Bush, Rubio woo Baptists at missions conference
Presidential hopefuls vowed to uphold religious liberty and defund Planned Parenthood if elected
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A crowd of about 13,000 people filled Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to near capacity to hear GOP presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio answer questions about issues of interest to evangelical leaders.
Rubio, who had a scheduling conflict, did his interview by video. Jeb Bush was live. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest protestant denomination, hosted the event as part of its annual missions conference, Send 2015. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, questioned the two.
Religious liberty concerns topped the list of questions for both candidates. In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Moore said many evangelicals are concerned their ability to exercise their Christian faith might be compromised. What can a president do to ensure that won’t happen?
Both candidates said they would appoint attorneys general, solicitors general, and Supreme Court justices who would protect religious liberty.
“Religious liberty is not just the right to have beliefs, but the right to live according to your beliefs,” Rubio said. “We are called to be Christians in every aspect of our lives. We are called to influence the culture.”
Bush echoed that sentiment.
“You have to act on your faith for it to be a fulfillment of Jesus’ calling on your life,” he said. Bush, a Catholic, specifically mentioned the Obamacare litigation involving the Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who must now pay for contraceptives in their organization’s healthcare plan. Bush called it an example of “Big Brother telling Little Sisters what to do. It gets absurd pretty quick.”
That’s why, Bush said, “the next president needs to de-politicize this. It goes way beyond politics. This is a foundational issue. We should be able to find common ground.”
Rubio turned a question about religious persecution in the Middle East into a critique of President Barack Obama’s approach to ISIS: “One thing a president should never do is be in the business of saying we will never do X. If the only choices are ISIS wins or ISIS loses, we must choose ISIS loses.” He called for more air strikes and would not rule out the possibility of “boots on the ground” military action.
Bush was even more direct, and he brought Israel into the conversation.
“It is tragic when America leads from behind,” he said. “We are not the world’s policeman, but we are the world’s leader. The two countries that will protect Christians in places of great vulnerability are Israel and the United States. And Israel should not do this alone.” That was one of the few times the relatively sedate audience interrupted either candidate with applause.
Both Rubio and Bush said they would de-fund Planned Parenthood. Bush used the question about the abortion giant to tout his experience as governor of Florida.
“We did defund Planned Parenthood when I was governor,” he said. “Abortion should not be funded by the government. Life should be cherished from beginning to end.”
Rubio called abortion in this country the “murder of millions of children” and suggested it would be a winning issue in 2016.
“Young Americans today are more pro-life than their parents were,” he said. “The fact that a minor can get an abortion without parental consent but can’t get a tattoo without parental consent is mind-shattering for most Americans.”
Both candidates refrained from sharp criticism of the Democrats or their Republican opponents. Moore reminded them of the biblical command to pray for those in authority, and even for your enemies. He then asked both candidates how they would pray for Hillary Clinton.
“God loves Hillary Clinton as much as he loves you or me or anyone else in this gathering,” Rubio said. But he did not offer specifics about how he prays for the Democratic frontrunner, saying instead, “We should pray that we can continue to resolve our disputes at the ballot box.”
Bush added people we disagree with aren’t evil.
“I don’t ascribe bad motives to people I don’t agree with,” he said, adding they may still be wrong.
On this subject of civil dialogue, Moore noted Bush’s brother and father, both former presidents, had become good friends with Bill Clinton. Bush deflected any association, saying of the ex-presidents, “There’s a club there, but Bill Clinton is not my stepbrother.” That response brought laughter from the audience.
At a press conference after the interviews, Moore said he invited all candidates polling at 10 percent or above on July 4 to attend the event. Scott Walker and Hillary Clinton declined the invitation. Donald Trump, the frontrunner today, had then not yet broken above that threshold, and was not invited. But, Moore added, “I would be glad to interview Donald Trump at any time.”
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