Evangelicals and political opponents want to know why Cruz gave less than 1% of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010. “It’s hard to say God is first in your life if he’s last in your budget,” Huckabee tells BuzzFeed News.
With Ted Cruz clinging to a narrow lead in the fast-approaching Iowa caucuses, an increasingly vocal chorus of evangelical leaders and campaign rivals is questioning the authenticity of the candidate’s vaunted Christian faith by pointing to his reportedly meager record of charitable giving.
In a series of interviews this week, political opponents and pastors alike suggested Cruz — an avowed Baptist who is aggressively courting evangelical voters — has flouted the Biblical commandment of tithing in his personal life.
It’s a line of attack that may seem esoteric to nonbelievers, but at least some of Cruz’s critics are betting that it could stick in Iowa: a newly formed political group, Americans United for Values, will launch a radio ad Friday that directly goes after the candidate for his tithes, and brands him a “phony.”
According to personal tax returns released during his 2012 Senate bid, Cruz contributed less than 1% of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010 — a far cry from the 10% most evangelical leaders believe the Bible demands.
With a crowded field of Republican candidates competing for Iowa’s evangelical vote, a public debate over tithing in the heated final days of the race could easily devolve into an unsavory contest of spiritual one-upsmanship. But two of Cruz’s rivals Wednesday told BuzzFeed News the issue was one Christian voters should seriously consider.
“I just think it’s hard to say God is first in your life if he’s last in your budget,” Mike Huckabee said in an interview when asked about Cruz’s tithing. “If I can’t trust God with a dime out of each dollar that I earn, then I’m not sure how I can tell him that I trust him with my whole life… To me, it’s a validation of a person’s stewardship and whether they put God first in their life, not just in their political endeavors.”
Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, added that he and his wife have tithed at least 10% every year since they were broke, young newlyweds. Asked if there was any public record of his charitable giving, he offered to forward an email from his accountant. (He did: the email stated that Huckabee had donated 11.05% of his taxable income in 2014, and 11.82% in 2013.)
“It’s a matter of authenticity,” said Huckabee, who was careful not to call out Cruz by name. “If I say I’m a vegan but you look at me eating hamburgers and ribeye every night you’re going to say, ‘I don’t think this guy’s really a vegan.’”
Ben Carson, another candidate who has invested heavily in appealing to religious voters, declined to comment directly on Cruz’s tithing but highlighted his own giving — without providing specifics — in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
“Since tithing is a personal commitment between oneself and God, I wouldn’t begin to speculate on someone else’s faith or devotion,” Carson said. “I know that tithing and charity are deeply important to me, and I have always been committed to giving back to the Lord and to the community. Every voter will have to decide for themselves what they are looking for in a leader. But I hope that they will see in me a man who has always led by example, and always stayed true to his commitment to God.”
A spokesman for Cruz did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday.
There is reason to doubt the political potency of the tithing issue. Within evangelical Christianity, there are various interpretations of what the Bible actually teaches when it comes to tithes and offerings. Does it include only donations to churches, or do contributions to all charities count? Should it be paid on pre-tax income or will net suffice? But by virtually any measure, research suggests that very few evangelicals contribute a full one-tenth of their income — a reality that might complicate any effort to stoke outrage over Cruz’s supposed shortcomings on this front.
“I’ve never heard the tithing question broached in the context of the election. I wish it were a bigger issue,” said Frank Page, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention. “I think what [a candidate] does in regards to their possessions indicates their caring for people and sensitivity to the commands and dictates of the Lord. But unfortunately, those who do tithe are in the distinct minority, and because of that most people don’t bring it up.”
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