Dear Senator Cruz,
I have written numerous letters to you pondering our shared Christianity and how faith intersects politics in this nation of ours. Although you and I see faith quite differently, still as a pastor, it is important for me to share my thoughts with you because you are my senator, but also because you are a candidate seeking to be President of the United States.
I have to say: the way you use your faith in the public arena disturbs me. What I see is more a profound and dangerous misuse of faith.
As a Christian, I believe fervently in America’s promise to keep faith and politics separate in our official policies. State legislatures and local municipalities struggle to balance the importance of both religious freedoms and civil rights. However, in too many actual and proposed public policies, a particular fundamentalist version of Christianity has unbalanced the discussion and demanded that this way of being religious should be inordinately privileged.
Many different people have written about appropriate applications of religious liberty within our secular society. I am no expert on constitutional law but it is clear to me that the faith I love is being severely misrepresented and misused in this public debate. When some Christians claim victim status and demand special protection, I am disappointed and offended. In spite of our Constitution’s explicit call for government to avoid “the establishment of religion,” Christianity still does and always has had immense privilege in this nation. And now you want to assert that it is Christians who are being persecuted? (“Jihad” !?!? Really now, Senator Cruz.)
Too often your words are divisive and accusing. Too often you fuel the fires of fear and disrespect. This may be the standard practice of politicians but a president must strive to unite the nation’s citizens while honoring the wide range of diversity inherent among Americans.
That said, as much as I am concerned that the rights of everyone should be protected, as a pastor I am even more concerned about the rampant misuse of faith and how that damages Christian witness.
When a Christian baker or florist or pizza parlor owner claim it is their “right”—because of their faith—not to serve someone, I will claim they do not understand how authentic Christian faith is to behave.
It was Jesus who taught his disciples:
“…love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
“Love your enemies …” (Matthew 5:43-45)
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12)
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Christians who claim that their own rights are more important than Jesus’ call to love and serve others demonstrate a sadly inadequate faith. Christians who claim they are entitled to wield corporate power in order to avoid serving those of whom they disapprove show they have no real understanding of the Christ who loved and welcomed “sinners.” Self-serving self-righteous self-centeredness has no place in either faith or politics—no matter how pious or fervent it may sound.
When you conflate faith and politics and encourage followers of the Christ to elevate their own rights over the rights and needs of their neighbors, you pervert the faith of these who have put their trust in you.
When you conflate faith and politics and applaud the misuse of corporate power in the name of Christ, you betray both third-party citizens and Christ.
When you conflate faith and politics for your own presidential ambitions, you damage the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (a word of good news for the truly oppressed but a severe word of warning for religious hypocrites.)
This fusion and confusion of faith and politics disturbs many of us.
Religion inappropriately wed to political power has been a bane throughout human history and so I urge you: please do a better job of maintaining a wall of separation between your Christianity and your politics. Any one version of religion with its particular doctrines and dogmas has no place determining broad public policy in a diverse nation such as ours. Make your arguments as a public servant and leave your dogma out of it.
Or—if you would really be true to authentic faith within the public conversation, then let your words be grounded in these core tenets: “Love your neighbor” and “Do to Others as you would have them do to you.”
If you would be President, then show us an active concern for the rights of ALL Americans, not just some.
Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequently shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.