In Matthew 5:39, Jesus tells us, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tells us we should “carpet bomb” the Islamic State. So I’m pretty sure that the problem with Ted Cruz is not that he’s “too” Christian.
But earlier this year, he told reporters in New Hampshire, “I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth,” and it raised a hubbub.
It was disappointing that he stopped at four self-describing terms. How about “a lover of Internet cat memes,’ 177th.”
But others came back with this sort of outraged left-wing reaction: “How would he like it if an Islamic candidate said, ‘I’m a Muslim first,’ or a polytheist said, ‘I’m a pagan first?’ ”
And then some Christians got to be outraged that people were outraged that Cruz said he’s a Christian first.
Everyone’s missing the problem: It’s not that Cruz said he’s a Christian first. It’s that he’s not, as he said, a Christian first. I would never question his Christianity, but I question the order of prioritization he has claimed on the campaign trail.
I’m a Jew, and a semi-libertarian iconoclastic agnostic 12-stepping pain in the butt, but if I honestly thought Cruz put the teachings of Jesus Christ above his version of patriotism, I might well vote for him, because those are some pretty fine teachings.
But let’s look at what that would mean policy-wise, and what Cruz actually supports.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” And that’s far from the only place in the New Testament when we are exhorted to care for the needy stranger.
I’d argue that nobody who is a Christian first and an American second would encourage the nation to turn away or send back the unaccompanied minors who streamed here from Central America two years ago, fleeing the violence of drug cartels, poverty and hopelessness. But in 2014, Cruz introduced legislation “to prevent the Obama Administration from using any taxpayer funds to expand DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).”
You could argue for sending them back, though I wouldn’t. But that argument puts U.S. security needs first and the teachings of Jesus second.
You can’t even make a Christian argument for limiting the immigration of poor people, because such arguments are based in fear. Fear that we will be overrun with crime. Fear that we will be unable to provide food, clothing, medical care and shelter for ourselves as well as newcomers. Fear that our culture will be overtaken by another.
But fear is the belief that God is either unwilling or unable to care for us. Fear is the absence of faith. Fear is American first, Christian second.
The need to follow God’s will in caring for others and to believe God will take care of you is spelled out very clearly in Matthew: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
I don’t think Jesus loves Americans more than Guatemalans, or recognizes borders. Christians are challenged to care for others, not worrying about consequences or doubting God will protect them. In return, they are promised not safety or wealth, but a heavenly reward for faith and belief.
We don’t need to worry that Cruz is a Christian first and a certain type of patriot second. We need to worry that he isn’t.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.