Senator Shows Divide between U.S., Middle East Christians

September 22, 2014

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas with a national following and presidential ambitions, recently stepped on a religious-political landmine that offers important lessons for U.S. Christians. I covered the comments and backlash in an Ethics Daily article, which is titled "Senator Shows Divide between U.S., Middle East Christians." Speaking to a conference about persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, Cruz falsely claimed "Christians have no greater ally than Israel." The group, many of whom are Arab Christians, booed Cruz. He then verbally attacked the group.

"If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you," Cruz said as he left amid more boos.

Cruz made a couple of serious errors that other U.S. Christians should learn from, even though it's unlikely he will. Rather than lecturing people in other countries about their contexts, we should first listen to them tell their stories and perspectives. 

When Christians from the Middle East started booing Cruz's comments about the Middle East, he should've stopped to listen to them. He didn't have to agree with them, but he should've at least tried to understand their perspective before condemning them as unChristian. Perhaps he should've done that before even speaking!

One of the joys of being at Baptist World Alliance (BWA) meetings is hearing from other Baptists as they talk about life and faith in their countries. I've quickly learned the value of listening first, asking questions second, listening third, and then - perhaps after more rounds of listening - sharing some thoughts of my own. During the BWA annual gathering this summer in Turkey, I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Baptists from Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere. Ethics Daily, which often runs pieces featuring Middle Eastern Christians, ran a piece last week that included a photo I took in Turkey of a panel discussion by Mazen Hamati (Syria), Azar Ajaj (Israel, and Ara Badalian (Iraq). I learned a lot listening to their panel and talking with them at meals and between sessions.

Another lesson we can learn from Cruz's mistake: we must not allow political ideology to trump religious beliefs. Cruz judged Middle Eastern Christians on their position on the secular state of Israel rather then their faith. Some of the criticism of Cruz that I quoted in my Ethics Daily article focused on this problem. Unfortunately, Cruz seems to see political and national allegiances as running deeper than baptismal waters. As Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, New York, explained, "Christians don't ally themselves to any state." Hopefully other U.S. Christians will avoid the insensitive, problematic path Cruz took.