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My Take: Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus
How many times do hot-button issues come up in the Bible?
November 5th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

My Take: Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) Over the last few days I have fielded hundreds of angry e-mails from pro-Mitt Romney evangelicals about a recent Belief Blog post in which I took Billy Graham and other white evangelicals to task for turning Jesus into a water boy for the Republican Party.

A disturbing number of these complaints about my alleged "evangelical bashing" have been hateful, ill-informed and explicitly racist. But the more intelligent responses have taken two tacks.

First, readers have told me that they are voting for Romney not because Mormonism is proper Christianity but because Romney is the lesser of two evils. Some in this camp, convinced (wrongly) that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, say they would rather vote for a Mormon than a Muslim.

Second, readers have argued that Romney's political views are more biblical. And repeatedly they have referred me to two central issues: abortion and same-sex marriage.

One pastor who reports he is working on a doctorate in theology says he believes “that the Bible is the literal word of God.” Because of this belief, he will vote for Romney: “ If you claim Christ as your king, how on earth can you justify the murder of God given life through abortion or any other means?" he writes. "If you accept Christ as your king, how on earth can you accept the moral deviancy of homosexuality as normal?”

In my book "American Jesus," I demonstrated how American views of Jesus, rather than adhering strictly to the unchanging biblical witness, have shifted with the cultural and political winds. Over the course of U.S. history Jesus has been a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior.

In other words, he has been used, by both the left and the right. Or, as I put it, “The American Jesus is more a pawn than a king, pushed around in a complex game of cultural (and countercultural) chess, sacrificed here for this cause and there for another.”

This problem of mistaking your God for the God the problem, that is, of idolatry was captured beautifully by Albert Schweitzer, who suggested that scholars on a quest for the “historical Jesus” were looking down into a deep well and seeing not the real Jesus but reflections of themselves.

This is what is happening, in my view, to my angry evangelical readers. In this case, however, they are looking down the well and seeing some mashup of Ronald Reagan and Romney. Instead of the biblical Christ, they are seeing the Republican Jesus.

There are many ways to support my argument that the preoccupations of the Christian Right today are not the preoccupations of the Bible.

One is to point out that abortion is never even mentioned in the Bible. (Yes, Jeremiah 1:5 reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” but when did that formation happen? At conception? At quickening? At birth?)

Another is to point out that American evangelicals didn’t care about the abortion question until the GOP taught them to care.

As Jonathan Dudley observes in a recent Belief Blog post, U.S. Catholic leaders began to take on abortion right after Roe v. Wade legalized it in 1973, but American evangelical leaders continued to teach that life begins at birth until the late 1970s and early 1980s. If the Bible clearly teaches us that our politics should center on the abortion question, why did it take nearly 2,000 years for Bible believers to figure this out?

Here is my basic proposition: Bible-believing Christians who want to base their politics on the Bible ought to get the Bible straight, which is to say (a) correct and (b) directly from the page, rather than filtered through the spin of the GOP.

To this end, I would like to challenge them to look at an amazing website, part of “The Official King James Bible Online,” which lists each and every word in that translation of the Bible in order of popularity.

Not surprisingly, “and” and “the” are the top two.  But how do more meaningful words rank?

Abortion, of course, is not on the list. Neither is homosexuality, though there are, I will admit, perhaps a couple dozen references to what we now call male homosexuality (and either one or zero to lesbianism, depending on how you read Romans 1:26).

So these issues are not central. But which issues are? Well, faith, grace and salvation, for starters. (They appear 231, 159 and 158 times, respectively.)

But if you turn to the political questions that beset us today, what does this quantitative approach to the Bible yield? First and foremost, a preoccupation with "war” (280 times) and “peace” (470). Second, a preoccupation with economics, and especially with the rich (109) and the poor (233).

The Bible also seems far more concerned with “prison” and “prisoners” (109) than we are in U.S. politics today. And, I might add, with famine (101).

Finally, the Bible mentions Israel a lot (2,509 times) even more than heaven (644). So that seems to be something that both candidates got right in the third debate.

To conclude, I have no problem with evangelical Christians voting for Romney. My complaint arises when they say they are doing so because the Bible commands them to vote for the candidate who is opposed to abortion rights and opposes same-sex marriage.

The Bible itself is relatively unconcerned with these matters. It is far more concerned with questions of poverty and wealth, war and peace, and (need I add?) theology.

If you think otherwise, it's not the Bible speaking. It's the political operative at the bottom of the well.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Bible • Economy • Jesus • Mitt Romney • Opinion • Politics • United States

soundoff (1,060 Responses)
  1. Burple

    Anyone who uses an Iron Age belief system to guide their philosophies in the 21st century shouldn't even be PERMITTED to vote.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  2. mikithinks

    Does anyone who knows bible tales ever talk about the Good Semiarian anymore? Jesus held him up as a example. Sumerians are now Iraqis who are Muslims. How Christ like is it to hate?

    November 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      That would be the good Samaritan. Samaria was part of modern day Israel.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  3. edward

    This teacher and researcher looks EVIL.......he is going to Hell because he is a white Muslim!

    November 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Jill

      So if romney is to become president, would he take his oath on the book of mormon?

      November 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Jill,

      were Mittens to be elected, I would love to see him swear the oath of office on the Book of Mormon. The fundies who voted for him would be apoplectic.

      The momentary schadenfreude would be enjoyable.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Do enlighten us.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  4. FRANK

    you cannot understand the bible without the book of mormon

    November 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Just Lettuce Love,
      Just Let Us Love,
      G.O.D.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • FRANK

      this is why i understand the bible very well

      November 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  5. mark

    Religious people are nothing more than fools.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  6. felix el gato

    The Republican Party opposes everything Jesus stood for.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  7. realist

    I don't need some "story book" to tell me how i should and should not live my life. I know in my heart that i am a good person and how to treat other people. It's so sad the world is so brainwashed.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  8. edmundburkeson

    Stephen is full of cultural assumptions about the GOP, The Bible, and the evangelical movement. They are all mistakes that the cultural opposition make and based both on his and their misunderstanding of all three.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Nab>mely?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      That should say
      Namely?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  9. David Whitaker

    You ignored one VERY important factor in your diagnostics, John. When an individual receives Christ as his Lord & Savior, the HOLY SPIRIT enters his soul and SEALS his soul "until the day of redemption". The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the nature & character of Jesus Christ, and to interpret the 'intent' of God's Word. It's based on the Holy Spirit's revelation of God's Word to us that we Christians take a stand against the outright MURDER of innocent babies. A person without the Holy Spirit dwelling within them cannot make any sense of God's Word. ........ It also worth noting that at the time of Roe v. Wade, late term, PARTIAL-BIRTH and POST-BIRTH MURDERS of babies were not common abortion practices. "Abortion" has evolved from an early termination of pregnancy into OUTRIGHT INFANTICIDE!! We are NOT programmed 'robots' of the GOP who 'taught us' that abortion is wrong. It is the evolution of abortion that we find repugnant and UNGODLY!! ... {:o|

    November 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Since the enactment of Roe v Wade, the GOP has done nothing substantive to have it overturned, nor will they. For them, it is useful as a wedge issue only, good for whipping the base into a frenzy.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

      hinduism, baloney of a hindu ignorant christian.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  10. BJust

    According to the twisted mind of the author, republicans claim the Bible as their own. If some of them do, it's their problem. As a Christian, I follow the spirit of the Bible rather then quotes taken out of context. I would prefer that people calling themselves scientists don't get paid for counting arithmetical references to certain issues in the Bible. As a Christian and as MS myself, I don't need this statistics. And out of economic reason AND religious reasons, as a traditionalist – meaning someone who wants to preserve the great alums of American culture, I will vote for Mitt Romney. By the way, a couple Mormons I met were very decent people, although I could vote for a person of any reasonable religious beliefs or for an atheist.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

      Can you spell out spirit of book of Mithra ism, savior ism bible, or do you the meanings of word spirit?

      November 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Jae

      If Abortion is evil, then how do you square that with war? I do not just mean the killing of enemy soldiers or "enemy combatants", but the deaths of the civilians. In modern warfare, it is usually the civilian population that pays the price of warfare. Don't believe me? Look and Iraq and Afghanistan. I respect peoples object over abortion, I really do. What I object is the hypocrisy shown by those who frequently state that they "hold life sacred" yet consistently vote for the political party who loves spending money on weapons and believes in engaging in Foreign wars.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  11. Mennoknight

    Jesus was neither a democrat or a republican. He was anti establishment who told us to pay our taxes.

    I will vote for the guy with the better overall platform.

    For me that means I will hold my nose and vote Obama because Mitt is a Twit.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Mennoknight

      If McCain was running again I would certainly vote for him, even though he is an agnostic. He is also a man of integrity and willing to work with both sides.
      How is it that the Republicans fielded such a looser bunch this time around?

      November 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • BRC

      12 years ago I think McCain was GREAT candidate, because of exactly the reasons you said (integrity and willing to work with both sides of the aisle). Now I think he is finally too old, and I think his loss first to Bush (who was not a better candidate), then to Obama soured him. I think you have these far more radical candidates because the republican party freaked after losing with a more reasonable candidate, and figure "if we're going to win, it's going to be by hating, and making others hate Obama, so let's go full throttle". Cynical and bad for the nation, but it's the only explanation I can come up with.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Avi Rosen

      Why is it the right neglect to see Christians make up a percentage of americans. The country is a mixed religious and racial groups and forcing religion onto any one is just wrong and faciast. America is supposed to be WE THE PEOPLE not just one group. and in my opinion Twisted and evil! Ignorance is a bad bed fellow and anyone sipping that coolaid is a hitler in the making!

      November 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  12. Jorge

    "First off, church members, including the pastor, have free speech rights, and they are also exempt from government regulation – all thanks to the First Amendment. My church does a lot of political organizing. We get the congregation and the surrounding area out to vote. We inform people about Biblical voting who might otherwise have the wool pulled over their heads by candidates that are not Christians.

    You just want to tax churches because you don't like religion. That much I get."-

    No, we just don't like thinly veiled political cover organizations mooching off our taxpayer dollars by using the infrastructure, agencies and law enforcement that we pay for, without contributing like everybody else...

    November 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  13. Ztom

    Goes back to the "Red Jesus/Blue Jesus" article they had here on CNN recently. Very very interesting article. So true.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  14. pillsville piper

    The mormon religion teaches that Joseph Smith must be believed in the same as we would believe in Jesus (Smith is the Muhammed of the mormon religion). They also teach that you cannot achieve the highest level of heaven unless you have plural wives (there appears to be no provision for women concerning this level of heaven, if there is I have not found one. They also teach that the book of mormon is more correct than the King James version of the bible. They say they believe the bible "as correctly translated" but maintain that parts of it are incorrect. In addition to using the book of mormon as their main text, anything taught by the church leaders also becomes "scripture" as well. Mitt Romney is on a mission and it involves us all but it doesn't necessary include us all. A vote for Romney is a vote for the super-rich and against the middle class and poor.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • FRANK

      this is mostly true...you're on you're way to understanding the bible

      November 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  15. Jim

    Horrible scholarship based on the fallacy that word occurrence equates importance. By that logic the trinity isn't important at all since the word is never mentioned (yet it is a concept essential to the Christian faith and demonstrated in a number of places). Can't believe this kind of scholarship is acceptable to CNN.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Shootmyownfood

      It is a concept central to the CATHOLIC faith, not the Christian faith. Therefore, the trinity is a man-made concept. Check out some history.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • BRC

      Jim,
      It's not a horrible fallacy, it's actually a very good point. The trinity is nowhere in the Bible, it is the manmade explanation of how "God" could simultaneously be and not be Jesus. It's also absurd, and one of the easiest points to pick at if you're quesitoning christian faiths. So how about this, instead of worrying about the trinity, which as you pointed out was never mentioned, worry more about how Jesus said to live a better life, and less about the very improbable portions of a book full of improbable things. In short, I think prothero was saying, the Bible does have good things in it, why not focus on those instead of adding your own.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • fred

      In Genesis we see the first mention of a plurality for God. “they will be like us” clearly shows God is comprised of others. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Sprit of God hovered over the deep formless void and God said let there be light. In the Garden were two trees the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. Christ was the tree of life. In the Old Testament we have God walking with Adam and Enoch, the Holy Spirit active and acting, then the promise of Christ as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
      I see three throughout the Bible from the beginning to the End of Days.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Edwin

    Excellent article. I remember enjoying actual theological debates before the modern conservative movement usurped the idea of Christianity a few decades ago.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  17. R.G.

    For God so loved the world and its creatures that S/He gave it not only Christ but also The Buddha, Krishna, and many others to lead it out of Darkness into Light.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • TrueReality

      You should read the book "God is Not One" by Stephen Prothero, the guy who wrote this article, to see why that idea is totally wrong and against what most of those religions themselves teach. Christianity denies "all ways to God". Islam denies "all ways to God". Buddhism and Hinduism are not even seeking the same kind of salvation that Christianity is.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  18. Thinkforyourself

    Hey John,
    Don't blame Mitt's kids for not serving – like the Prez, they are simply too young, and have no obligation to serve. Mitt is the draft dodger here, not his kids and not Obama. Mitt, like Dick Chaney, had "better things to do" during his 3 deferments.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  19. cnickthomas

    Romney is a Mormon. This religion is not a Christian religion. It teaches that there is more than one God and that men can become gods. That is what Mitt Romney believes. Have you ever wondered why Mitt Romney won't talk about his religious beliefs? He knows that most mainstream Christians who believe that the Holy Bible is the one and only word of God would not like hearing this. Have you ever wondered WHY it was okay to bring up and question Obama's religious beliefs, but not Romneys? So much for the liberal media bias! I do not know how any TRUE Christian can vote for (in good conscience) Mitt Romney knowing his religious beliefs are borderline cult. I was, as a Christian taught, you cannot add-to or subtract-from the word of God, the Holy Bible, but does not the Book of Mormon attempt to do just that? If you do not like either of these two men you have another option on election day, WRITE-IN on your ballot, "Jesus Christ". Do not vote your support for a non-Christian religion. Do not betray Jesus Christ. The prophesy will be fulfilled regardless.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      If only the LDS would consider their Godly 'planets' to be upon our insides as the KJVB does tell us then, I would become an LDS Member! Until then, I will stand away and watch in humility our trying Age.

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Charlie

      I have wondered that as well. IMO the GOP aren't voting for Romney, but against Obama. If the "christian" right had any idea of what Mormonism is all about, then...I dunno. It's basically one step down from Scientology.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  20. glades2

    Anyone who's a Christian should know (hopefully) that Jesus does not represent any one group but Mankind...

    November 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Anyone who can think rationally should know that these are fairy tales and not true.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Christ Jesus knew very well that this world is NOT the KIngdom of God and he says such in the KJVB. He also say that we, our bodies are but buildings created and maintained by God and His workers/servants. The Kingdoms of God are our body-buildings and only in the communal may we exhort in contemplatives toward the otherly kinds of mainly humane beings in mankinds' kindled orafice. Being a person of Godliness does extoll one to meditate on issues' declarations regarding God's buildings and God's husbandry and God's labours WITH US.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Glades. At best Jesus represents christians.
      Dreamer. The bible was written by humans a long time after Jesus died. It has been modified many times which is why there was a need for the KJVB. It is not a reliable source of facts.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.