New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was one of many Republican presidential contenders who appeared at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference in Washington on Friday, but he was the only one who didn’t emphasize the subject of his personal religiosity as a means of connecting with the Christian crowd.
Others who appeared on the stage Friday, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, all went to great lengths to assure the crowd of the depth of their Christian faith and to promise, overtly or not, to be guided by it in office.
Christie probably couldn’t have got away with it even if he tried. A Roman Catholic, Christie is not irreligious, but he has never built his public persona or his candidacies on the back of his faith.
Instead of trying to connect with the crowd through religion, Christie went mainly with fear: “When you think about the world that Barack Obama inherited when he came to the White House, the world that he will be leaving the next president, it is startling how much damage can be done to America's reputation in seven short years. Look at what's happening around the world.”
Christie launched into a parade of horrors around the globe. In Western Europe, he said, “they live in fear of terrorist attacks from extremist Islamists.” In Eastern Europe, “We have Russian soldiers marching … for the first time in 70 years.” (Prague residents of a certain age might dispute his dates.) “Across the Middle East, Iraq is on fire, Libya is on fire, Syria is on fire …” Iran, in Christie’s formulation, has been given Obama’s “permission” to build nuclear weapons. China, he said, is dominating the Pacific in the absence of strong U.S. leadership.
Christie told the audience that he is the man to stand up to all the problems facing the U.S. and its allies across the globe, and one of the primary reasons, he suggested, is his experience prosecuting terrorism cases as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
(Christie used his discussion of the attacks to slip in a little reminder that while he might not be giving his personal testimony, he does go to church: “We lost one of our dear friends in our parish in our town that day in the World Trade Center,” he noted.)
Christie blasted efforts by the administration and by some members of Congress to roll back some of the surveillance powers the government assumed in the wake of the terror attacks, saying that as a former prosecutor he understands better than most the need for strong surveillance authority.
“This is not about politics. This is about life and death for our country, and I stand for keeping America safe and making America strong and not giving political speeches on the floor of the Senate to raise money for a presidential campaign.”
The closest Christie came to seriously invoking religion was when he reiterated the pro-life stance that he has campaigned on in the past, and when he addressed the issue of this week’s murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist.
Christie, like other prominent Republicans at the forum, declined to identify racism as the cause of the attack and said government action is not the answer to this kind of violence. “Laws can’t change this,” he said. Prayer, he suggested, might.
“And so I pray for those families today and I suspect you will, too,” he said. “And if we can have the power of our prayers and the power of our conduct be an example to those who have hate in their heart, then we're doing what we need to do to make our community, our states and our country a better place.”
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