While speaking at an event in New Hampshire on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz stirred up the crowd by repeating his claim that he would end the “persecution of religious liberty” if he elected to the Oval Office. But as the cheers subsided, a man in the crowd began shouting at Cruz, calling him “power hungry” and harboring a “demonic soul.”
Cruz, who called the protester a “very confused fellow,” turned to the crowd in disbelief.
“You know the very odd thing? Usually, lefties don’t believe in God,” he quipped, sparking laughter and applause from the audience as the man was escorted out of the room.
The line played well with those who came out to see Cruz, who has staked his campaign on accruing support from evangelical Christians. Yet there is also something “very odd” about his own statement: It’s completely, utterly false.
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 8, 2016
To be fair, the idea that the American Left is uniformly “godless” is a common axiom of the Religious Right, leaders of which often argue that Democrats and progressives are hostile to religion. But while it is true that roughly a quarter of the Democratic party doesn’t claim any particular religious tradition — an important group whose rights should also be protected — they are not inherently opposed to people of faith.
More importantly, Cruz and others on the Right seem content to ignore the other 75 percent of left-leaning voters who regularly attend worship and pray to a higher power.
The Lefty faithful people are more theologically diverse that those in the GOP, of course. According to a 2012 survey from Pew Research, only 9 percent of the Democrats who believe in God identify as white evangelical Protestant, whereas 16 percent are Black Protestant, 14 percent are white mainline Protestant, 13 percent are white Catholic, and 18 percent are “other” — a category that includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many other faiths.
But perhaps it makes sense that Cruz pretends these prayerful progressives don’t exist, because their engagement with politics often directly contradicts his own policy agenda. It was a broad coalition of left-leaning faith groups — including many evangelicals — who were at the forefront of the fight for immigration reform, for instance, something Cruz adamantly opposes. Several Christian denominations are also now firm supporters of same-sex marriage, and millions of American Catholics support passing legislation to stem the effects of climate change — spurred into action by none other than Pope Francis himself. And while Cruz defended a so-called “religious liberty” bill in Indiana, it was faith groups who stood up to protest the bill because they believed it would discriminate against LGBT people and even faith groups that aren’t conservative Christian.
And more worrisome for Cruz, these groups aren’t going away: a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute projected that the growth of the religiously unaffiliated — when combined with the shrinking number of religious conservatives — means that religious progressives will soon outnumber their right-wing brethren.
Still, Cruz will only be able to ignore these groups for so long, as representatives of the religious Left have confronted several presidential candidates throughout this campaign — including Cruz himself. In October, a Mennonite man asked Cruz during an Iowa campaign event how he reconciled his support for deporting undocumented immigrants with his evangelical Christian faith. Cruz was less dismissive in that instance, attempting to dodge the question, but he appeared to be equally flummoxed when confronted with people of faith who don’t share his right-wing views.