Kunneman railed against the polished Ramaswamy, who is campaigning as a MAGA stalwart. “I don’t care how good someone’s policies are or how good they sound if they don’t profess the name of Yeshua,” Kunneman insisted, using the Hebrew name for Jesus. Invoking biblical passages about a “jealous God” bringing punishment, Kunneman muttered: “You’re not bringing your idols into our country.”
Clearly, Ramaswamy’s entry into the 2024 presidential race has made the whole event much more interesting for religion reporters. The Rolling Stone piece linked to a much better New York Times article by beat veteran Ruth Graham that explained what Ramaswamy is up to this days in terms of explaining his faith to evangelicals. From the Times:
Mr. Ramaswamy’s approach has been to confront the issue directly and argue that he has more in common with observant Christians than they might think.
“I’m not Christian. I was not raised in a Christian household,” he told Mr. Vander Plaats in June in front of a small audience at the headquarters of his organization, the Family Leader. “But we do share the same Christian values that this nation was founded on.”
In an interview in late June, after leaving a meeting with a few dozen pastors in New Hampshire, Mr. Ramaswamy said his faith taught him that Jesus was “a son of God, absolutely.” (That “a” is a sharp distinction from the central Christian belief that Jesus is the son of God. Hinduism is a fluid and expansive tradition, and many believers embrace scores of deities, with some seeing Jesus as one teacher or god.)
“Scores” meaning at least 33 deities, although some say the true number is in the millions.
At campaign stops, Mr. Ramaswamy refers to Bible stories, including the crucifixion of Jesus, and quotes Thomas Aquinas. He frequently mentions his experience attending a “Christian school” in Cincinnati (St. Xavier High School, a Catholic school). And he contrasts “religions like ours,” which have stood the test of time, with the competing worldviews of “wokeism, climatism, transgenderism, gender ideology, Covidism,” as he put it to an audience in New Hampshire.
I will be very interested to see if Ramaswamy can attract the support of American Hindu leaders — if he even wants it — on par with the Christian support that Paula White drummed by for then-candidate Trump in 2015-2016. (Speaking of which, here’s a recent Jerusalem Post piece on White’s whereabouts and prediction for 2024 — she believes Trump will win again — and her new alliances with Orthodox Jews).
Some relevant questions for reporters: I’d like to know where Ramaswamy attends temple. Does he have the Hindu equivalent of a pastor? Is his whole family Hindu? Reporters have asked what how being a devout Catholic or evangelical Protestant influences one’s politics, so I am looking for the same treatment for a Hindu candidate.
Those questions aren’t being asked at that point. The RNS story repeats what Rolling Stone does as for quoting what Kunneman’s tape on Right Wing Watch said.
Folks, in terms of mainstream evangelicalism, Kunneman is a nobody. Editors need to know that he’s a failed prophet who has a YouTube channel and attracts some crazies in the wild world of freelance American Christianity. Every time RWW posts something outrageous from one of these preachers, the media treats it like these folks actually represent tons of people.
Among the false prophets, there are some big wheels, but Kunneman isn’t one of them. He’s where he is because Kenneth Copeland’s folks have him on their Flashpoint TV show.
One outlet that is asking interesting questions is Globely News, which points out that Indian politics may do Ramaswamy in, once people get beyond Right Wing Watch and actually ask serious questions about the candidate.
But evangelicals remain gatekeepers in today’s Republican Party. And there’s risk that Ramaswamy’s honeymoon with them might be short-lived.
The reason? His praise for India’s Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi.
To be clear, Ramaswamy isn’t running on the basis of his ethnic or religious identity. And he shouldn’t be forced to take positions on India’s internal issues because of his background. But Ramaswamy has, on his own accord, expressed his views on Indian politics. Evangelicals might find these views troubling.
Modi has pushed a Hindu nationalism that at the least counts the country’s 200 million Muslims and Christians as second-class citizens at best, as martyrs at worst.
That stance is a major challenge for Ramaswamy to explain. Will he play to audiences back in India or seek approval from evangelicals in America, many of whom subscribe to publications that tell of a new wave of violence by Hindus against Indian Christians?
Ramaswamy is backing someone who not only rejects the ideas of individual liberty and religious freedom that are at the heart of the American experiment — values that Ramaswamy professes — but Modi and his BJP are also persecuting the very religious community that the Republican hopeful is trying to court here in the United States.
Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, Christians and Muslims have been targeted with unending campaigns of hate and violence. Both communities have been painted as the enemy. Modi’s supporters ridicule Indian Christians as “rice bag converts” — suggesting that they embraced the Christian faith for mere food handouts. They say this despite the fact that India’s oldest Christian communities date back to the 1st century AD.
If Ramaswamy disapproves of the rampant religious persecution in India, he’ll be asked why he’s not speaking out against it. Smart reporters will want to grill him on this topic, not ask him nonsense about how he feels as a Hindu running for public office or whether he believes in gods or a God.
Quite frankly, I think the average evangelical could care a lot less about the faith of a presidential candidate than the Hank Kunnamans of this world think they do. That barrier was broken in 2012, when Mitt Romney ran for president and his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beliefs were quite secondary to it all. The same holds for Ramaswamy.
However — and see if I am not right in this — Ramaswamy is not going to let any footage of himself appearing at his home temple show up in any media. The optics would be killer.
So you heard it here first: He’s not going to darken a Hindu temple for the next two years.
FIRST IMAGE: Publicity photo of Vivek Ramaswamy taken from his Instagram account.