When most people consider the qualities they want in a president, things like the ability to manage the economy, forge political compromises and tend to foreign policy come to mind.
But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has an additional qualification: He believes it’s absolutely essential that the president be a believer who prays regularly.
“Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this nation,” Cruz said last week at an Iowa event called the National Religious Liberties Conference.
Cruz was responding to a question from Pastor Kevin Swanson of Colorado, a rising Religious Right star who hosted the forum. Swanson wanted to know how important it is for a president to “fear God”; he said this is the most important question he asks candidates.
Cruz’s answer was bad, but the fact that he was at the forum at all may be even worse. Swanson, who at times appears to be deranged, spent several minutes at the forum explaining that the Bible calls for gays to receive the death penalty.
As AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn noted recently, Swanson ranted, “Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals! Yes, in Romans 1:32 the Apostle Paul does say that homosexuals are worthy of death. His words, not mine! And I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ! And I am not ashamed of the truth of God’s word, and I am willing to go to jail for standing on the truth of the word of God!”
Swanson added that if his son married another man, “I’d sit in cow manure and I’d spread it all over my body. That is what I would do and I’m not kidding. I’m not laughing.”
Swanson’s event was so low-rent that only three GOP hopefuls attended – Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And not one of them had the guts to challenge any of the poison Swanson spewed.
Cruz claims that only people of prayer are fit to the lead the nation, but given his evangelical views and his apparent agreement with the opinions of Swanson, it’s a pretty safe bet that his ideal president would have to do more than pray. He or she would have to embrace a fundamentalist version of Christianity as well.
A litmus test like that would exclude our earliest presidents. George Washington is an example. Despite pious artwork showing Washington kneeling in the snow in prayer at Valley Forge, there is no evidence that ever happened. In fact, Washington’s religious views were decidedly unorthodox.
Church-state scholar Steven K. Green calls Washington “a rational theist in his approach to Christian doctrines, likely denying many traditional doctrines such as the virgin birth and the miracles….He was not orthodox for the day, and by contemporary standards, he may not have even been a Christian in the traditional sense.”
John Adams was a Unitarian who ridiculed the idea of the Trinity. He’s out too. Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the miracles of the Bible and rewrote the New Testament to strip away references to Jesus’ divinity. Jefferson did not believe in the resurrection, the Trinity, original sin and a host of other Christian doctrines.
James Madison was nominally an Anglican but was notoriously tight-lipped about his personal religious beliefs. It’s possible that Madison hit the floorboards every morning, but if he did he never made a big deal out of it. A leading Madison biographer, Ralph Ketchum, believes our fourth president was a Deist.
A recent survey by the Pew Forum found that 11 percent of Americans now say they have no belief in God. Given that the population of the country is about 318 million, that’s nearly 35 million non-believers. It stretches the bounds of belief to think that among a group that large, there is not even one person who is qualified to lead this country.
Cruz, of course, can believe what he wants and is free to impose any kind of qualification on candidates that he likes. But he and those who think like him should realize that their stubborn insistence that our leaders hew to certain forms of dogma only ensures that many talented and qualified people will be left behind.