Ramaswamy says he's not 'pastor in chief' as some GOP voters question his religion

Ramaswamy would be the first Hindu U.S. president.

September 13, 2023, 10:56 AM

Vivek Ramaswamy calls for a renewed belief in God and country on the campaign trail, listing "God is real" as the first of his campaign's 10 foundational "truths," even as he fields repeated questions from conservative voters about his own Hindu faith.

These interactions underscore Ramaswamy's unique background in the field and how voters on the trail have been receiving his message. (The other Indian American in the race, former Gov. Nikki Haley, was raised Sikh but converted to Christianity.)

"Your first line says, 'God is real.' What God are we talking about?" one voter in Iowa asked in August. (In Hinduism, there is one supreme god, the Brahman, that can be manifested as several gods and minor deities. Christians believe in one god and the teachings of his son, Jesus.)

It's a conversation the entrepreneur has had many times, with questions on his faith coming up again on his most recent Iowa visit.

"I'm a Hindu. I was raised Hindu. We raised our kids in the same tradition as well," Ramaswamy replied when Terrill Campbell, 57, from Fort Dodge, Iowa, asked what "religions" Ramaswamy believes in on Saturday.

"I happen to be well-versed in the Bible because I went to Christian high school: St. [Xavier] in Cincinnati. ... I'm never gonna pretend to be something I'm not," he said.

Ramaswamy, who frequently invokes stories from the Bible on the campaign trail, has said, "There is a true god." He has also drawn parallels between Hinduism and Christianity, saying "religions like ours" -- unlike "new secular religions" have stood the test of time.

Having attended a Jesuit high school, Ramaswamy says he has read the Bible more closely than many of his Christian friends, a sentiment that some have praised him for. While he says he read the religious text for the first time in ninth grade, he maintains it always felt familiar. After "[leaving] faith altogether" in his 20s, considering himself agnostic, Ramaswamy says the year leading up to the birth of his first son, Karthik, revitalized his relationship with Hinduism and overall belief in God.

"So the value set is the same and to be very honest with you," Ramaswamy continued. "To state the obvious, I would not be qualified to be your pastor. But I'm not running for pastor in chief, I'm running for commander in chief. But I do think it's important that we have a president who shares those values."

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy waits to speak at a town hall meeting, Sept. 8, 2023, in Carroll, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy waits to speak at a town hall meeting, Sept. 8, 2023, in Carroll, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

No matter how persistent, the questions don't seem to bother Ramaswamy, who would be the United States' first Hindu president if elected.

"I'm so happy when people ask me this because that means we're being honest with each other, that you feel free enough to ask me this question," Ramaswamy shared at a later event in Nevada, Iowa on Saturday.

"I think I have a special responsibility, a special duty to actually make faith and family and patriotism and hard work cool again in this country," he added.

The juxtaposition of Ramaswamy's Hindu faith and his championing of Judeo-Christian values in a country where Christianity remains the most prevalent religion puts him in an interesting position to defend them, he says.

"I am a, therefore a, staunch defender of religious liberty in this country. I will not apologize for that. I will hold the line firmly on the encroachment of religious liberty we're seeing in this country. And I have two advantages, one is I'm young so I get to make faith and family and patriotism cool, you know, to the next generation of Americans. That's my job. And the best part is nobody's going to accuse me of being a Christian nationalist when I do it," he told a receptive crowd in Vail, Iowa, in early August.

After the event on Saturday, Campbell said he was satisfied with Ramaswamy's answer.

"He answered it right. Like, 'I'm not qualified to be your pastor, [but] I'm qualified to be your president,'" he told ABC News.

After clarifying Ramaswamy's Hindu faith, a voter in Hollis, New Hampshire, expressed his concern for the candidate's ability to secure the votes of evangelical Christians, claiming former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney couldn't turn out the evangelical vote in 2012. (White evangelical voters voted for Romney with as much enthusiasm as his other supporters did, according to the Pew Research Center's "Election 2012 Post Mortem.")

Ramaswamy responded telling his supporters his goal is for everyone to know who he and his family are and what they stand for.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during a town hall meeting, Sept. 8, 2023, in Carroll, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during a town hall meeting, Sept. 8, 2023, in Carroll, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

"And if everybody by the end of this election across the country knows that and decides in their heart of hearts that they want to go with someone else, I'm deeply at peace with that,” he said.

"An easy thing for me to do, [for] any politician, is to follow this track and shorten my name and profess to be a Christian and then run. It honestly happens. You know, make 'Vivek' 'Vic' or 'Vicky' or whatever, and so I'm not doing that. But I think that honesty, I hope, is rewarded," he said.

Fellow GOP contender Nikki Haley, whom Ramaswamy has previously called by her birth name of "Nimarata," has been accused of changing her name for political reasons, though the former governor and ambassador has explained several times that "Nikki" is her middle name and "Haley" is her married surname.

"I mean, he of all people should know better than that. But I’ve given up on him knowing better than anything at this point," she told Fox News Digital last month.

ABC News' Isabella Murray and Kelsey Walsh contributed to this report.