MRBlog | God Was the Big Winner at the #GOPDebate

Morgan Freeman as God

By Thomas J. Whitley

Depending on whom you ask, either Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina (from the “Happy Hour” debate), Megyn Kelly (one of the moderators), or Fox News won the night. But all of these pundits have forgotten the elephant in the room. The real winner of the debate was God, hands down.

You usually have to listen pretty closely in a debate like we watched Thursday night to catch references to God that aren’t along the lines of “God bless America.” If you were playing the Thinking Religion bingo along with me, then you were especially attuned to the use of religion in the debates. We heard “Israel” within the first 10 minutes and “pro-life” just a few minutes later. We also heard “religious liberty,” “ISIS/ISIL,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” “faith,” and “radical Islam.” In the 5 o’clock kids table debate we were even able to cross off “Ayatollah”!

Our bingo didn’t anticipate references to mosques in the 5 o’clock debate or to Cardinal Dolan, miracles, and Saint Peter in the primetime debate (though we did have “pope” and “Catholic Church”). This may have been an oversight, but it wasn’t Cardinal Dolan or Saint Peter who got to make a closing statement (of sorts) — that was God. Megyn Kelly even did a teaser for God after the commercial break.

After the break we’re going to let the candidates make their closing statements, their final thoughts, and [pause] God. Stay tuned for that.

I admit to being initially disappointed that we didn’t actually get a cameo from God at the debate last night (we didn’t even get Morgan Freeman!), but we did get a question about whether the candidates hear from God on a regular basis. The question came from a Facebook user:

I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.

The candidates that were offered a chance to respond seemed a bit surprised by the question — as was, I think, the entire country. Unsurprisingly, Ted Cruz was the first to be given a chance to answer the question. He is blessed, he said, “to receive a word from God every day and receiving the Scriptures and reading the Scriptures and God speaks through the Bible.” This Cruz said to a round of applause. He then launched into a regular portion of his stump speech that told of his dad’s conversion to Christianity.

John Kasich appeared uncomfortable with the question at first but found his way to articulating the view that God may not have specifically chosen America, but God does want America to be great.

The Lord’s not picking us, but because of how we respect human rights, because that we are a good force in the world, he wants America to be strong, he wants America to succeed, and he wants America to lead. . . Nothing is more important to me than my family, my faith, and my friends.

Many would disagree with Kasich that America respects human rights or that it is a good force in the world or that God would favor any nation state over any other, but his answer did at least shy away from the American Exceptionalism/Manifest Destiny language that has pervaded much of the conversation over the last decade.

Scott Walker was visibly happy to get the question and he gave us the very unexpected reference to “the blood of Jesus Christ.” Had that been on the bingo card, that surely would have been a bonus square that automatically won the game. He went on to say that God hasn’t given him a list of things to do on the first day, which is disappointing really. That would certainly make it easier to answer the perennial “what will you do on day one” question.

Marco Rubio was then offered the question (in an odd conjunction with veterans since they apparently realized that they had yet to ask a question about veterans) and he cleared up a major question I’ve had for some time now.

God has blessed us. He’s blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates; the Democrats can’t even find one.

So, if you, like everyone else, were wondering why there are 17 people vying for the Republican nomination, you have God to thank for that.

The question was an odd one, to be sure, but it was more than that. Fox News choosing that question of the 6,000,000 submissions they claim to have received shows just how important a candidate’s religion is to many people as they decide for whom to vote. And while it may not violate the letter of Article 6 of the Constitution, it certainly seems to violate the spirit.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

As we saw during the 2008 and 2012 elections with the claims that President Obama was a Muslim, large swaths of the electorate did not get this memo. It seems a rather safe bet that an openly gay person will be elected President before someone who is openly not Christian. The current Congress is 92% Christian. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., describes herself as unaffiliated. The overrepresentation of Christians in public office should be disquieting for a country that ostensibly has no religious test for office. But this will not change anytime soon, as the ubiquity of religious language and the forthrightness of a question to the candidates about whether they have heard a word from God in the debate Thursday night testify. As long as continuing to print “In God We Trust” on our currency is considered to be simply “patriotic or ceremonial” (Aronow v. United States) and nationally televised debates present such questions as acceptable to ask and the answers as relevant to how one should choose a candidate to support, Article 6 will lack any significance. One might even say that it is simply patriotic or ceremonial.


Photo by Kim Støvring via Flickr