I haven’t written much yet about the presidential candidacy of Canadian-born U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) because, frankly, I haven’t taken him very seriously. I’ve long felt he lacks the charisma of a serious contender for the highest office in the land, and on top of that, his entire party hates him with a passion. When MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Bob Dole if he could support Cruz in the event that he wins the party’s nomination, the elder statesman of the GOP seemed to choke on his words a bit, finally muttering, “Well…I might oversleep that day.”
But it seems that people like myself have underestimated Cruz’s ground game far too much, and several months into the primary season he has distinguished himself as the singular serious Republican challenge to the complete dominance of Donald Trump, about whom I have already written. For months now, I have worked from the assumption that, against their better judgment, the RNC would eventually decide to bite the bullet and reluctantly throw their support behind the gaudy real estate mogul for fear that not doing so would prompt him to run as an independent, thus splitting the conservative ticket and handing over the White House (as well as the next two or three SCOTUS appointments) to the Democrats.
But as the primary season has rolled along, it appears Ted Cruz’s staying power has softened some people’s resolve to keep him off the party’s platform. I have no idea if he will be able to curry their collective favor (they would have to be unimaginably desperate), but it appears his superior organization and zeal to pursue the presidency is beginning to pay off. Consequently, I must stop and devote at least one post to exposing why Ted Cruz is worse—far worse in my opinion—than Donald Trump.
For one thing, it seems to me that Donald Trump makes up his platform as he goes along, never himself knowing what he will say or do next. He seems to revel in the freedom of his own iconoclastic position, counterintuitively spouting whatever pops into his head next, concerning himself very little with what would be the final consequences of any of the ideas he spontaneously generates while on the campaign trail.
Not so with Ted Cruz. He is a much more calculating, methodical schemer who doesn’t seem to do anything without a long-term plan backed by a larger organizational apparatus of support than he will ever let on that he has. So when he rattles off a list of policies (which are most likely only one notch below the extremism of whatever the Donald has just made up on the spot), he really means what he is saying.
Cruz worries me more than Trump because while Trump doesn’t see the ramifications of his policies, Cruz does, and he embraces them anyway.
— Neil Carter (@godlessindixie) April 16, 2016
I have no idea what a guy like Trump would do as a president, and I’m not sure he does, either. I get the strong impression that up until now he has only been saying whatever it takes to stay in the limelight from news cycle to news cylcle. I have also suspected that, should he secure the GOP nomination come this July, he will pivot hard to the center, showing us a considerably different politician than we have seen in the primary season.
But Ted Cruz is saying exactly what he means, and it behooves us to take him seriously if we are going to keep seeing his face over the next few months. I believe a Cruz presidency would produce far more predictably bad consequences than would the presidency of a man who at least pays attention to pragmatic results.
Cruz isn’t driven by results, though. He is driven by an ideology—and a cold, impersonal one at that. At bottom, I contend that Ted Cruz is a theocratic dominionist who would sooner dismantle American democracy and see it fail than allow it to continue in any direction that contradicts his own peculiar theocratic vision. There are those who argue this charge isn’t accurate, and I will address their reaction in a minute. But first let me take a minute to explain what this ideology believes, and what it intends to accomplish within the halls of American government.
What Is Dominionism?
Dominionism (alternatively known as Christian Reconstructionism and Theonomy) generally refers to a theology which envisions either the Christian church or else the Bible itself ruling over all levels of civic and cultural power. It is not a democratic system of governing since it begins with the belief that human beings are irrevocably fallen and sinful, and thus that they cannot be left to their own devices when deciding how to govern themselves.
Democracy rests upon the notion that people should be able to decide for themselves how they are to be governed. Theocracy is the exact opposite: It tells a nation what to do based on the dictates of one religious construct or another. It doesn’t leave the law up to the people, because they would only disobey God’s will.
R.J. Rushdoony, the modern founder of Christian Reconstructionism, put it this way:
“Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies”
“Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy.”
So where does it get this strong anti-democratic orientation? From the Old Testament, of course.
See, most evangelical churches I’ve been around talk about trying to be “New Testament churches.” By that they mean that the New Testament books in general, and Jesus in particular, illustrate and embody what God really wants from us. Never mind those older barbaric tales of floods, wars, genocides, and animal sacrifices. Those were for a different time, and progressive revelation dictates that we’ve learned a thing or two about what God really wants.
But Calvinist and/or Reformed theology is a special kind of evangelical tradition which values Old Testament thinking as ardently as it does the New. If Baptist churches are trying to be “New Testament,” Reformed churches are trying to be “Old Testament.” They deemphasize those theological elements which render the OT obsolete in favor of flattening out the progression from Old Covenant to New. They preach and teach that God’s ways of relating to humankind have always been the same, and any appearance of change in relational model must be a misperception of our own. I even had a homiletics professor once call the New Testament “the glossary” because, he argued, it gave us nothing at all that was new.
That’s where Rushdoony comes in. In 1973 he began publishing what would ultimately become a nearly 1,900 word manifesto outlining a “biblical framework” for law which uses the Old Testament as its primary inspiration. As many have pointed out before, that means carrying over to today a number of ancient Levantine concepts like capital punishment for not only adultery and homosexuality but also blasphemy, apostasy, heresy, lying, and even disrespecting your parents. It is a harsh and brutal view of the law, and anyone today who holds to it must compartmentalize his own moral feelings to a degree that should alarm anyone with a commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Incidentally, the Reformed seminary where I studied produced some of the most ardent advocates for Rushdoony’s theocratic vision, including Paul Jennings Hill, who shot and killed an abortion doctor out in front of a clinic in Pensacola, FL, in 1994. An eye for an eye, you know? My old professors swear their theology had nothing to do with that, and they adamantly disavow the kind of vigilante justice that Hill displayed two decades ago. But many Calvinists like them still believe the state should have that power because that’s how it went down in the days of Moses and King David.
Is Ted Cruz Really a Dominionist?
Not of the Calvinist variety, no. But there are many other versions of this, and this ideology influences quite a large swath of Christian leadership whether they formally affiliate with these camps or not.
If Ted Cruz isn’t a dominionist, he is at the very least dominionish.
Cruz grew up within a slightly different variety of dominionist theology found mostly in the apostolic church tradition to which his father belongs. John Fea writes for the Religion News Service:
Rafael Cruz… preach[es] a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government.
Lance Wallnau gives a concise explanation (3:47) of the “seven mountains” metaphor here:
Nonreligious Americans have only just now begun to realize that this kind of thinking has been slowly and methodically building on its influence over government for decades. Evangelicals like Rafael Cruz have been waging a culture war for many years now, taking aim at each of the arenas mentioned in the video above in order to take over each of these spheres of influence over American life.
They want dominion over the family by determining for everyone what legally constitutes a family in the first place. They want dominion over entertainment by creating their own religious production companies and record labels to produce Christian alternatives to whatever the rest of the world has to offer, and they would very much like to tell Hollywood what they can and cannot produce (they haven’t done too well there, it seems). They exert their influence over education by redirecting public money toward private religious schools via voucher programs, or alternatively they simply create their own separate schools, or best of all they can homeschool in order to have absolute and total control over what their children are learning from day to day.
One of Cruz’s legal mentors, Robert George, insists that the dominionist label shouldn’t be applied to Cruz. In a piece written to counter the article by John Fea, Robert Gagnon and Edith Humphrey quote George in Christianity Today:
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…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.”
Forgive me, but Robert George is hardly an objective witness in any discussion about the culture wars and the mission creep of American evangelicalism. He is practically “patient zero” for anti-LGBT activism in American politics. He speaks of strict constitutionalism (of the originalist variety) out of one side of his mouth while tirelessly speaking out of the other side about imposing his own Catholicism on the state’s definition of marriage.
It’s not enough to simply pay lipservice to the Constitution; you have to actually advocate for real-world policies which follow the tenor of the document. And what do we find when we watch what Cruz has done thus far in his positions of leadership?
Watch What They DO, Not What They SAY
Our first significant clue should have been when Cruz chose to associate so closely with David Barton, the revisionist historian whose strident reworking of the legacy of Thomas Jefferson got his book pulled by his own Christian publisher for its shameless distortion of the former president’s views. Barton falls squarely within the “Seven Mountains” mentality and has become one of Cruz’s chief political advisors.
Together, Cruz and Barton are arguing that America is a Christian nation by composition, even though Article VI of our constitution expressly forbids any religious tests for leaders and even though the very first words of the Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of any official religion in American government. A democracy—a government by the people and for the people—would conform to the diverse wills of the voters themselves, or at least to the wills of representatives they elect to legislate on their behalf.
But that’s not what Ted Cruz has in mind. It wouldn’t matter to him if a majority of Americans didn’t want to enshrine evangelical Christianity into the laws of our land. He believes that something within our founding as a nation determined our national religious orientation at the outset. No doubt this explains why David Barton remains a close advisor to the Cruz campaign. They share a vision for what the United States should look like, whether Americans still want it or not.
Our next significant clue should come from the way Cruz has addressed dealing with the presence of Muslims in the United States. After the bombing in Brussels earlier this Spring, Cruz called for an “immediate halt” to the entrance of Muslim refugees from other countries, and went a step further to add that he would like to see law enforcement “patrol and secure” predominantly Muslim neighborhoods within the country. In response to the Paris attacks of last year, he openly admitted he would privilege Christian refugees from Muslim countries because he trusts them over their Muslim counterparts. Not surprisingly, his top foreign policy advisors are all well-known conspiracy theorists who believe that Muslims are secretly taking over national and international politics, no doubt by installing Barack Obama as our first secretly Muslim president.
Yet another clue would be his willingness to defend a state ban on sex toys. What kind of man goes on a crusade against dildos, writing an 83 page brief defending a state’s right to dictate what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms? His defenders keep insisting that he was just doing his job as Solicitor General for the state of Texas, but those same people would defend the right of any state official whose job demands that they defend or enforce a law they consider unjust, or which represents an overreach of the state or federal government. Cruz himself rushed to the side of Kim Davis last year to show his support for her defiance against marriage equality, leaving us with one of the most awkward photographs in recent memory.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 8, 2015
Cruz says he’s a champion of democracy, and that he will defend the Constitution with all the strength that is within him, yet his actions as a U.S. Senator make it abundantly clear that if his way isn’t chosen by the rest of Americans (or their representatives), he will stop at nothing to tear down the entire political process, grinding it to a halt. His willingness to sabotage the political process is what got him in hot water with his own party to begin with. If you’ll recall the partial government shutdown in October of 2013, you will remember that it was Cruz himself who helped orchestrate the entire thing, even to the point of staging a faux filibuster on the Senate floor for 21 hours straight.
He believes he knows what is best for the country, and he will do whatever he can to make sure his way wins out, whether a majority of Americans—or even people in his own party—like it or not.
What Kind of Man Would Do These Things?
Staunch conservative pundit David Brooks told an enlightening story a few weeks ago which gives remarkable insight into the personal psychology of Ted Cruz:
In 1997, Michael Wayne Haley was arrested after stealing a calculator from Walmart. This was a crime that merited a maximum two-year prison term. But prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law. Neither the judge nor the defense lawyer caught the error and Haley was sentenced to 16 years.
Eventually, the mistake came to light and Haley tried to fix it. Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time. Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years.
Some justices were skeptical. “Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked. The court system did finally let Haley out of prison, after six years.
The case reveals something interesting about Cruz’s character. Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy.
Indeed this does remind me more of the Pharisees from the biblical stories far more than it reminds me of any of “the good guys.”
Or for a more recent literary example, Javert from Les Misrables comes to mind. If you’ve ever seen that production, you know that Javert spent the bulk of his later years mercilessly chasing down a man who was imprisoned merely for stealing a loaf of bread. Inspector Javert embodies the spirit of Law absent any element of Grace, and I have to say the more I think of it, the more this picture captures what bothers me about Ted Cruz.
Anyone who learns to think by reading the Old Testament is a dangerous person in my book. One has to compartmentalize his own moral senses, cauterizing his own feelings into rigid categories which run roughshod over human beings as we find them in real life today. While the rest of us are over here, trying to nudge American life into the 21st century, Ted Cruz is trying to party like it’s 1999 B.C. He’s not even trying to get us back to the days of New Testament Christianity. He’s leading a death march right back into the Late Bronze Age.
I cannot imagine this produces a psychologically healthy human being, and I cannot foresee anything good coming from putting a man like that in charge of the lives of millions of people. It’s certainly not commensurate with the American idea that I was taught to believe in, even though I was raised in a conservative environment.
Ted Cruz is a much more worrisome candidate to me than “the thrice married owner of casinos with strip clubs.” Trump worries me because we have no idea what he would actually DO as a president of the United States. Cruz worries me more because we know exactly what we can expect, and it ain’t pretty.