“Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. Our God is higher than any other!” crooned the band on stage at Lynchburg, Virginia’s evangelical Liberty University that opened for presidential hopeful and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Cruz, who announced his bid for the White House at the conservative religious college on Monday, peppered his speech with references to how much his Christian faith shapes his policy views.
“Our rights don’t come from man. They come from God Almighty,” he said. “And I believe God isn’t done with America yet.”
The thousands of students in the stadium Monday, who were required by the University to attend the speech, cheered when Cruz called on them to become part of his “grassroots army” of voters.
“Roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home,” Cruz said. “But imagine millions of people of faith coming out to the polls and voting our values. Think how different the world will be.”
Yet if Cruz really wants to appeal to the evangelical vote, he might need to change his tune on a few things — especially immigration reform, which he has a history of trying to block. For several years, polls have shown that the majority of evangelical Christians support a viable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and evangelical leaders played a pivotal role during the nationwide push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.
Cruz paid lip service to immigration reform in his speech, asking attendees to imagine “a legal immigration system that welcomes and celebrates those who come to achieve the American dream.” But his words stand in stark contrast to his past actions: Since 2012, Cruz has threatened to block federal funding to assist with the recent border crisis unless President Obama ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program granting temporary legal presence to more than 550,000 undocumented youths; introduced an amendment to the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill that would have prevented undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. from ever becoming citizens; and even created a campaign ad celebrating his role in the execution of an undocumented immigrant.
Cruz might also run into trouble with many evangelical ministers over the issue of gun violence prevention. He trumpeted his support for gun rights in his speech, decrying “a government that works to undermine our Second Amendment rights, that seeks to ban our ammunition,” and advocated for a system “that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all law-abiding Americans.” But according to a 2013 survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals, 73 percent of evangelical leaders support increasing restrictions on guns.
These faith leaders, however, are likely not Cruz’s target audience. Both before and during his time in the US Senate, Cruz has embraced religious leaders who espouse extreme right-wing theologies and policies. He has publicly received blessings from pastors such as David Lane — who has called for evangelicals to “wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage” — and David Barton, who has denied the legal separation of church and state and suggested the federal government should regulate homosexuality as an “unhealthy lifestyle.”
Cruz has even prioritized protecting faith-based discrimination over the Tea Party values of combating government overreach and preserving local control. Just last week, Cruz unveiled a plan to overturn two Washington, D.C. laws — one that prevents discrimination against LGBT people in all schools in the District, and another that prevents faith institutions from retaliating against workers who have abortions. Local D.C. groups are calling the move hypocritical, noting that Cruz frequently rails against federal government overreach and for local control.