a copy of the book in question and quoted directly from it. In any event, I have ordered my own copy of the book. Rachel Maddow also published a piece about Newman and Sullenger; see “Ted Cruz embraces religious radicals with violent message,” MSNBC, November 24, 2015, http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/cruz-embraces-radicals-with-violent-message-573836355908.

13. “Operation Rescue’s Non-Violent History is a Matter of Public Record,” Operation Rescue, October 16, 2015, http://www.operationrescue.org/archives/operation-rescues-non-violent-history-is-a-matter-of-public-record/.

14. “Execution of Paul Hill Nothing Less than Murder,” Operation Rescue West and California Life Coalition, September 3, 2003, archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20110930105903/http://mttu.com/Articles/Execution%20of%20Paul%20Hill%20Nothing%20Less%20than%20Murder.htm; this document lists Troy Newman as “Director, Operation Rescue West” and Cheryl Sullenger as “Director, California Life Coalition.”

15. See the web site for the conference at https://freedom2015.org; see a page for Generations with Vision discussing the conference at https://generationswithvision.com/Store/2015/11/freedom-2015-audio/; and see a page about Kevin Swanson’s role with Generations with Vision at https://generationswithvision.com/about/meet-our-director/.

16. Miranda Blue, “Kevin Swanson: No Death Penalty For Gays . . . Until They Have Time To Repent,” Right Wing Watch, November 7, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/kevin-swanson-no-death-penalty-gays-until-they-have-time-repent. I’ve written about the conference in question before, but I wanted to offer more details in this piece; for the earlier pieces see Ari Armstrong, “Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz,” AriArmstrong.com, November 25, 2015, http://ariarmstrong.com/2015/11/why-i-will-vote-for-any-democrat-over-ted-cruz/ and Ari Armstrong, “Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand,” AriArmstrong.com, November 25, 2015, http://ariarmstrong.com/2015/11/voting-political-activism-and-taking-a-stand/.

17. Curtis Houck, “Tapper to Cruz: Are You ‘Endorsing Conservative Intolerance’ by Attending Event with Activist Pastor,” Newsbusters, November 5, 2015, http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/curtis-houck/2015/11/05/tapper-cruz-are-you-endorsing-conservative-intolerance-attending. Regarding the signs that Kevin Swanson encourages his followers to hold at gay weddings, see Brian Tashman, “Swanson: Tell Gay Couples To Die On Their Wedding Day,” Right Wing Watch, September 5, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/swanson-tell-gay-couples-die-their-wedding-day.

18. Brian Tashman, “‘Death Penalty For Gays’ Literature At Right-Wing Conference,” Right Wing Watch, November 6, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/death-penalty-gays-literature-right-wing-conference.

19. Brian Tashman, “GOP Confab Ends With Call To Execute Gays Who Don’t Repent, Send Queen Elsa Back To Hell,” Right Wing Watch, November 10, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/gop-confab-ends-call-execute-gays-who-dont-repent-send-queen-elsa-back-hell.

20. “Rachel Maddow Show 11/26/2015,” November 26, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_ZFB-qlXBo. Maddow, with whom I often disagree on political matters, has done some hard-hitting work regarding Cruz’s association with Troy Newman and Kevin Swanson, and she provided a number of leads for my research.