PLANO—If most evangelical Christians are avoiding the polls and allowing leaders to be elected by non-believers, “is it any wonder we have a federal government that is assaulting life?” asked Sen. Ted Cruz during a presidential candidate forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, Oct. 18.
“There are 90 million evangelical Christians in America,” Cruz said during the event that drew about 6,000 people to hear from Cruz and five other presidential candidates. “In the 2012 election, 54 million evangelicals didn’t vote; it’s a majority of evangelical Christians.”
Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham said the forum, co-hosted by his church and the Faith & Freedom Coalition, was designed to encourage evangelical Christians to vote and do so as informed citizens. Candidates attending the event included Cruz, former business CEO Carly Fiorina, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
A range of topics was discussed during the four-hour forum. Among them were the candidates’ faith, sanctity of life and religious liberty issues. Each candidate had time to speak to the crowd before sitting down with Graham for one-on-one interviews.
The candidates were never on stage at the same time, but they did make reference to one another in their comments to the crowd as well as to those running for office from the Democratic Party (all of whom were also invited to the forum).
Huckabee noted, “I haven’t come here to fight the other Republicans running for office. Most are friends, and I like them.”
“Every single one of them on that stage I believe will be a better president than any of the people that were on the stage this week [referencing candidates at the first Democratic debate, hosted by CNN and Facebook]. It’s not my goal here to stay to fight them but rather to fight for you.”
In committing to fight for “you,” Huckabee went on to make it clear that “you” includes unborn Americans.
“How can we ask God to bless a nation that for 42 years has ended the lives of 60 million unborn children?” he said. “This is not just a social aberration—this is uncivilized savagery for which we must repent. We must do more than be sorry about it—we must change it.”
Cruz, R.-Texas, garnered the most vocal and enthusiastic support with his home-state crowd. He spoke of the encouraging signs he sees of an American awakening.
He discussed his record on standing up to Washington and defending the values upon which the nation was founded. He painted a grim picture of the current state of affairs for America both domestically and internationally.
“As these threats grow darker and darker and darker, they are waking people up here and all across the country,” Cruz said. “I believe 2016 will be an election like 1980, and it took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan.”
Fiorina, the lone woman running for president in the Republican field, said, “I very much hope I can earn your support and your votes and continue to have your prayers.”
Aiming some of her comments at Hillary Clinton, Fiorina added, “but I will never ask for your votes or support because I’m a woman, although I am proud to be a woman. I will ask for your votes and your support because I believe I’m the most qualified candidate to win this job and the most qualified candidate to do the job.”
Fiorina also discussed the importance of her faith. “I have been tested,” she said.
“My faith has been tested. I have battled breast cancer. I have buried a child. And through it all, the love of my family and personal relationship with Jesus Christ has seen me through. And on this journey, my family and my faith will see me through as well.”
Carson acknowledged he is often criticized for having a perceived “soft demeanor.” As a young man, he said, he realized he had a hot temper that was going to land him in jail, reform school or the grave. After his temper nearly led him to take the life of another person, Carson sat down in a bathroom and began searching the Scriptures. Verse after verse seemed to be written just about him and how his temper was an indication of foolishness and selfishness.
“I stayed in that bathroom for three hours and came to an understanding during that time that to lash out at somebody—to punch somebody in the face was not a sign of strength, but weakness … That was the last day I had an angry outburst. Some say, ‘You just learned how to hide it.’ Not true—when God fixes a problem, he doesn’t just do a paint job—he fixes it from the inside,” he said.
“That’s why I have this calm demeanor that people mistake as softness. It’s not softness; it’s just the ability to look at things from lots of perspectives and not get angry about it.”
As a neurosurgeon who has performed surgery on babies inside of a mother’s womb, Carson discussed abortion. He noted he could never be convinced that a baby was merely a clump of cells. Addressing a variety of other issues, Carson also focused on foreign affairs., saying he would seek not only to name America’s enemies but to destroy them before they destroy America.
Former Sen. Santorum of Pennsylvania shared with the crowd something he thought might come as a surprise to many of them.
“Now some of you may know I’m a Catholic—but I’m an evangelical Catholic,” Santorum said, saying that he believed it was his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” who has upheld him and delivered to him political victories in standing for things like faith, life and traditional marriage.
Santorum spoke about reforming government programs so that strong families are encouraged instead of providing incentives for fathers to not marry the mother of their children. He also spoke about fighting America’s enemies.
“Seven months ago I was in ISIS Magazine,” Santorum said. “ISIS knows who I am, Iran knows who I am, and when I get sworn in … the enemies of the world will know who they have to deal with.”
Last to speak was Bush, who said he stands for creating a culture of life. He pointed to his fight for life in the 2005 case of Terri Schiavo and to Florida’s defunding of Planned Parenthood during his service as the state’s governor.
“I’m proud of what I did,” Bush said. “Always err on side of life.”
Bush also discussed his religious beliefs.
“I read the Bible from cover to cover for the first time. I got halfway through Romans and realized Jesus was my Savior, and I accepted Him as my Savior and from that moment on had a partnership with Jesus that gives me counsel,” he said.
Bush said he later decided to covert to his wife’s religion—Catholicism—and now enjoys attending mass.
“The blessed sacraments give me great serenity as well,” Bush said.
While some in running for office would wish to “push [Christians] out of the public square,” he said, the involvement of people of faith is crucial in restoring America to the values-based nation she was built to be.
“The ministry of this church and others is so important,” Bush said. “Why not do this in partnership? Hillary Clinton said people of faith just have to get over it—you can pray in your home and church pews but can’t act on your faith or consciousness. That’s wrong on every level. Who feeds the homeless? Who takes care of elder shut-ins? Is it the department of elder affairs? No. It is the faith community of people acting on their hearts.”
Video of the forum is available at prestonwood.org/north-texas-presidential-forum.
—With additional reporting by Tammi Reed Ledbetter