Tim Scott puts God in the middle of his presidential campaign

Tim Scott
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., holds a copy of his latest book, “America: A Redemption Story,” as he gestures to his mother during a launch event at Seacoast Church on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022, in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Scott, currently seeking what he has said will be his final U.S. Senate term, has been mentioned as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2024. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) Meg Kinnard/AP

Tim Scott puts God in the middle of his presidential campaign

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Church, Bibles, and faith play major roles in Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-SC) video announcing his (let’s face it) run for president.

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The motto of Scott’s nascent campaign is “Faith in America.” He concludes the ad with “God bless you” and describes the question behind the Civil War thus: “Would we truly be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?”

You see that religion is central to the story Scott is trying to sell, which is normal for a conservative politician. But Scott’s story uses religion in an important way.

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The most interesting part of Scott’s story is he doesn’t attribute his climb out of poverty to his own virtue — to simply pulling himself up by his bootstraps or some abstract concept of the “American dream.” Scott stated explicitly that America has infrastructure that helped him climb and that infrastructure is under attack.

“It pains my soul to see the Biden liberals attacking every rung of the ladder that helped me climb,” Scott said in the middle of the video. He then cited schools and neighborhoods. After Scott announced his exploratory committee, the “hero walk” started with Scott strutting into the Huguenot Church in Charleston. This is key.

Church is one of the rungs of the ladder of the American dream and so is America’s “Judeo-Christian foundation.” Scott also pledged to “protect our religious liberty.”

Republican politicians often play up their faith and show themselves in a church as a way of playing to the religious Right, but here, Scott is connecting dots that need connecting. The Democratic Party’s attack on religious liberty and the Left’s rejection of America’s Judeo-Christian foundation are part of their attack on the ladder of opportunity Scott is celebrating.

Scott described his climb out of poverty by saying, “We had faith,” and zoomed in on a Bible and a shot of him praying in church.

The American dream of climbing out of poverty isn’t really a story of rugged or exceptional people transcending their conditions. It’s a story of civil society providing the scaffolding, or the ladder, that allows people to climb. Community institutions are how people get the connections, the mentoring, the modeling, the belonging, and the human-level safety net that enable them to do better.

Social science finds this again and again. Probably the best research bolstering civil society’s role in upward mobility came from economist Raj Chetty. Chetty and colleagues found one of the strongest correlates of upward mobility in an area is “social capital”— the amount of volunteering, the number of community institutions, the number of churches, etc.

For working-class people, especially immigrants and African Americans, the central institution of civil society has always been church. In Bowling Alone in 2000, Robert Putnam found that about half of all civic activity in America originated in religious institutions.

But much of the secular Left — including academia, the news media, and parts of the Democratic Party — sees church as, at best, something private to do on Sunday. Thus they try to force religious schools to abandon their principles, they try to force nuns to provide contraception coverage, they try to force Catholic hospitals to abort babies, and they detest the idea of any public funding going to religious institutions.

But religion isn’t some private aspect of individual life — it is a crucial pillar of public life. The irony is that President Joe Biden kind of gets this: He won the South Carolina Democratic primary in 2020 by campaigning in black churches and winning the church-going vote.

Go back to that hero walk scene and check out the Gospel passage above the door of Huguenot Church: “Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only.” That’s’ from the Epistle of St. James, and it is the last words the worshippers at Huguenot Church see as they leave church every Sunday to go back out into the world.

That is, a person cannot “do my religion on Sunday, in church,” as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) once inartfully put it, then go out and support the government’s attack on religious liberty. A Christian will live his or her life every day out in public. He or she will do Christianity and not merely listen to it for an hour once a week.

Religion belongs in the public square. That’s something rejected by too many people these days. Hopefully, Scott can set the public straight on this.

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