Dogs, Fleas, and Jeb Bush’s Evolution on Marriage

God is back in the news with marriage and religious freedom debates and the 2016 presidential election underway.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in January of a key adviser’s recommendation that Jeb Bush, a possible 2016 Republican presidential nominee, discuss his faith to better identify with white, born-again Christians. The demographic represents the majority of 2012 GOP primary voters (56 percent in Iowa, 64 percent in South Carolina) and would respond well to “faith talk.”

Accordingly, Mr. Bush has been mentioning his faith when courting voters. I asked Iowan and South Carolinian pastors to weigh in on the issue of marriage and Mr. Bush, especially in light of existing hostile anti-Christian laws that are solely penalizing pastors and Christian citizens for their convictions.

Mr. Bush’s position on marriage has evolved over the last 20 years. In 1995 he converted to his wife’s Roman Catholic faith and maintains his decisions have been influenced by his “deeply held beliefs [which were] informed by my faith.” In 1994 Mr. Bush argued LGBT protections were “tantamount to elevating sodomy”; one year later, that gay rights and feminism were “modern victim movements.”

Mr. Bush publicly supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) but has also argued that states should decide marriage. However, before the 2004 presidential election, his sister-in-law, former first lady Laura Bush, and his own staffers supported gay marriage and abortion. Ken Mehlman, for example, former President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign manager and former Republican National Committee chairman, “came out” in 2010 as one of the first openly gay influential GOP operatives. The same year marriage amendments were on state ballots, which Mr. Mehlman actively opposed.

Later, in 2009, Mr. Bush asserted, “As a public leader, one’s faith should guide you,” while his and his extended family’s staff lobbied for same-sex marriage. His Right to Rise PAC’s senior adviser, Tim Miller (a prominent gay Republican and presidential campaign operative for Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman Jr. and John McCain) was relentlessly and aggressively campaigning for same-sex marriage. Likewise, David Kochel argued the GOP “should be a more modern party, we need to be a more inclusive party.”

After the unelected and gay California Judge, Vaughn Walker, overturned Proposition 8 and the votes of 7 million Californians, Mr. Miller said, “I like all kinds of activist judges. Fat kinds, skinny kinds, red kinds, blue kinds. The people are too stupid to govern themselves. This is very cognitively consonant for me.”

Whether or not Mr. Miller’s comment was a joke is irrelevant. He actively advocated for an unelected judge to overrule the will of the people.

With such friends, family and colleagues, is it any wonder that by 2013 Jeb Bush was expressing support for same-sex marriage? Emails and public comments reveal more about his advocacy to respect “civil unions & same-sex lifetime commitments,” asserting the importance of “respect[ing] the rule of law.” (It’s unclear if respecting the rule of law refers solely to same-sex marriage. Mr. Bush’s positions on illegal immigration and border security have also evolved.)

The pastors I spoke with clarified their concerns had nothing to do with “guilt by association” or “nature vs. nurture” arguments, rather, Mr. Bush’s judgment, identity and likely demise.

Des Moines pastor Michael Demastus recalled his conversation with a Bush staffer who asked if he would meet “for a sit down.” Mr. Demastus said, “I am very concerned about Bush’s positions on issues that are most important to me, [life, marriage and religious liberty].” When he referenced Mr. Bush’s openly gay advisers he was told he “should keep in mind that staffing people in positions does not mean that they set policy.” Mr. Demastus responded, “personnel is policy.”

A Charleston pastor emphasized, “bad company corrupts good morals,” citing 1 Cor. 15:33. Explaining that close advisers definitely impact leaders’ decisions, he added government policies “are not written morally neutral they are inherently shaped by presuppositions and convictions.”

Several pastors pointed to Proverbs 13:20, which advises, a person who “walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Similarly, an old English proverb quips, “He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”

Crescent State pastor Brad Atkins added, “the Bible is clear that ‘as a man thinks in his heart so he is.'” He reasoned those closest to a candidate have the most influence: “Candidates may feel that they are expressing their own opinion, but over time they will find themselves drifting in the direction of those with whom they openly seek counsel and with those who offer indirect counsel behind closed doors.”

But the crux of the matter, Mr. Atkins and others expressed is that “a Christian holding to the Bible being the word of God would not be able to support same-sex marriage.”

Columbia, South Carolina, pastor Mike Gonzalez puts it more bluntly: “No genuine Christian can support same-sex marriage. Why can I say this?” Mr. Gonzalez asks and answers. “Because it is in direct opposition to the word of God (God Himself: Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev.22:15). Jesus made it clear that ‘he who is not for me is against me’ (Matt. 12:30). The same-sex/homosexual position is antichrist (Matt. 19:4-6).”

Mr. Gonzalez added, “Jeb Bush wanted a guy like Miller on his team because it gives the appearance of a big umbrella GOP candidate … But I would go as far as to say that personnel will eventually cause the rise or fall of a candidate.”

The Latin and Greek translations of Proverbs 13:20 identify the pastors’ greatest concern. The consequences of one’s value judgments are worse than “harm” or fleas. The Latin implies a person’s identity is transformed: “Tell me your companions, and I will tell you what you are” (Talis quis esse putatur qualis ei est sodalitas).

Losing one’s identity in the Greek means one “shall be broken,” morally ruined (Σοφοῦ παρ ἀνδρὸς χρὴ σοφόν τι μανθάνειν).

Some Iowan and South Carolinian pastors expressed openness to meeting Mr. Bush, as an expression of “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” but also to clarify that his advocacy for “sameness in gender distorts image-bearing our creator.” Some pastors said they “were too busy;” others mentioned they already support another candidate.

Jeb Bush has bigger problems than connecting with white born-again voters, his moral turpitude, or his anti-Christian and pro-gay staff. His very identity — who he actually is — is in jeopardy. For this reason, I don’t know a single white born-again Christian who would vote for him. I certainly wouldn’t, but then again, I can’t believe he’s even being considered.

May 7, 2015