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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. reima08

    The problem with Romney and MANY on his campaign staff is that they are unapologetic LIARS, even in the face of facts that clearly dispute their lies. And Mike Huckabee, a supposed Baptist Minister has placed ads suggesting that Obama voters face hellfire. Obama's SuperPac should:

    Place an ad with a picture of the Holy Bible on one side of the screen, the Book of Mormon (which bills itself as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ") on the other, stating the following:

    Mitt Romney was a preacher and BISHOP in the Mormon Church. Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith, who claims an angel named Moroni (who is NOT mentioned in the Holy Bible) gave to Smith golden plates containing the foundation of the Mormon religion. Well here is what the King James Holy Bible says about that:

    The Apostle Paul in the Book of Galatians Chapter 1, verses 6-9, states the following:

    "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an ANGEL from heaven, preach ANY other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be ACCURSED. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Emphasis added).

    November 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Ken

      Romney sure lied through his teeth concerning that China Chrysler ad.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/4-pinocchios-for-mitt-romneys-misleading-ad-on-chrysler-and-china/2012/10/29/2a153a04-21d7-11e2-ac85-e669876c6a24_blog.html

      November 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • MCR

      All politicians lie. If you didn't you'd have to be as stupid as the general population to get elected, and dim though politicians are, they are rarely as dumb as the people who elect them.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  2. Mr. Obvious

    "Abortion" doesn't appear in the Bible? No kidding! Hey, neither does computer, thermometer or stem cell.

    Kinda hard to write to ancient peoples about concepts they can't even comprehend at the time of writing.

    The author glosses over the amazing: that despite there being no word for it at the time, God still found a way to communicate to everybody that human life is valuable and begins in the womb.

    You can choose to believe it or not, but you can't say it doesn't say that because it does.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Ken

      Are you seriously saying that ancient peoples did not know about abortion?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      So miscarriages are god's way of what?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Wraith

      I like that, itsall. I may have to spin that next time the fundies start their anti-abortion crap.

      "If god (yes, little, "g") didn't believe in abortion, there wouldn't be any miscarriages."

      November 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • JM

      Jesus told the murderer on the cross next to him: this day you will be with me in heaven.

      Jesus told the self-righteous: you have no part of me or my kingdom.

      You gotta love love, mercy and grace.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  3. Wizard

    Interesting...this guy is supposed to be theologian of sorts. I personally am not a Christian but I would argue that anyone capable of thinking can understand that even if the word "abortion" isn't in the Bible, the concept (at least to those who oppopse abortion) is covered by "Thou shalt not kill." Yes, I know someone will argue that Republicans kill in war. Guess what...that has nothing to do with the topic at hand; the topic at hand is abortion, so focus for me. We can argue about war or the death penalty or guns or the economy later. The point for this particular post is that abortion is covered under the topic of murder for most Christians so pointing to some website does nothing but make you look as if you are avoiding the issue at hand, Mr. Prothero.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

      Word abortion means to abort an act, but question of o legality of matter is always open, one need not to take generalized word and make some thing out of hinduism, speculation.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Why are the other methods of death not important to you?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Madtown

      Did you miss the section of the article that stated evangelical leaders said life began "at birth" until relatively recently?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Ken

      "Thou Shall Not Kill" only applies to actual persons, but the Bible does not recognize a fetus as a person.

      "And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver." Leviticus 27:6

      "Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD." Numbers 3:15-16

      November 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  4. Solution

    Y'all should just write in "Jesus" for President. I hope he wins... it'll be SO interesting to see who shows up for the acceptance speech and for the Inauguration!

    (Silly, you say?... hmmm)

    November 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  5. MagicPanties

    my book of unicorns says that Frank is all in my imagination

    November 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • GAW

      He's really a troll living in St. Louis Mo in his mother's basement copying and pasting texts from an online version of the Book of Mormon. He's away for the moment since his mom called him up to take out the garbage.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  6. Sly

    The vast majority of humans worship Allah.

    At least Allah recognizes that there are millions of virgin teenage chicks in Heaven, and NO LAWS! So Allah gracefully offered 79 virgins to some of his people.

    I don't know bout' all y'alls Gods and Jesus's and Catholics and Mormons and Wicca – too confusing.

    But, I sure do salivate at the thought of enjoying eternity in a place with millions of virgin teenage chicks and no laws.

    Gonna be fun, regardless of whether Allah or Mormon or Jesus or Buddha is running the place.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mohammad Larrymed Curlydul

      Absolutely nothing in the Quran says they are female virgins. SURPRISE!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  7. What a "Christian country" looks like

    .
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp_l5ntikaU&w=640&h=390]

    November 5, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  8. ug

    It certainly doesn't say we should be commies either and have someone control our lives! vote Romney.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Do you even know what communism is? Obama is not even a socialist.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Taskmaster

      No Obama isn't a communist. He is a Nazi / Muslim.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  9. williepitt

    The whole imbroglio of political cant on religion is a sure sign that all religions are spurious: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and all the rest too.

    God? Look around you. There isn't one.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  10. Mom of Three

    He is the Alpha and the Omega..His Word is ALWAYS CURRENT!

    November 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • sally

      Yeah – try getting your essential fatty acids at church. good luck with that. [annoying snorting laughter at end]

      November 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

      Ya, "HE" not he, as hindu pagan Christians claim him to be.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Madtown

      Whos word, Prothero's?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  11. Dave R

    If you truly believe that God is in charge of everything, then it really shouldn't matter who is elected. After all, he chose who ever wins the election.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

      No, HE gave every one gift of Choice, and you are responsible for your act's, not HIM.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  12. Bob Clayton

    What Would Jesus Do?

    Words written in red that our Savior said in the Bible,
    The ones that I find, to change my poor mind, they’re not liable.
    Words about lovers I have yet to discover, it was all about the rich and the poor;
    So your message of fear falls onto deaf ears – what is it that you’re fighting for?

    Chorus

    What would Jesus do if he met you?
    Would he look at the hateful things you have said?
    What would Jesus do? Again, I ask you.
    It’s too late for “live and let live” when you’re dead.

    The greatest command, as I understand, said Jesus,
    Is to give God your love, no other above – it pleases.
    And the next on the list that you seem to have missed – love your neighbor as much as yourself,
    And there’s nothing in there about being unfair, so put that stuff back on the shelf.

    Chorus

    Now, I don’t mean to nag, but this stuff is a drag, and you know it.
    And when we are called to account for it all, don’t blow it.
    People are people, ‘neath minaret or steeple, who they love is between them and their God,
    So put down that stone, leave your neighbor alone, and hope Jesus spares you the rod.

    Chorus

    Copyright © 2007 Bob Clayton

    November 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  13. katu

    counting the Bibles words does not yeild a christian Jesus

    November 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • JM

      Emulating the Pharisees does not yield a Christian Jesus.

      Following a habitual liar does not yield a Christ follower.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  14. GAW

    I bet $5 FRANK is a troll....Any takers.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  15. WWJD? He'd tell us all we're idiots

    Jesus (enters room eating a ham sandwich): "Hey Dad, I'm back! How's it going?"
    God (sitting at window looking solemn): "Hey Son! It's great to have you back; we've really missed you"
    Jesus: "Yeah, it's good to be back. I really missed this place. That was the longest 33ish years ever...and, dude, that was a LOT of pain to go through. Thank You that they seemed to get the message."
    God: "Yeah, thank Me...uh" (turns back to window)
    Jesus: "What's the matter, Pop? How are they doing down there?"
    God: "Um, yeah, they're doing ok....yeah, ok"
    Jesus: "What does that mean?"
    God: "Nothing, nevermind"
    Jesus: "C'mon, you're a really bad liar, Dad"
    God: "Well, they've stopped killing each other and hating each other for all of their old petty ways."
    Jesus: "Great, but what are you not telling me?"
    God: "Um, well, uh....now they're killing and hating each other over which one of you is better."

    Kudos on a great article. I was raised Catholic and continue to have a belief system based off of my upbringing, but it has nothing to do w/ the Church. I could never forget how, as a Latino born and raised in upstate NY (1/2 Puerto Rican by Father's side), and as a good kid with no problems that so many 'normal' kids deal with, and as an A/B student through all of my years....I would sit in a place of worship, where I felt so unwelcome because I was a slightly different shade than everyone else. It was only later in life that I realized that most of what I see coming from the 'teachings' of organized religion are hate and intolerance of others who don't believe what they believe (which they are told to believe).

    To look at what are considered the Heavenly Virtues, I believe one would be hard pressed to find some, if any, to actually exist in people of blind faith to any organized religion. Instead of using the lessons of the Bible for the betterment of one's self and society, it appears that people go to Church out of fear of going to hell and assume that just sitting in a place listening to someone talk about things is sufficient. I think we all need to stop being such an angry generation, quick to flash point, for such trivial affairs (store check out lines, people driving too slowly in front of us, someone not holding the door for you, etc).

    We have all become vendors in the Church; And one day, our tables will be turned

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

      If you only ask "what would Jesus do" you are ignoring the better question" "What would Satan do?"

      November 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  16. Harrison

    Frank, enough with the Mormon Propaganda Garbage. No ones buying it. Is it your intent is to obstruct an honest discussion and distract us from the Heresy of your preposterous Book of Peyote induced nonsense,?

    November 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  17. FRANK

    these are the words of that jesus whom you crucify...those who have ears let them hear

    November 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • GAW

      Frank the Troll had spoken.

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

      I'm not crazy about large, flabby ears. I prefer more lean, petite atheist ears.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  18. FRANK

    9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

    10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

    11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • WWJD? He'd tell us all we're idiots

      9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

      True, because the lessons to be learned lie within the being of every person. It is the soul that we have been given which takes all of the knowledge of the outside world and does with it as we please. It is this that is broken. It is this that must be relearned by taking the lessons of forever and interpreting them into our personal experience to better our inner selves. Intolerance of others is not a lesson, it is an act against the teachings of Jesus...it is an act against Jesus.

      10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

      Blind faith and devotion to existence through the pages of the scribes is not what we must do to attain our higher purpose. It is the ability to form our experience with The Lord (or Buddha, or Krishna, or Jehova, or ....) within ourselves. It is through this that we can reach the next level of being, by taking the knowledge of good and evil that caused us to be cast out of Eden and learning that the greedy, unsympathetic, thoughtless, disrespectful creatures we have become are destined to never grow until self realization of how we must truly be is achieved.

      11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

      Again, all men are commanded by Him. This is because we have all been given the lessons to use and grow from. We all know the differences between good and evil. The only question is, which path will we choose? : Heavenly Virtues or Cardinal Sin?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  19. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Here is my take on this whole mess. You can use the Bible to offer you guidance in how you will make your decision. You can read the Old Testament to find out how the Israelis handled things. You can read how Jesus handled things in the Gospels. You can read about Paul and the other Apostles and how they approached things. They should not make your mind up for you. They should offer guidance. You must use your own judgement when you go to the polls and make your decision.
    But if you must, ask yourself this. Who would Jesus prefer – someone who wants to help others by setting up programs and policies like the Apostles did in Acts, or someone who believes we should all be left to fend for ourselves with no support? Someone who is trying to get programs that let people get good jobs here, or someone who has a history of buying and closing companies and moving their jobs to other countries? Someone who worked all his life to help and better others through community organization and teaching, or someone who worked all his life to make his friends and himself richer?

    November 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Harrison

      Joe there is really no mess. If you consider yourself a Christian, the idea of voting for someone who has co-opted your own Faith and then adds a preposterously fantastic story to it i.e. Mormonism, is Heretical and Blasphemous, Period. There is no confusion or grey area to speak of.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Rynomite

      Yeah because adding space aliens to a Zombie story is totally against genre!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Wizard

      So, Joe...let's suppose Romney sent jobs overseas. Are you saying that Jesus would prefer we keep those "good" jobs here in the US where most people have plenty of food to eat? Because...didn't you say Jesus would want us to set up programs that help the poor? Well, wasn't Romney helping the poor people in those other countries by providing them with jobs...or does Jesus simply not care about those poor people because they're not Americans?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  20. MCR

    Time to let it go guys – the bookies just started paying out on Obama votes.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:27 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.