Faith in 2016

June 19, 2013

Last weekend, Republican presidential hopefuls and other conservative leaders gathered for an event hosted by Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC) in Washington, D.C. (the photo is one I took of Reed at the 2011 FFC conference). In earlier posts I have noted the role this group played in the last presidential cycle (here and here) and how Reed has used the group to mount his political comeback (here). I also attended the 2011 version of the FFC's conference and wrote articles for Ethics Daily (here, here, and here). Thus, it is no surprise that in our age of confessional politics, Republican presidential hopefuls once again head to the conference in hopes of finding political salvation. Among the rumored 2016 presidential candidates who addressed the group: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Senator Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Rick Santorum. That all of these potential candidates made the pilgrimage shows the importance of Reed and other conservative Christians leaders in contemporary politics. The politicians worked to show off their knowledge of faith as they peppered their speeches with biblical references, although they did not always do so to support the same policies. Senator Rand Paul urged the U.S. to stop supporting Muslim nations where Christians are persecuted. He explained:
It's clear that American taxpayer dollars are being used in a war against Christianity. These countries are not our allies, and no amount of money is going to make them so.
He borrowed the "war on Christianity" language that conservatives often use to describe their situation in the U.S. (which seems like petty whining compared to Christians in other nations like the ones Paul references). Taking a different approach, Senator Marco Rubio argued that the U.S. cannot withdraw from the world because the U.S. is the "salt of the earth." Rubio's rhetoric is interesting because while it gives a nod to Christians by using biblical language, it is actually blasphemy by replacing God's Kingdom with the U.S. Yet, such references are used to prove that Rubio is a good Christian because he can use biblical allusions. 

Joining the potential 2016 presidential candidates with prime billing at the conference were conservatives whose political stars quickly faded (and thus probably do not represent the future of the Republican Party), including Sarah Palin and Herman Cain. The two offered their typical partisan quips that include little political or religious substance. The FFC also featured Donald Trump - as they did in 2011 - to offer his political rantings (because they clearly did not invite him to talk about religious devotion or wholesome living). And if the rest of the lineup did not make it obvious that Reed's group is more about preaching the Republican gospel than it is about uplifting Christian beliefs, they also included Mark Sanford among the speakers. Although Sanford recently made a political comeback (see post here), apparently the crowd at Reed's event did not share Reed's enthusiasm for the man now better known for his affair than his political positions. But what did the crowd expect? The event is designed to support any conservative Republican regardless of their faithfulness and attack any liberal Democrat regardless of their faithfulness. One should not let the word "faith" in Reed's organization be distracting; it must mean faith in the almighty elephant, not the divine. Overall, the FFC event seems to have been about par for the group as they mix religion and politics for political purposes.

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