Since the second half of the 20th century, some of my fellow Christians have been the most persecuted religious group in the world. They still are. You probably are surprised to hear this. That's because most of these persecuted Christians don't live in the West. They are, as the awful phrase has it, too foreign for the right and too Christian for the left.
In recent weeks and months, however, the West has heard about the plight of at least one set of these persecuted Christians: those in the Middle East. These communities, many of which date back to the very beginning of Christianity, are now facing outright extinction. And it's happening at the hands of ISIS, the West's Public Enemy No. 1.
It is in this context that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) indulged in what might be the most cynical and despicable political stunt of the year, which is certainly saying a lot.
A summit was held this week in Washington, D.C., in support of Middle East Christians, and Cruz was supposed to be a keynote speaker. However, right in the second paragraph of his speech, he began exalting Israel. After a while, the assembly started to boo and heckle him. Cruz said, "If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you," and left the podium.
Keep in mind that many Christians in the Middle East are ethnic Arabs who live under Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and therefore have negative feelings about Israel. Of course, there are also many Middle East Christians who are supporters of Israel (indeed, there are even Arab Christians who serve, with distinction, in the Israeli Defense Forces).
As the excellent coverage, transcript, and recording provided by The American Conservative's Jonathan Coppage shows, the audience in Washington applauded Cruz's first lines of support for Israel and the Jews. The crowd turned against him only when it became clear that he was launching into a rah-rah pro-Israel stump speech that had nothing to do with what they were doing there.
Now, I am no Ted Cruz antagonist. I am a supporter of the Tea Party — it's done, on the whole, a world of good for the Republican Party by reinvigorating it and strengthening it. I even supported Cruz's push to shut down the government to stop ObamaCare implementation. And I am also a full-throated supporter of Israel.
But let's be clear about what Cruz was doing in D.C.: using one of the world's most beleaguered minorities as a prop for his own self-aggrandizement.
Why would he do this? This is speculation, but perhaps Cruz, who is a Southern Baptist and whose father is a fundamentalist Baptist preacher, was subtly pandering to a segment of fundamentalist Christians who do not believe that Middle East Christians are "real" Christians. To a serious undercurrent of American Fundamentalism, the Catholic Church is the Antichrist that has been oppressing the "true" Church for millennia, and anything that looks vaguely Catholic, with ordained priests and ornate liturgies, is equally evil. Of course, this is hokum: Middle East Christians were Christians (with their priests and liturgies and incense and icons) for 1,800 years before the Fundamentalists invented their revisionist history.
This much, however, is absolutely clear: Cruz tarred and attacked one of the most powerless and beleaguered minorities in the world, solely for personal political gain. He was speaking truth to the powerless. He was strong against the weak.
In the end, what was most striking about Cruz's tirade was the last phrase: "If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you." Cruz was literally standing in a room with his fellow Christians. In the Bible, the idea of the fellowship of Christian believers is a very important one, and to break fellowship is to put oneself outside the community. What Cruz was saying was that agreeing to his views on Israel was more important as a badge of fellowship than believing in Jesus Christ.
There are many things Christians disagree about, but surely one of the things they should agree on is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is more important than anything, and certainly more important than any political cause, as good as that cause may be.
That is Christianity. Obviously, whatever Ted Cruz believes in, it's something different. And I hope that Christians who are registered to vote in America realize it.