WATCH: Ted Cruz's Dad Calls US a "Christian Nation," Says Obama Should Go "Back to Kenya"

Want to understand where the tea party champion's hardcore views come from? Meet his father, Rafael.

| Thu Oct. 31, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

In April, Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), spoke to the tea party of Hood County, which is southwest of Fort Worth, and made a bold declaration: The United States is a "Christian nation." The septuagenarian businessman turned evangelical pastor did not choose to use the more inclusive formulation "Judeo-Christian nation." Insisting that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution "were signed on the knees of the framers" and were a "divine revelation from God," he went on to say, "yet our president has the gall to tell us that this is not a Christian nation…The United States of America was formed to honor the word of God." Seven months earlier, Rafael Cruz, speaking to the North Texas Tea Party on behalf of his son, who was then running for Senate, called President Barack Obama an "outright Marxist" who "seeks to destroy all concept of God," and he urged the crowd to send Obama "back to Kenya." [UPDATE: The video originally embedded here was made private after this story was published. However, MSNBC's Hardball played the key excerpts Thursday night; watch that segment below.]

Comments uttered by a politician's parent may have little relevance in assessing an elected official. But it's appropriate to take Rafael Cruz into account when evaluating his son the senator. Ted Cruz, the tea party champion who almost single-handedly spurred the recent government shutdown, has often deployed his father as a political asset. He routinely cites his Cuban-born father, who emigrated from the island nation in 1957, when he discusses immigration and justifies his opposition to the bipartisan reform bill that passed in the Senate. (Ted Cruz hails his father as a symbol of the "American dream" who came to the United States legally—though Rafael Cruz began his career in the oil industry in Canada, where Ted was born.) Moreover, Ted Cruz campaigns with his father; he had him in tow on a recent trip to Iowa (where the evangelical vote is crucial in GOP presidential primaries). Rafael Cruz regularly speaks to tea party and Republican groups in Texas as a surrogate for his son; during Ted Cruz's 2012 Senate campaign, his father was dispatched to events and rallies across the state to whip up support. And thanks to Ted Cruz's political rise, Rafael has become a conservative star in his own right. He has been prominently featured—and praised—at events held by prominent right-wing outfits, such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action. What Rafael Cruz says—especially when he is speaking for his son—matters.

The elder Cruz is a North Texas-based pastor who directs a small outfit called Purifying Fire Ministries.* Rafael Cruz's inflammatory remarks and fundamentalist views have recently started to attract increased media attention. A few weeks ago, he sparked headlines when he told a gathering of Republicans in Colorado that Obama has vowed to "side with the Muslims," that Obamacare mandates "suicide counseling" for the elderly, and that gay marriage is a plot to make "government your god."

sermon Rafael Cruz delivered in August 2012 at an Irving, Texas, mega-church has also come under scrutiny. At that event, he asserted that Christian true believers are "anointed" by God to "take dominion" of the world in "every area: society, education, government, and economics." He was preaching a particular form of evangelical Christianity known as Dominionism (a.k.a. Christian Reconstructionism) that holds that these "anointed" Christians are destined to take over the government and create in practice, if not in official terms, a theocracy. Rafael Cruz also endorsed the evangelical belief known as the "end-time transfer of wealth"—that is, as a prelude to the second coming of Christ, God will seize the wealth of the wicked and redistribute it to believers. But, Cruz told the flock, don't expect to benefit from this unless you tithe mightily. Introducing Cruz at this service, Christian Zionist pastor Larry Huch offered this bottom line: In the coming year, he predicted, "God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, God's people and his kingdom will begin to rule and reign. I know that's why God got Rafael's son elected, Ted Cruz, the next senator." (In July, several prominent Dominionist pastors at a ceremony in Iowa blessed and anointed Ted Cruz, rendering him, in their view, a "king" who would help usher in the kingdom of Christ.)

During his sermon at this church, Rafael Cruz preached that men, not women, are the spiritual leaders of their families: "As God commands us men to teach your wife, to teach your children—to be the spiritual leader of your family—you're acting as a priest. Now, unfortunately, unfortunately, in too many Christian homes, the role of the priest is assumed by the wife. Why? Because the man had abdicated his responsibility as priest to his family…So the wife has taken up that banner, but that's not her responsibility. And if I'm stepping on toes, just say, 'Ouch.'"

As Rafael Cruz recounted at the Hood County tea party event, he had a powerful role in shaping his son, introducing Ted, when he was in middle school, to the Free Enterprise Education Center, where the young Cruz was flooded with Austrian School libertarian economics and archly conservative interpretations of US history. Cruz excelled in this setting and went on to become part of a traveling road show of teens called the Constitutional Corroborators. They appeared at Rotary Club luncheons across the state to extol the wonders of the free market and the US Constitution. While the Rotarians ate lunch, the whiz kids transcribed from memory the articles of the Constitution on easels placed at the front of the room.

At the Hood County gathering, Rafael Cruz, in full sync with his son's political stance, attacked RINOs—Republicans In Name Only. He noted that the "wicked" were now ruling the United States. He insisted that "those death panels are in Obamacare," and that the US government wants "to take all of your money" and confiscate "our fortunes." He asserted that the Democratic Party promotes "everything that is contrary to the word of God." He also exclaimed, "Social justice is a cancer. Social justice means you are ruled by whatever the mob does. What social justice does is destroy individual responsibility."

Pastor Cruz is a fiery speaker whose rhetorical red meat is well-received by hardcore Republican and tea party audiences. He regularly has compared Obama to Fidel Castro and routinely echoes the no-surrender calls of his son. At a "freedom rally" at the Alamo in 2012, he vowed, "We've had enough compromise…enough of Establishment Republicans that don't stand for anything." Speaking to Houston Republicans in September, he decried John McCain and Mitt Romney, blasting both of the former presidential candidates for having "played dead" when challenging Obama. He blasted McCain for refusing to slam Obama regarding the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He asserted that the elderly would be harmed by Obamacare, claiming that "everywhere in the world when socialized medicine has been instituted it takes 12 to 18 months to get any kind of medical proceeding." (That is not the case with Medicare, a form of socialized health care.) He also declared, "I haven't heard Obama ask us for our consent when he's trying to ram Obamacare down our throats"—without noting that Congress voted for the Affordable Care Act. At the Hood County event, Rafael Cruz, a fervent foe of gay rights, vowed that he would be speaking "across this country to support constitutional conservatives to retake the Senate."

Whether he's at a prayer breakfast or a tea party rally, Rafael Cruz easily and enthusiastically mixes religion and politics. At an event hosted by the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in September, he contended that after the 2012 election, God told him, "If we could blame one group of people for what happened in the last election, it is the pastors." By that he meant that, for decades, too many Christian leaders have remained on the political sidelines, declining to do combat with liberals and Democrats. Consequently, he explained, prayer has been removed from schools, legalized abortion has continued, and gay marriage has come to pass in several states. He insisted that the advancement of Christianity (his fundamentalist version of it) depends on political battle, noting the need not just for a "spiritual savior" but a "political savior." (The idea of states' rights, he said, was based in the bible.) Obama, Cruz proclaimed, believes "government is your god." When Cruz was a keynote speaker at a tax day rally hosted by Texas tea partiers in April, he told the crowd that conservative Christians need to take over "every school board in this nation." At a Texas tea party rally in September 2012, he claimed that Obama has "a clear agenda…to destroy American exceptionalism"—and "to achieve a "worldwide redistribution of wealth" and "make us subject to the United Nations."

The United States as a "Christian nation"; death panels; social justice a cancer; gay rights a conspiracy; the "wicked" in charge in Washington; women inferior to men as spiritual leaders; Obama a Muslim-favoring, God-hating, Marxist Kenyan; End Times; a UN worldwide dictatorship; states' rights; free markets over all—Rafael Cruz blends the far reaches of extreme conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. He embodies the full synthesis of the tea party and the religious right. In fact, he has noted that the rise of the religious right in Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign "was the precursor of the tea party." Rafael Cruz may well be key to understanding the ideas, desires, and long-term aims that drive Ted Cruz—a politician who is exerting an outsized influence on the GOP. 

At the least, Cruz ought to have to explain whether he shares the more extreme views of his No. 1 surrogate. Asked to comment on Rafael Cruz's remarks—particularly his statement that the United States is a "Christian nation" and his call for Obama to be shipped back to Kenya—Sen. Cruz's office requested citations for these quotes. After receiving the citations, Sean Rushton, a spokesperson for Cruz, replied, "These selective quotes, taken out of context, mischaracterize the substance of Pastor Cruz's message. Like many Americans, he feels America is on the wrong track." Rushton added, "Pastor Cruz does not speak for the senator."

"People here are trying to figure out Ted Cruz," a  Democratic senator recently told me. "And a lot of them are saying, 'He went to Princeton, Harvard Law—he doesn't really believe what he says.' But I think he does. All you have to do is look at his father. So much of our life is mirroring. And Ted Cruz is mirroring his father."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Purifying Fire Ministries as Purifying Fire International Ministry. The office of Sen. Ted Cruz says there is no connection between the two. Go back.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.