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My Take: No pressure, Mr. President
Author Eric Metaxas speaks alongside President Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in February.
December 10th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

My Take: No pressure, Mr. President

Editor's Note: Eric Metaxas is the author of "No Pressure, Mr. President! The Power Of True Belief In A Time Of Crisis: The National Prayer Breakfast Speech."

By Eric Metaxas, Special to CNN

(CNN)–Imagine that the president of the United States had to sit and listen to you for 30 minutes in a public setting. Imagine that he couldn't escape and had to endure whatever you said. If you disagreed with him politically, would you try to embarrass him? What would you say?

Well, this actually happened to me. A year ago I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, an event attended by the president, first lady, vice president, and 3,500 other dignitaries. No one was more shocked at the invitation than I. Previous speakers include Mother Teresa, Tony Blair and Bono. No pressure.

By the way, I disagree with the president in some important ways. But as a Christian, God commands me to love those with whom I disagree, to treat them with civility and respect, as creatures made in God's image. That's a command, not a request or a suggestion. Again, no pressure.

In my speech I spoke about my heroes, William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Wilberforce's faith led him to fight for the Africans being enslaved by the British; Bonhoeffer's faith led him to fight for the Jews being persecuted by the Nazis. I used them as examples of people who passionately lived out their faith by standing up for their fellow human beings when most around them merely gave it lip service.

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I also joked around a lot, because as any of my friends will tell you, one of the ways I show love is by joking and teasing people.  Who said prayer breakfasts had to be boring?  At one point I said that George W. Bush had read my Bonhoeffer book, and then I glanced at President Obama and said "No pressure."  I'm glad he laughed!

Later in my speech, I talked specifically about the idea of loving our enemies. I said this was the test of real faith. Speaking to my fellow pro-lifers, I said that those of us who believe the unborn to be human beings must love those on the other side of that issue. I also said that those of us with a traditionally biblical view of sexuality are sometimes demonized as bigots, but we must love even those who call us bigots. I cited Wilberforce and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as two men who took seriously God's command to love their enemies in the midst of the most serious political battles of their day.  They honored God in how they fought, and he honored them.

At the end of the breakfast the president told me he would read my book on Bonhoeffer, and Vice President Biden took my picture with the president. No kidding. It was an extraordinary day and I'm not telling the half of it.

President Barack Obama holds up a book given to him by author Eric Metaxas

But the reason I'm writing now is that during the past election I was disappointed to see the president's campaign utterly abandoning these ideals of treating your opponents as you yourself would wish to be treated. Good people with principled and profound convictions about when life begins were cynically demonized as "enemies of women."  Americans who had worked hard to build businesses, and who had given millions to charity and to the government, were denounced as fat-cats who weren't "paying their fair share" and whose wealth was ill-gotten gain.

These scorched-earth tactics were not presidential, much less Christian, and because the president openly professes a Christian faith, I feel I must speak about this.

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Of course many will dismiss campaign hardball rhetoric as "what works." This is to miss the point. What we say matters deeply, and how we say it matters deeply.  All of it has serious long-term consequences.  For all of us.

For one thing, our children are watching and listening. We tell them it's less important who wins or loses than how we play the game. Is there no truth to this at all? Do we not see that this behavior erodes faith in the very political process and in democracy itself? Do we not see that by doing this we encourage our opponents to do the same - and worse - the next time around?  Shouldn't we care about that?

Any victory won in an ugly way is somehow a tainted victory. In this case, the president has "won" a deeply divided nation, one that he - alas - has had a hand in dividing. Now what?

If he is to succeed in the tremendous challenges that lay ahead, he must repent of these tactics and must make amends with his opponents, if it's not too late.  Or else he will face gridlock and more gridlock.  He also must show the door to those who cynically encouraged this "winning is the only thing" behavior.

His legacy and America's future depend upon it. Many will be praying for him.

No pressure.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eric Metaxas.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (2,208 Responses)
  1. nate fl

    Pot calling kettle huh! I watched both election dude the wrath , the racism, the out right uncooperative repubs. So they call themselves " Christians" and did this why did you expect from the president flowers, praises be real we are all human here sinful being , imperfect by nature. I am as guilty as the next guy but I don't start throwing God at them and request repentance from them only God can do that. So please let's clean up the mess in the church before judging people. By the way I will not judge you. Just caution you stay out of politic please people need the real Jesus out there not religion masked with plutocracy.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  2. andy55

    I tried to find if the author Eric Metaxas ever came to the defense when Birther and racially based attacks were luinched in numerous ads and Internet campaigns.
    Despite googling it with a variety of different keywords, and and all posts by the author and his speeches were negative towards the president, none appeared that was critical towards the attack against the President.
    I take the liberty to requote the beaten up quote that never has applied to politics, but that the author uses to support his somewhat self righteous demand.
    'For one thing, our children are watching and listening. We tell them it's less important who wins or loses than how we play the game. Is there no truth to this at all?'
    Evenhandedness is not the strength of his arguments.
    If this applies to the goose, it should also apply to the gander, and if the author strips away his personal motivation to embarass the president, he surely will admit that he knows how to play the game as well as any of the politicians he is criticizing.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  3. Jenny Ruth Yasi

    Being conscious is clearly not easy, as I felt the President DID treat opponents as he would wish to be treated, and that the people who were demonized as "enemies of women" - well, where exactly did you get that phrase? Can you attribute it to an actual quote or are you just paraphrasing and not quite getting the message that women have issues that we almost universally support, and having access to birth control is an issue we support. People who want to deny women access to free birthcontrol, or people who want to deny women the right to have the final say over what happens to our bodies in pregancy, clearly people who are take the opposite position are our opponents. I don't think they are our enemies, but that they are confused and mistaken and misled, and we women have really good arguments on our side. It must be extremely frustrating to have to listen to our point of view, and so I understand why paraphrasing it might make it easier to oppose our logic.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  4. History Bear

    The only thing turning your cheek does is get you smacked on the other cheek. You take care of your friends, you treat neutrals politely and fairly and your enemies you destroy before they destroy you. Nuff said.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  5. Smeagel4T

    This guy completely delegitimized himself by making absolutely no reference to the worse evils of the Romney campaign. Because of that fact, he presents himself as blindly self-righteous.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  6. Hal

    And where is your comments about the Romney also not treating others as they would wish to be treated? Does 47% mean anything to you?

    December 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • SickNTired

      Good one, Hal!

      December 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • burbanktj

      or someone who puts their family dog on the hood of the car...well I guess it's okay because it's his dog.

      December 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  7. commongrounded

    Personally, I have no issue with the ideals of "do unto others" and "turn the other cheek". What I take issue with is the unbalanced delivery and attack. Could Obama have "done unto" Romney as he would have been done to? Sure. And he could have "turned the other cheek" when Romney grossly misstated the truth. And if he had, he would have lost the election. Nobody running for president inthe history of this nation has won by being nice. In 1800, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, as well as their surrogates, gutted each other in an attempt to win the election.

    If Mr. Metaxas wants to critique the behavior of candidates or politicians, he needs to be a little more balanced than taking pot shots at those he disagrees with. His point would be better received if he would have pointed out Romney's bas behavior as well. In fact he could have come up with myriad examples from across the political spectrum of politicians behaving badly.

    But presented as it is, this just reeks of partisanship. In singling out Obama, who he doesn't agree with, he makes it clear that his underlying desire is not to treat others as you would be treated, but that he and those he agrees with should be treated as he sees fit.

    It isn't the ideal that is the problem. It is the unbalanced application of the ideal. For instance, many who believe in the right to life of the unborn have no problem with taking the life of the living. That, to me, is a completely hypocritical position. You are either for life, or not. You can't value one life over another. The power to judge in that way, for those who believe, only lies with God.

    And Mr. Metaxas is not God.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  8. Brandon

    You lost me at "But as a Christian, God commands me"

    December 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Observer

      In other words, "I think God is wrong since he disagrees with me, but I'll obey anyway".

      December 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  9. Timothy Reed

    Christopher Hitchens was right, "Religion Poisons Everything". People like Mr. Metaxas will never be able to see themselves for what they are, hypocritical, pious, and intolerable of anything or anyone that differs from their narrow, one sided views.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • John

      And yet Hitchens enjoyed the art of debate and isn't as intolerant as you...see the last minute of 'collision'

      December 10, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Greg

    Instead of spewing your liberal rants...why not...I dunno....listen to his speech? Probably too much effort...spew away.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • sam

      Uh oh...liberals...

      December 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • commongrounded

      Greg, I read. And I heard a reasonable ethical argument buried in a partisan attack. What I, and other liberals would appreciate is a bit more balance when maing an ethical attack. Otherwise the attack and point therein is lost in the blatant partisan nature of the delivery.

      December 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  11. J. Bernadas

    The first part of this article shows the author crowing about being invited to be keynote speaker in front of the POTUS and dignitaries, that he has a book out, that he had his picture taken by the Vice President standing next to President Obama. Then he goes on to preach why the President needs to repent. I often read the bible, and the author reminds me of how the pharisees acted, calling others to repentance while being guilty of far more greater sins. Just because the author's book revenues puts him into the category of those who will be taxed more by this president, does not give him the right to be calling anybody to repentance. On the contrary it is the author who needs to repent, for failing to put things into proper perspective, for giving in to selfishness. Come on, Mr. Metaxas, what about humility? What about charity? What about the greater good? Which is by the way, more important than the slights politicians dish out and receive during election frenzy. Put it into perspective, man.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • sam

      Controversy sells more books, though.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  12. Sagamorean

    I smiled every time I passed the campaign sign in Cleveland that stated in large bold letters: President Obama supports abortion. Do you? The word "support" does not mean advocate. I do not advocate abortions. I believe in contraception, education and family planning. Along with that, like our president, I do not feel I have the right to dictate what a woman does with an unwanted pregnancy. It is also none of my business how the unwanted pregnancy occurred. Pro_lifers..deal with the elderly, homeless, refugees and get out of the personal lives of women.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think the pro-lifers should spend their time collecting the spe.rm men ej.aculate in private...all those 'potential' people could be frozen for some future date when they might be given a chance at life. And maybe use any extra time and money to harvest the egg cells of non breeding women. If we ever find a habitable planet elsewhere those poor potential lives could live as god intended. Encouraging teen pregnancy would help, too, the earlier you start working on potential lives the better...

      December 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  13. Mike

    What are the chances that a man bereft of cognitive dissonance and imbued with inordinate self righteousness can spout absolute garbage? Just as high as the chances that so many people will buy into any number of false notions as long as those notions are somehow cloaked in a self serving and false use of faith/religion. But what really undermines your credibility Mr Metaxas is that your eye wear does not compliment your attire. Good day.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • sam

      LOL

      December 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Greg

      Wow Mike, you really rocked his worldview!!!! way to go!!!!

      December 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • imABeliever

      Quite hateful language.... but I've come to expect about as much from your side these days.
      Can you provide anything of substance to the dialog other than attacking the way he looks?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • April

      And what imABeliever really means by "hateful" equates to "words I just don't understand." Seriously imABeliever, don't you get a joke when you see one? Sheesh.

      December 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  14. James Quinn

    I don't think it is fair to say Obama had anything to do with these adds. There are many a Super Pac and Organizations like say woman's groups and Union's which while supportive of Obama are not actually controlled by Obama. These groups put out their messages and because they did not answer to the President they could say as they wished. I know this comes as a surprise but there are many organizations in this country each with their own messages and agenda's that get their say during an election especially a national one. What disappoints me is the author comes off as reasonable but I've seen no sign he actually did the research to find out what kind of power Obama had or DID NOT have over these groups and their agenda's/messages. Nor did the author mention the other side. This alone is a key factor if you allow one side to use certain tactics and gain an advantage then you are clearly asking the other side to play a given game with one hand or perhaps both tied behind their backs and for what a principled loss?

    Pagan jim

    December 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Finrod

      So what excuse do you make for the very divisive rhetoric that came from the President himself?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • James Quinn

      I make none.... THey are his to own. That said I don't know if we agree on what is or was said by Obama was indeed as you say it is. I find in many a case even these things can be very subjective and like based on your own personal ideals or mine for that matter. In the end however I don't ask nor expect perfection from people after all we are all human and make mistakes with the possible exception of myself of course. I thought I was wrong once but turns out I was mistaken:P

      Pagan jim

      December 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  15. Cowboy54

    You are a Hypocrite, Sir!!! You are politicizing the NPB for your own "benefit". Shame on you!.
    From someone who's been there several times, before you talk about your NPB experience, you should know some history of the NPB itself, and how many "World Leaders" of different religions and ideologies, including dictators whom we find "against our beliefs" have participated. I'm sure you didn't bother to explain that, or how you agreed with some of our past presidents that started wars that didn't need to start in the first place, or supported horrible dictators and kings with terrible human rights records, etc. etc.
    The President speaks for 30 minutes, but there are three days of meetings full of the who-is-who in the US and the world talking about almost every subject imaginable; some to agree and some not to.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  16. WhereIsPalin

    "But the reason I'm writing now is that during the past election I was disappointed to see the president's campaign utterly abandoning these ideals of treating your opponents as you yourself would wish to be treated."

    I await your critique of the republcan campaign...........and again, who exactly are you??

    December 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  17. Michael S.

    What a crock. Nobody forced this Bozo to sit or to listen to the President. As far as "Christian Love" goes that is another crock. For the most part, what is dividing America right now is Pure Greed and the President is not the Poster Child for that. Yet another big influence in the political division is that Old Time Racism that is coming out of many a so-called Christian's pores.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • imABeliever

      there you guys go playing the race card again. You just can't help yourselves, can you?
      Just because somebody criticizes the president, doesn't mean they are racist. After all, he is half-white, is he not?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • sam

      LOL Believer, are you sure that's enough white, or do you need to stop by chik-fil-a first to compare?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  18. Franky

    So, the President divided the nation? Is this guy serious ... so for the last 50 years when the culture wars started, womens liberation, civil rights, and the like had nothing to do with it. Come on stop pretending on this false sense of the US that has not existed, the country has been divided for quite some time and never in history has been simply 1 nation without issue.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • burbanktj

      this short-term memory approach must've worked well last century when people's access to information was so much more limited.

      December 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Dragon

    Mr. Metaxas

    You started your Op-Ed credibly and seem to be sincere in your belief of fairness towards all including those with whom you disagree. Unfortunately as true as some of your word might be, you actually lost that credibility by the time you applied the last period and placed your pen down.

    If you relive the entire 2012 Presidential election campaign one more time, I believe you will come to a different conclusion. In as much as the President leads the Nation, Individuals like yourself can help him accomplish the level of discord you so much wish we would have, but you need to be more introspective rather than finger pointing. Remember the old adage, “Charity Begins at Home”.

    Oh! By the way should we all lay down our arms in the heat of the battle, now how fair would that be...? Wilberforce, whom I studied during my scholastic years, fought, may be not in the battlefield, for Abolition of Slavery in the British parliament.
    Now, I wonder what that debate and the discourse would have been facing supporters of profiteers of Slavery.
    The President did it right this time as did Wilberforce during his time in the battlefield. History will serve President Obama right as it served Wilberforce in the British Parliament and World.

    ...And Yes, Our children are watching, including you and me...

    December 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • sam

      I think his mind blocked out some portions of the campaign out of sheer trauma and denial.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • imABeliever

      Dragon, you are appropriately named. You speak subtle lies and deceit just like your father the devil.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • imABeliever

      Please elucidate us unenlightened ones and describe the portions of the campaign that he blocked out and that would justify Obama's actions of demonizing his opponents.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      i don't think its demonizing if you just point out the other guys lies

      December 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • sam

      Believer – you're adorable. Any response will likely get the whole "you speak subtle lies and deceit just like your father the devil" treatment, right? I love that schtick. What other cute sayings do you have?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • James Quinn

      I have yet to see any actual evidence that proves there is indeed a god. To which since I am not convinced these is a god then certainly I can doubt the existence of the devil. That's one of the great things about my lack of faith no unseen boogie man to worry myself about. On the other hand I do have plenty of real life boogie men in my fellow man to have at least some concern about but that is true regardless of my faith or lack there for of is it not?l

      Pagan jim

      December 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  20. lol??

    Beware, the Servants are armed and dangerous.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • imABeliever

      who are "the Servants"?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:50 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.