Much was made of Ted Cruz’s recent “shaming” mailer in Iowa, but he’s not the first to use heavy-handed tactics. Democrats always do it. Republicans have done it. Rubio followed suit, albeit to a much lighter degree. Today, I will highlight Cruz’s mailer because it is the most recent example, but make no mistake: This is not about Ted Cruz. It’s about us. Every Christian candidate will let us down—this was just Ted’s turn—but what really matters is our response.
Mailing Out Shame
Let’s look at some of the text from Cruz’s Iowa Mailers, which were formatted to look like official documents and entitled “Voting Violation”:
“Your individual voting history, as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.”
Below the text was a list of actual neighbors’ names, with letter grades (F, C-, D, etc.) and percentages. The mailer really did give neighbors’ names and voting records.
Shame is a powerful motivator. The clear intent of these mailers was to scare, intimidate, and with the risk of follow-up notices, threaten. Worse yet, since the mailers targeted people the Cruz campaign felt would support them, these “Voting Violations” were actually meant to frighten Cruz’s own base.
Logic, Scripture, and The Search For Loopholes
In the aftermath, I saw countless defenses offered by Cruz supporters. Let me boil some down and address each—sometimes with scripture. Again, let’s think of these in terms of all Christian candidates, not just Cruz.
“These are just junk mail. No one takes them seriously.”
If candidates thought every mailer would be discarded, they wouldn’t mail them. Clearly, the goal with these mailings is to create real fear and shame, using intimidation as a motivator.
“There’s nothing wrong with sharing their names and voting records with neighbors. It’s public info.”
First, just because something is public record, that doesn’t mean neighbors will spend the time and money to discover it. Second, if they do, they then will have chosen it—such information will not be foisted upon them in their homes. Third, virtually no neighbor would do this. Fourth, such data would not come in the form of violations and threats.
Let’s see what Jesus had to say about public shaming over personal failings:
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Now, someone might say, “But that was talking about sinning, not voting poorly!” But this is a dodge. Those sending these mailers are politically motivated, so failure to vote violates their standards; these mailers shame people for the “sin” of low participation. This is a public rebuke for alleged failure, and dancing with rhetoric just exposes our desire to help our candidates by evading biblical principle.
“These scores aren’t even real.”
If this is true (and I’m not saying it is), then that’s even worse, for it is lying. Biblically, lying = bad.
“This is just politics.”
If someone can show me the “political waiver” in scripture, I’m more than happy to print it.
“If a little public shaming is what it takes to get them to do what’s right, that’s just fine.”
Public shame makes us fear people; fearing their reproach or low opinion. Since fellow Christians will surely be among those contacted, the Christian candidate wants to create fear in Christ’s body—fear of criticism from the world. But biblically, we are told the exact opposite—that we should fear God alone, not seeking to gain acceptance from men:
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
“Making them look official just enhances the effect. Everyone knows they aren’t official.”
If everyone knew this, then the effect wouldn’t be enhanced. Clearly, these mailers look official in order to heighten fear of real consequences. Deceptive from the start, this is lying to fellow Republicans.
“Others have done it too.”
First of all, not everyone does each shaming practice. For instance, Ted’s mailer far exceeded what any other campaign did (though I expect others will do worse pretty soon). Second, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) entirely called us to embrace higher standards than those around us—not lower.
Third, using worldly norms as our excuse to evade Christian standards is almost laughably unbiblical:
II Corinthians 10:3
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In times like these, the greatest shame is when we feel none.
Learning From A Tax Collector
Do you know about tax collectors in the time of Christ? These were Jews working for the Romans, collecting taxes from their Jewish countrymen. Yikes. Worse yet, the common way for tax collectors to get ahead was to take more than Rome required—thus the tax collectors were very rich. Among tax collectors, this terrible act was accepted practice.
One wealthy chief tax collector named Zacchaeus was inspired by his encounter with Jesus:
Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
Get the point?
Cruz’s mailers are but one example of many unscriptural methods Republicans use. And I hear all the excuses. “It’s public information.” “The Democrats do it, so we’ll lose if we don’t.” “People should know these are junk mail.”
Here’s the big truth for Christians: Like Zacchaeus, we’re all in Christ’s presence, and we should all be inspired to discard accepted but wrong practices. That should be our first step. The second should be turning it to our political advantage:
Here’s one way: Shame the bad tactics, not the voters. Shame the leaders and politicians using such tactics, and in so doing, turn their bad practices to our advantage.
For instance, rather than using shame-and-scare mailers, call out those who do—and make it a big deal. Point at Obama’s usage of such mailers in 2012, saying how we’d never treat people that way. Admit we’ve done this, then apologize and drop the practices, challenging Democrats to do the same.
Since Democrats can’t win without power moves and deception, their only choices would be to either continue the practices—thus making us look good—or discontinue the practices and fight on level footing—thus removing their strength. Either way, we win.
The worldly response to unethical practices is, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”—but that puts the game on the Democrats’ home field. The Christian way is, “Expose ‘em, and in so doing, beat ‘em.” This puts the game on our field, leaving Democrats scrambling for answers.
I prefer this way. I’ll win bigger, and I’ll actually like the guy in the mirror.
Going Forward…In The Light
Look, every candidate falls short, and that’s no reason to abandon them. But we also shouldn’t abandon principles. Letting devotion to candidates exceed devotion to truth, we Christians cease to be, well, us.
Let me tell you what non-Christians hear when we dance and dodge: They hear the world means more to us than Jesus. Period. They hear us saying, “Hey, I talk about God, but I’m as hooked on this world as you are. My faith is a crutch for coping, not a guide to higher truth. I have nothing special to offer.”
Fellow believers, it’s time we decided what we stand for. Do we stand for God in a godless nation? Do we stand for principle in a land of capitalizing on accepted practices? Do we stand for loving our neighbors, or pressuring them? When we come face to face with our Lord, what will we say? Did we stand for Him, or…