The 2016 Presidential campaign stepped up a notch last night as the first major televised debate between Republican candidates took place. 10 of the leading candidates (all of whom are men) lined up to face questions from Fox News. And while Donald Trump stole the headlines for a typically erratic performance, the question which was left to the end of the night proved interesting.
The GOP hopefuls were asked by a Fox viewer, "I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first." Because of the large number of candidates, they didn't all get a chance to answer. But five of them did and the replies were revealing – although none of the candidates really responded to what they thought God wanted to take care of first – choosing instead to focus on generalities of their faith.
Up first, Senator Ted Cruz said, "I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible. I'm the son of a pastor and evangelist and I've described many times how my father, when I was a child, was an alcoholic. He was not a Christian. And my father left my mother and left me when I was just three years old. And someone invited him to Clay Road Baptist Church. And he gave his heart to Jesus and it turned him around. And he got on a plane and he flew back to my mother and me. I would also note that the scripture tells us, 'You shall know them by their fruit."' We see lots of 'campaign conservatives.' But if we're going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who has been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative."
Next up was Governor John Kasich, who was on home turf in Cleveland, Ohio. He also brought to mind his family. "My father was a mailman. His father was a coal miner. My mother's mother could barely speak English. And their son today stands on this podium in the great state of Ohio not only as the governor, but a candidate for president of the United States. I do believe in miracles...
"And we've got to listen to other people's voices, respect them, but keep in mind, and I believe in terms of the things that I've read in my lifetime, the Lord is not picking us. But because of how we respect human rights, because of that we are a good force in the world, He wants America to be strong. He wants America to succeed. And He wants America to lead. And nothing is more important to me than my family, my faith, and my friends."
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin gave the next answer. He had a direct response: "I'm certainly an imperfect man. And it's only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I've been redeemed from my sins. So I know that God doesn't call me to do a specific thing, God hasn't given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day.
"What God calls us to do is follow his will. And ultimately that's what I'm going to try to do. And I hope people see it in my state, even in the big challenges I took on when I had over 100,000 protesters in and around our capital, trying to do what I thought was the right thing.
"It wasn't just how I took on those political battles. It was ultimately how I acted. Not responding in kind. Not lashing out. But just being decent going forward and living my life in a way that would be a testimony to him and our faith."
At this point, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asked to respond to the question about God, as well as one about military veterans. "Well, first, let me say I think God has blessed us" he began, invoking American exceptionalism. "I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed. And we have honoured that blessing. And that's why God has continued to bless us... And he has blessed us with young men and women willing to risk their lives and sometimes die in uniform for the safety and security of our people."
Dr Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and only African American contender, was asked about God in the light of the ongoing racial divisions in America, but didn't really mention faith. "I think the bully pulpit is a wonderful place to start healing that divide" he said. "You know, we have the purveyors of hatred who take every single incident between people of two races and try to make a race war out of it, and drive wedges into people. And this does not need to be done...
"Because our strength as a nation comes in our unity. We are the United States of America, not the divided states. And those who want to divide us are trying to divide us, and we shouldn't let them do it."
There were no follow up questions so the candidates weren't challenged to expand on their view of God's priorities for them and for the USA. It remains to be seen whether we'll hear from the likes of Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush about their faith later in the debate season...