Even when I lived in Illinois, I did not pay attention to neighboring Iowa. For all its virtues — corn, rolling plains, the rare Iowa Pleistocene Snail — my attentions were elsewhere. It had, perhaps, an “Iowa aura.”
But since the presidential campaigns for 2016 started last year with my best friend working as a paid organizer for Hillary Clinton’s team in Fairfield, Iowa — I have dared to look deeper at that Midwestern outlier.
It is at least an outlier in terms of how its population appears based on the voter turnout at last week’s Iowa Caucuses. I was startled to read 91 percent of registered voters were white. What shocked me more, though, was that 65 percent of voting Iowans were evangelical Christians. I realize we are, by and large, a majority-Christian country. Yet with evangelicals alone making up such a large proportion of an electorate (and for religion to even matter in a country founded on principles of separation of church and state), I understood at last why political analysts say Iowa is a bad predictor of how the rest of the country will vote in presidential elections.
But back to the separation of church and state, even if the voters use their religious convictions in deciding whom to support because of course we all have different ways of making a decision (eeny-meeny-miny-mo?), I’m glad the presidential candidates won’t bring the devout Christianity of Iowa’s religious mainstream into office.
Or so I thought.
I spit out my cold oatmeal when I read that Ted Cruz celebrated his victory by saying, per the New York Times, “To God be the glory.”
But a campaign advertisement for Marco Rubio took religiosity to new heights by proclaiming, “the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.” Plus, when Rubio mentioned in the final, pre-caucus debate, “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins,” I found myself asking how such overt Christian language can be found anywhere near a presidential nomination contest. Even democratic candidate Hillary Clinton spent several days touting her Methodist faith and Biblical knowledge as though it were a reason for Iowans to support her.
Perhaps Jerry Falwell, Jr., the son of a famous religious televangelist and a sought-after endorsement by conservative candidates, would be pleasantly surprised by the evangelical tenacity of a candidate like Rubio. I myself started to wonder whether the candidates were trying to court voters in a political competition or boost the membership of the Christian church.
I won’t even begin to try to make sense of how Mr. Cruz’s wild desire to ‘carpet bomb’ whole neighborhoods of innocents aligns with his oft-professed “good Christian values.”
At least some voters seem to recognize the contradictions underlying the messages these supposedly “devout” Christian candidates espouse. Clara Frechette, a voter in New Hampshire, was quoted by the Times explaining why she does not plan to vote for Ted Cruz: “You think he’d be looking at the Bible and say, ‘The man should be the head of the household and the women should do what the men say.’”
Ms. Frechette’s view led me to conclude that Iowa’s borders cannot ebb the evangelical rhetoric of the Republican candidates’ reactions to the nation’s first caucus. It spreads nationwide. Again, I wonder: how can we, Republican or Democrat or Independent, allow this religious pandering to play into and play a role in nominating a person to the presidency of a nation which has the Establishment Clause as a fundamental part of its Constitution? How can a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu or even a non-evangelical Christian, feel comfortable living in a nation where a potential president entwines his or her political decisions with spirituality?
Cruz has been on something of a literary bender. In addition to his recent memoir, “A Time for Truth,” he wrote the epilogue o his hyper-evangelical father’s latest book, in which he discusses the “hostility to religious liberty, and Christianity in particular,” in the U.S. Somehow, he overlooks the myriad hate crimes of vandalism, looting and arson of Muslim mosques across the country, and he equates the same-sex marriage rights as an assault on Christian freedom. Same-sex marriage may go against Mr. Cruz’s or Mr. Rubio’s, or any of the other candidates’ Christian values, but those Christian values deserve no place in the decisions underlying the government of the United States.
Yet, based on the proclamations and practices of the presidential candidates, we ought to be wary of how one person’s exclusive religious rhetoric and view of how the world ought to operate may threaten our country’s religious pluralism and freedom of religion.