UPDATE: Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from the GOP presidential race February 10.
RNS) When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie entered the 2016 GOP presidential nominating race, he said, “I am now ready to fight for the people of the United States of America.”
“Fight” is the operative word. In one debate after another, Christie set out to establish himself as the toughest guy out there on security, immigration and other hot-button issues. And after a 10th-place finish in the Iowa caucus, Christie vowed to tough it out through the New Hampshire primary (where Catholic voters are a minority ) and beyond.
Here are five faith facts about Chris Christie.
1. He is a cradle Catholic.
Christie was born to Catholic parents and baptized in the faith as an infant. As a child, he spent a lot of time with his grandmother, going to Mass with her every day. Now he’s fond of telling this story: One day, he decided to stop praying because “it didn’t work.” He had prayed to God for a good grade on a test and still got a C. Her answer: “No, Chris, you’re wrong. God always answers your prayers. But sometimes the answer is no.”
Christie stuck with his faith — he graduated from Seton Hall University, a Catholic school in South Orange, N.J., and has described his faith as “a huge part” of his life.
2. But he sometimes parts from church teaching.
Christie differs from official Catholic Church teachings on certain key issues. Asked about homosexuality and gay rights in 2011, Christie said, “My religion says it’s a sin. But for me, I have always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual. … I understand that my church says that. But for me personally, I don’t look upon someone who’s homosexual as a sinner.” Two years later, he signed into law a bill banning reparative therapy.
On gay marriage, he sounds more churchy. “I believe marriage is an institution between one man and one woman,” he said. He vetoed a bill that would have legalized gay marriage in New Jersey. And when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage last summer, the governor didn’t budge. “Our job is going to be to support the law of the land, and that under the Supreme Court’s ruling is now the law of the land,” he said. “But I don’t agree with the way it’s been done.”
He has changed his mind on reproductive issues. Early in his career, he described himself as “pro-choice,” but now says he is “pro-life.” This change of heart, he said, happened when he saw his first daughter’s heartbeat in utero. “It led to me having a real reflection on my position,” he said in 2011. “And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore.”
3. Unlike President Kennedy, he’s more forthcoming about his faith.
Pol watchers have remarked that President John F. Kennedy, also a Catholic, is Christie’s role model for how the governor keeps his faith largely private. But unlike Kennedy, Christie has been a bit more outspoken — at least in the past.
When a woman called in to a television talk show to ask Christie why he sends his children to private Catholic schools while cutting funding for New Jersey public schools, he responded, “We’ve decided as parents that we believe a religious education should be part of our children’s everyday education.”
Similarly, in 2011, he said it should be up to individual school districts to decide whether to teach creationism.
Christie, speaking before a group of Republican donors in Florida in March, told them: “No rights are given to you by government. All our rights are given to you by God.”
4. He’s a member of The Church of Bruce.
It’s no secret the governor is a major fan of fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen, with more than 125 Springsteen concert ticket stubs in his collection. But when the New York Post reported Christie fell asleep at a Springsteen concert, the governor pointed out that he was doing something more spiritual.
“What happened was during ‘Rocky Ground,’ which is kind of a really spiritual song, people sat,” Christie said. “So I sat on my seat, and I put my head back and closed my eyes and listened to the song.”
Matt Katz, a reporter for New Jersey Public Radio, said that song about struggling with addiction could also resonate with “a man facing rocky ground ahead: trying to become president of the United States.”
5. On the campaign trail …
Christie skipped the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voter Summit in 2015. In 2014, he wasn’t invited to the showplace for conservative evangelicals and FRC head Tony Perkins called him irrelevant, so perhaps it was his rebuttal.
Christie’s hard-line views were questioned in a December debate, where a woman asked about how biblical teaching about caring for orphans aligned with GOP talk about banning all Syrian refugees. Christie replied by elaborating that the first responsibility of the president is to protect Americans. Until security officials can develop a vetting process for refugees that is 100 percent foolproof in preventing even a single terrorist from slipping in under that cover, we cannot welcome them, he said.
“And as if to demonstrate his biblical chops, he said that the Bible calls for looking after widows, too, but that we saw in San Bernardino that women can be terrorists,” wrote columnist David Gushee, looking at biblical values in the campaign.
To an atheist activist in Iowa who asked his views on the separation of church and state, Christie replied that everyone “should have the right to pursue their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, as aggressively as they want to as long as two things happen: one, that you do so without committing violent acts. And two, that you do so without trying to impose your religious views on somebody else.”
But, as Hemant Mehta noted in his Friendly Atheist blog, Christie qualified this by adding that religious freedom to him “doesn’t mean we have to put up with intolerance from others onto us, and it doesn’t mean we have to put up with someone telling you what you believe is invalid … ”
(Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for RNS; Cathy Lynn Grossman contributed to this report)