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Values Voters: What We Can Learn from Ted Cruz Being Booed at the In Defense of Christians Conference

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The First Summit sponsored by an organization called “In Defense of Christians” (IDC) was held between September 9-11, 2014 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. You can read the organizations description of the purpose and aims of the Summit here.

This relatively new group has an interesting mission statement and some commendable goals. It has also now become a pawn in an underlying effort to divide an emerging alliance of what are often called Values Voters.

By now, much of the establishment media is saturated with reports, editorials and opinions concerning an unfortunate event which occurred on Wednesday night, September 10, 2014, at the Gala Banquet sponsored by IDC.  Senator Ted Cruz from Texas was the keynote speaker at what was billed the “Gala Solidarity Dinner.”  Sadly, it certainly did not demonstrate solidarity between Christians.

A small group in the assembly, rudely and loudly, reacted negatively to some of the words Senator Cruz spoke as he expressed his convictions concerning the persecution taking place in this land which is properly holy, precisely because of its role in God’s loving plan of salvation for the whole human race.

In reaction to the accelerating ruckus in the crowd, the Senator, who obviously felt he was unable to continue his address, left the platform.

That action has become fodder for some in the media who are eager to foment animosity against Senator Cruz and others who courageously defend the fundamental human right to religious freedom. It is also being used by some who seek to divide a growing movement often referred to now as “Values Voters.” Finally, it is improperly being spun as “anti-Catholic.”

I write to ask my readers to carefully examine this event – and not to pile on with those who seek to use it to undermine a growing new alliance which is essential to our future as a truly free people.

I have heard Ted Cruz speak on several occasions. He is an inspiring orator and a courageous man. He is also a genuinely committed Christian. I have had the privilege of meeting him personally. His warmth, intelligence, depth of insight, sincerity and obvious talents, all position him well for what is clearly a vocation to public service.

I have also spent time with his father, Rafael Cruz. He is also a truly good man – and understandably proud of his talented son.   He too is an inspiring speaker as well as genuinely committed Christian. Most people who have heard Rafael share of his exodus from the tyranny of Marxist oppression under the boot of Castro’s Cuba have been moved by the experience.

I have listened to Rafael’s compelling Christian witness on several occasions and been moved to tears every time. I know that this evangelical Protestant Christian is a former Catholic. However, it was only later in his life, after he had walked down a path which leads so many to despair and shipwreck, that he had an encounter with the Risen Lord.

As a member of the Catholic clergy – and what I call a Catholic by Choice – I have been with my fellow Christians in many joint meetings where we have prayed together and sought ways in which we can collaborate to serve this nation we love. We share a deep conviction that we are in the midst of a growing national crisis. A crisis which has been precipitated by the loss of our national  moral compass.

I am comfortable in my Catholic skin. So, I seek authentically ecumenical ways in which I can work with other Christians in this urgent hour in history.

Those who have been present at these meetings come from across the Christian confessional spectrum. We have all learned from one another. We have grown in our shared Christian faith and convictions. We have learned to respect legitimate diversity.  We are building authentic Christian solidarity.

I can say this about both Ted and Rafael Cruz – this father and son are the real deal. They are also Evangelical Protestant Christians. I am a Catholic Christian. However, as I have spent my entire adult life emphasizing, we are Christians – together. In fact, I may have been the first to use the term “evangelical Catholic” back when I wrote my first book, a very long time ago. It was quite controversial, in Protestant and Catholic circles. Now, the term has become quite acceptable.

I have been engaged in building alliances between Christians for decades. In fact, though my early work was controversial in both Protestant and Catholic circles, I sincerely hope it contributed to what I now see as one of the great signs of the work of the Holy Spirit in our day.

Faithful Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians have much more that joins us together than separates us. I am theologically trained and well aware of our common roots and our shared values, as well as the important distinctives in both doctrine and practice.

I also know that the lens through which we view many contemporary issues often challenges our collaboration. It also calls us to engage one another in heartfelt conversation. As the biblical proverb says so eloquently, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

However, along with Ted, Rafael and a growing movement of many other Christian Americans, I am dedicated to finding ways of standing together in real solidarity. It is essential if we are going to do more than just complain about the major challenges we face together in this important hour.

That is why I have chosen to write this article.

I am suspect of the effort to use this unfortunate event to undermine what is developing into one of the most potent movements for genuine, lasting, and deeply needed change in my lifetime.

So, come with me and examine some of the underlying facts left out of many of the reports, by examining the sources. I know this makes for a longer article than many like in an age of twitter. However, I think we really need to do the digging if we hope to uncover the truth.

The organization called In Defense of Christians (IDC) offers this statement on religious freedom:

Religious Freedom

Freedom of religion and conscience is among the most fundamental of human rights, a basic right that supersedes the claims of any nations or groups or persons. While Christian victims of discrimination and persecution around the world constitute the principal focus of IDC’s work, the organization is not exclusively an advocacy group for Christians. To speak of the defense of the rights of Christians or Muslims or Jews is to speak to the rights of all human beings.

Among the great religions, this idea is captured well in the Qur’an, in which it is written (chapter 109): “To you be your Way, and to me mine. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion; you shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.”

Not all confessional groups have respected freedom of conscience in accordance with the teachings of the great religions and in accordance with right reason. Some have even utilized the tools of government to compel particular religious beliefs. IDC believes that neither nation-states nor organizations may coerce the conscience of the individual to demand confession of a particular religion. It is the duty of government to protect this right, not infringe upon it.

It is worth noting that, historically, societies that protect and promote the free exercise of religion and conscience tend also to flourish, culturally and economically. IDC therefore seeks to protect vulnerable religious minorities through the promotion of religious freedom and human dignity.

In addition, it explains its commitment to awareness and advocacy in these words:

Awareness & Advocacy

Awareness and advocacy are the two fundamental components of IDC’s work. Awareness is broadly focused on bringing attention in the United States and the western world to the plight of the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East. Advocacy is narrowly focused on the U.S. foreign policy community, influencing policymakers to promote values abroad that are consistent with the universal human rights of religion and conscience.

These values are not exclusively Christian, nor does IDC seek only to protect the human rights of Christians, but all religious groups. These rights are universal, applicable to all human persons. In this sense, “Christian” refers not only those who confess the Christian faith, but also Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, and even the freedom to confess no religious belief at all.

IDC believes that America’s foreign policy apparatus, especially the State Department, too often projects indifference on the question of persecuted religious minorities in the region, especially Christians – a policy that only invites further violence.   In some instances, the U.S. government even provides significant foreign aid to regimes that persecute Christians, as with Pakistan and now Egypt.  With a vigorous and sustained public awareness and advocacy campaign, IDC believes this can change.

I applaud the lucidity of the statement on the commitment to advocacy. I have a personal caution concerning the way in which the mission statement could be construed. However, I will save that for private discussions, should they be offered. Instead, I now want to offer the response of both the organization and Senator Cruz concerning what happened on September 10, 2014, in order to counterbalance some of the media accounts.

First, here are some excerpts from a statement offered by President Toufic Baaklini below and the entire statement can be found here.

In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini issued the following statement in response to a disruption at the Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner: “As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few problems.’  In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles.  They were made no longer welcome. When we set out to form In Defense of Christians, many in the foreign policy and faith-based communities said such an effort was impossible.  That it would be too difficult to bring such a diverse group of Christian sects, religious and human rights organizations together to draw attention not only to the plight of the deteriorating situation facing our Christians brothers and sisters, but also to the plight of all people of faith, in the Middle East who are suffering.

“For more than 48 hours, our initial IDC conference was successfully bridging divides of faith, language, geography and politics. It has not been easy, and not without challenges. Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that In Defense of Christians is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside.  We remain undaunted and focused on achieving our goals.”

Next, I offer excerpts of the official statement offered by Senator Ted Cruz. The statement can be found on his official website here.

Tonight in Washington should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself ‘In Defense of Christians.’ Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred. When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded.  But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.

They cannot shout down the truth.  And we should not shy away from expressing the truth, even in the face of – especially in the face of – ignorance and bigotry. I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America, that those who hate Jews also hate Christians, and that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ.

These statements were met with angry boos. I went on to tell the crowd that Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel.  And that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike.  Hate is hate, and murder is murder.

I came to this event tonight to help shine a light on the tragic persecution and slaughter of Christians by ISIS and Islamic radicals throughout the Middle East.  American leaders have been far too silent as to this horrific evil.

But bigotry and hatred have no place in this discussion. Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight. After just a few minutes, I had no choice.  I told them that if you will not stand with Israel, if you will not stand with the Jews, then I will not stand with you. And then I walked off the stage.

What emerges is a disagreement which should become the background for sincere good faith discussions, and not charged rhetoric and accusations. I suggest there are many lessons to be learned from this unfortunate incident. They all need to be sorted out in discussions within the extended family of values voters. However, I offer only three. Given the length of this article, I also offer them only briefly.

1) There will be an increasing effort by many in the captive media to divide values voters. This event should prepare us and we need to be ready. On the secular media front, that is because this emerging values movement threatens the establishment. That establishment has supporters across political party lines and confessional lines.

On the “religious” or “faith based” media front, it is often because Catholics, Orthodox and evangelical Protestant Christians, have substantial differences on theological issues, such as eschatology, which have deeply affected the lens through which we view the current crisis in the Mideast.  We need to talk about these differences, not so much to resolve them, only the Holy Spirit can do that, but to find a way to speak together in the public square at this crucial time in history.

2) Evangelical Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have more that unites us than divides us, especially concerning religious freedom as a fundamental human right.  Catholics and Orthodox have a lot to offer evangelical Protestants concerning the plight of the ancient Christian communities in the Mideast – and the very real struggles which they face. In addition, evangelical Protestant Christians have much to teach Catholic and Orthodox Christians on our shared special obligation to the Jewish people as our elder brothers and sisters and the sons and daughters of the covenant.

3) This is only the beginning. The efforts to disparage Senator Ted Cruz as somehow anti-Catholic, or without depth, already emerging in some circles, is despicable and utterly false. This good man studied under one of the great Catholic philosophers of our age Dr. Robert George, during his days at Princeton. He is brilliant. He is also eloquent in his presentation, which really disturbs many of his opponents.

I know there is not an ounce of anti-Catholic in Senator Ted Cruz. I can assure my readers I have suffered the brunt of anti-Catholic discrimination in my work in the trenches over the decades I have spent at the intersection of faith and culture. I have experienced it – and I know it when I see it.

This man is intelligent, articulate, compelling, sincere and immensely gifted. There is not an anti-Catholic bone in his body. In fact, his courageous defense of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic groups, who have faced the accelerating oppression against classical, faithful Christians in the United Sates, have made him one of my heroes.

In conclusion, the events of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, at the Inaugural In Defense of Christians Gala make abundantly clear that there is a serious and urgent need for values voters to meet and discuss the crisis in the Mideast and ways in which we can work together to offer policy solutions and clear perspective.

The unfortunate events which occurred on September 10, 2014, reveal the importance of such an undertaking. There will be many more efforts to undermine our important work together. We need to be prepared. We need to stand in true solidarity. I am ready to participate.

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