Carson in Jordan: God bless and keep the Syrians – far away from us

December 2, 2015
Source: Carson campaign/ Facebook/ screen shot

Source: Carson campaign/ Facebook/ screenshot

On Saturday Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who had strongly opposed absorbing Syrian refugees in the United States, suddenly turned up in Jordan visiting the very refugees he wants to keep away from American soil. What explains the sudden interest in a group GOP presidential candidates have been competing to keep out? Carson’s move, a new poll suggests, could well save his lead among evangelical Christians.

Carson’s success in the GOP presidential race is partly due to his embrace by evangelical Christians. Like most GOP candidates, Carson reflected what seemed like the natural tendency of evangelicals: discomfort with Muslims and Islam, fear of terrorism, and, as a Pew survey suggested, more opposition to U.S. absorption of Syrian refugees than the rest of the population.

But there is evidence to suggest that despite their worries about absorbing Syrian refugees, the evangelicals’ views are far more complex as they struggle between their fear and the compassionate side of their Christian faith. There were already signs of discomfort expressed by some evangelical leaders who were feeling the heat from their constituents, as the categorical rejection of refugees rubbed against their sense of compassion, as reported by Politico.

A new University of Maryland poll I conducted (in cooperation with the Program for Public Consultation, fielded by Nielson Scarborough, November 4-10) offers a broader view of evangelical attitudes toward compassion.

First, on Carson: the poll reinforces the view that evangelicals prefer the GOP candidate over others. Carson led all candidates, both among evangelical Republicans, and all American evangelicals, “if elections were held today.”

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But how important is compassion to Carson’s evangelical constituents, and how does it inform their political views? A lot, the poll suggests.

As part of a broader survey of a nationally representative sample of 875 Americans, and an oversample of 863 evangelicals/born again Christians (to be fully released on December 4), I asked about the public’s view of the Golden Rule, spelled out as treating others as you would like them to treat you. I was prompted by Pope Francis’s forceful invocation of the Golden Rule during his visit to the United States: “Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” I wondered how Americans (and evangelicals in particular) feel about this rule.

Two questions were asked. One sought to assess how central the Golden Rule is to people’s lives. The second probed whether evangelicals believed in a compassionate and a forgiving God or felt a fear of punishment from an almighty God who must be obeyed. The results on both are striking, both across the American political spectrum and among evangelicals.

The respondents were asked: “The Golden Rule says that you should treat others as you would like them to treat you. How central is this principle to how you think you should live your life?” They were asked to rank the centrality on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is not at all important and 10 is the most important principle. A majority of every American grouping tested (Republicans, Democrats, independents, evangelicals) ranked the Golden Rule a 10 (the most important principle) and an overwhelming majority of all groups ranked it 7-10. A majority of evangelicals also ranked it a 10, and the number increases if one adds those who also identified themselves as “born again Christians.”

The poll also set out to test two approaches to faith among American Christians broadly, and evangelicals in particular. Those Americans identifying themselves as Christians were asked which statement was closer to representing their faith: An almighty God who must be feared and obeyed, or a compassionate and merciful God. By 88 percent to 12 percent, evangelicals chose the latter.

polls2

On the other side of the coin, there is also evidence that evangelicals have more negative views of Islam and Muslims than the rest of the population, and strongly back Israel, which provides a particular prism to their views of the Middle East. But since evangelicals are more often Republican than Democrat, mostly from red states, it’s not always easy to differentiate their theology from political culture.

What’s clear, however, is that compassion is central to their faith, despite their fear and political predispositions, and that a candidate who fails to capture that aspect of their identity risks diminishing support. Carson cleverly invented a way out of the fear/compassion tension: keep refugees away from American soil, but find a way to show them compassion. Whether practical or not, it’s a message that’s likely to resonate with Carson’s core constituency.

8 comments

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Haha. Ben Carson. Probably looking for pyramids.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Snake Oil

Posted by brownland | Report as abusive

Carson explains that ancient Jordanian cliff city of Petra was actually an early Walgreen’s.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Next week he will be guiding believers to the mountain top where the asteroid will glide by to pick up those with truth in their souls. Beware however as those who hearts are not true will be judged by the greys and cast down the mountain should they fail to meet the high standards for true believers. So attend if you have the courage and true true belief.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

God bless and keep the Syrians – far away from us.
Should be:God bless and keep the Americans – far away from us still living in Syria.

Posted by nossnevs | Report as abusive

Ben Carson is a joke………….

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

Ben Carson looks for Santa Claus and baby Jesus in the holy land. Settles for some garbage and random human remains.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Telhami says, “Carson cleverly invented a way out of the fear/compassion tension: keep refugees away from American soil, but find a way to show them compassion.”

Rather than saying “keep refugees away from American soil” a more objective writer, and, an objective Carson would talk about, “Keeping refugees as close to their culture and homeland as possible, while finding a way to show them compassion.”

I can’t tell if Carson’s intent was with the latter message, since the writer didn’t use any Carson quotes. However, the writer’s choice of the negative side of good intentions is telling.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive