Jeb Bush at Liberty U: Election by Faith Alone?

Jeb Bush's speech at Jerry Falwell's flagship school was uplifting. Will action follow his words?

By John Zmirak Published on May 11, 2015

What does it mean to see Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert, addressing the grads of the Baptist Liberty University, presided over by Jerry Falwell’s son and heir, on today’s threats to religious liberty?

A full transcript is included in Maggie Gallagher’s pithy column here. As Maggie observes, the speech itself was stirring, and Bush’s willingness to deliver it at the birthplace of the Moral Majority should encourage us. Bush drew correct distinctions between scripture-based convictions, and public arguments that cite both faith and reason. He even made a not-so-subtle dig at the Kennedy clan, citing politicians whose religious convictions are so private that they don’t even influence their personal lives.

There’s an old joke that goes: Catholics preach salvation through faith and works, Protestants through faith alone; but in reality, most Catholics preach works but rely on faith, while Protestants preach faith but practice works. Which is Bush engaged in? Will his works protect our faith, or will they prove, in the end, to be dead?

As the Solicitor General contemplates targeting orthodox Christian churches and taxing them out of existence for opposing same-sex marriage, a leading, full-on “establishment Republican” presidential candidate is willing to speak up for us. He wants our votes, and offers support in return. The “optics” of that are promising. The speech gives us hope that we can resist “dhimmitude,” demotion to second-class citizenship in which we beg for crumbs of liberty from Pharaoh’s table, in the form of bare “freedom of worship.”

It’s encouraging to hear a member of the Bush clan say, “I don’t know about you, but I’m betting that when it comes to doing the right and good thing the Little Sisters of the Poor know better than the regulators at the Department of Health and Human Services.” So much for the HHS Mandate.

And if we listen optimistically to his speech, we might even detect opposition to same-sex marriage in Gov. Bush’s complaint about “federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution.” Then again, we might be whistling “Amazing Grace” in the dark.

Like Maggie, I’m grateful to hear this speech, and wish that Bush had delivered it two months ago, back when Indiana’s religious freedom law was under siege. It might have given courage to Mike Pence and the rest of that state, and to Arkansas’ governor and legislature, when they were the next target of opportunity for gay totalitarianism.

The speech at a private Christian university was nice. It was even thoughtful. But believers need more than comforting words and unfeigned praise of Judeo-Christian values. Those might have been more than enough, five years ago. But that was back during peace time.

We need to know if Gov. Bush is doing more than paying lip service. We need to know if he will do more than talk the talk in friendly settings. There’s a tangible, real-world way for him and the other presidential candidates to show that their professed faith in freedom is more than words: The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 3133, S. 1808), which was stillborn in Congress despite the co-sponsorship of leaders like Marco Rubio. According to the U.S. Catholic bishops, if revived, that act would

bar the federal government from discriminating against individuals and organizations based upon their religiously-motivated belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. The Act provides broad protections against adverse federal actions directed toward individuals and organizations that act on such beliefs. …

The Act would prohibit the federal government from denying or revoking a nonprofit entity’s tax-exempt status. It would also prohibit the federal government from denying or excluding an individual or organization from a federal grant, contract, or employment. Indeed, the Act would bar any discrimination by the federal government against individuals or organizations based upon their religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.

Such a law would have seemed absurd and superfluous ten years ago. Now it is dismissed as intolerant or extremist. How dangerous things have become for us, how quickly.

Christians in other countries have faced such moments: 1905, in France, when the Third Republic seized control of every church and Christian school in the country. They were never returned. A series of pivotal elections in the early 1930s in Spain brought vicious anti-Christians to power in the government, giving way to brutal attacks on churches and the outbreak of civil war. The 2016 GOP primary season may prove the last chance for faithful Christians to exert any serious influence in America, with our institutions still intact.

So we need new litmus tests. Of course a candidate will have to be pro-life, and go on record as promising to appoint Supreme Court justices who construe the Constitution strictly. Of course our candidates will need to speak up for natural marriage, even in the face of an absurd Supreme Court ruling. But now, for our self-defense, we need even more. Each candidate should be asked, and asked again until he answers, whether he would get behind and sign a bill like the Marriage and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. To demand any less of candidates is to earn their contempt, and we’ll get it. We will leave our children a country less faithful and free than it was when we found it, and far less than when it was founded.

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