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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 • My Take • Politics

soundoff (2,208 Responses)
  1. mama k

    The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

    Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.

    –John Adams (from A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America [1787-1788])

    December 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • kenny

      brilliant ... nail the right wing religio nuuttter to the walllllll .... until we have just 1 system of beleifs that EVERYONE agrees with (aka never) religion is NOT ALLOWED in the public square ... "contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses"

      December 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  2. Profbam

    It needs to be pointed out that the National Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by "the Fellowship" also known as The Family and infamous for their den on C Street. Founded by Swedish transplant Abraham Vereide, it's philosophy is entirely opposed to the Jesus of the Bible. Their Christ is not to be found. The good reverend, by accepting the offer to speak and the President by attending, are complicit insupporting this Christ-hating group.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Texas Chainsaw Jesustan

      National Prayer Breakfast is Christ-hating. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  3. tkogrady

    Where is your righteous indignation over the estimated $1 billion that was spent by various super pacs that tried to label Obama as a socialist, a non-American citizen, a Muslim, etc.? You would have more credibility if you were more even handed.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Biff

    Oh I have such hate for this sort of thing.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  5. Steve

    Yes, may God forgive him for criticizing the almighty rich. Lord knows it is they who are truly righteous.

    I just can't imagine why religion is dying worldwide. The Religious Right are right up there with fox news as main culprits in dividing this nation, and younger generations are seeing it happen. Perhaps Mr. Metaxas can pray for the future of Christianity, as its hypocrisy is more and more exposed in the age of information.

    No pressure.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  6. Chase

    Where is your critique or analysis of Republican/Romney campaign tactics in this election? Without that, it seems this is just a partisan piece intended to stoke the coals a bit.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  7. Jeebus Chribus

    A short list of the things Republicans have called Obama during this campaign:

    Socialist
    Marxist
    Fascist
    Racist
    Antichrist
    Muslim
    Foreigner
    Kenyan
    N***er
    un-American
    Out to destroy America

    The list goes on and on. Republicans dish out so much hate....makes you wonder why they have such thin skins?

    December 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Texas Chainsaw Jesustan

      Rabid howling and thin skins? Some say it is all the meth we do, but I think we are just born that way.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • usmc1999

      and the liberals are still bad-mouthing Bush using language just as colorful. bottom line is if you don't like the guy in power you are going to say nasty things about him. human nature. both sides are guilty of it so you can climb down from your self-righteous steed.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Biff

      Put that list to Johnny Cash's "I've been everywhere" and you get a hit song!

      December 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Yeah

      Well, Bush did use torture, and he set up a concentration camp, and he did secret renditions and black prisons, and he did illegally evesdrop on a huge number of Americans, and he did order that libraries and book stores supply the government with everything everyone is reading, and he did invade a country that was not involved in terrorism and a contained threat.

      Admit it: Obama at his worst is better than W at his best. What W did was downright unAmerican, and often flat out illegal.

      December 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  8. Brian

    Enjay & others, this is not what I personally believe about Obama and if I like him, or if he should care if I believe in him, etc. It's about the false premise the author makes based on the supposed Christianity of the President. His argument goes like this: "You are a Christian, but why don't you act like one." My angle is: "Maybe he is not a Christian." If we untangle this structure of what we say we are, and what's expected of us based on what we say we are, then things may make better sense. If the author believed that Obama is just a Christian in appearances only, then that changes what he would expect of him.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Akira

      The POTUS is Christian, as is Metaxes.
      I think the President has turned the other cheek quite enough.
      It is time for the GOP and Metaxas to act Christian; I haven't seen one act "like a Christian" YET when it comes to the POTUS.
      No.
      What the author stated he was disappointed in how the President ran his last campaign, without addressing the WHY of it: Metaxas' ball team were dirty players.
      He didn't address THAT thought; and oh, yes, one more thing:
      The POTUS IS Christian, no matter what Fox, et al, says.

      Kind of wondering about Metaxas, though.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • leadercraft

      You write the craziest illogical stuff yet to appear on this board. Congrats!

      December 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  9. WillieLove

    so the author of this article doesn't want the rich to be taxed?

    December 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • leadercraft

      whåt you talkin bout Willie?

      December 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  10. GOPdestroyed themselves

    Mr.Max, forgets one important issue. The REAL vicious OUT OF CONTROL hate have been coming from the right for quite some time. Long before this last campaign and election period. It became so vile, ugly, and twisted from the right that it gave rise and encouragement to all those right wing hate groups slithering from under their rocks, for which they'd been hidden for so long. And now what is the right still attempting to do? Divide and conquer. They're trying to draw the Asians and Hispanics away from the black, then turn them along with everyone else on black Americans. Rom said or implied on numerous occasions that blacks weren't productive verses Asians and hispanics who are. Who the H do he thinks built this country, and they didn't even receive any compensation for it. Then there was Gringrich who labeled the president the FOOD STAMP president. And Rush Limbaugh who attacked, assaulted, demean everyone and anyone but the white evangelical male. Even well know preachers like Roberson, Hagee, Graham Jr got involved. Where were you and all the others then? When you should have been standing, shouting loud and clear their hate talk was not American? And certainly not Christian. Whatever presiden't obama's campaign said was quite mild in comparison to all the hate spewed from the right.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • usmc1999

      wow. you really missed the point of the entire article (if you even read it).

      December 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • leadercraft

      not hate, just principled disagreement that gets labeled intolerance.

      December 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  11. Rev

    To the Author. I would buy what you're selling if you had publicly said the same things in the previous (Bush) administration.

    No? I didn't think so.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  12. kenny

    YOU DON'T GET TO HIDE BEHIND FAITH AND FORCE IT ON OTHERS in everyones name by making it a YOUR FAITH the law ... YOU don't get to have abortions, WE DO... YOU don't get to be gay married WE DO. YOU can pretend the rich "earned" their money and didn't take advantage of others in the process, so WE CAN take it back in taxes. PEOPLE LIKE YOU are the problem in this country. WE FIX PROBLEMS....

    December 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Guy

      kenny
      Didn't you get the message, the yellow tabs are just BAD ACID.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • usmc1999

      hey kenny, we'll inform your school that they have, indeed, left one child behind.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • MissMaggie

      Amen, brother!

      December 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  13. leadercraft

    But isn't a call for repentance so fundamentally refreshing? Metaxas is asking a fellow Christian to repent based upon Obama's profession of Christianity and his election time unchristian behavior. We should all have good friends like this.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • sam

      I for one love being asked to repent. It really brings on warm fuzzy feelings toward the person asking.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • leadercraft

      @ SAM if you were a wise man you would cherish rebuke.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Firstly he didn't comment on Romney's (or Bush's) campaign which was at least as bad. Secondly introspection may be a good thing but repent implies there is something to be remorseful about which is dubious in this context as it the imagined wishes of an imaginary deity.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  14. Steve

    No specifics are actually given to what was so UGLY about the Obama campaigns tactics. I didn't realize asking about people's tax returns was such a grevious sin. Religion, count me out.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  15. Nietodarwin

    Mr. President, you won, so no more elections!!!! Congrats How about no more "National Prayer Breakfasts" either. How about doing away with this violation of the 1st amendment.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Yeah

      Actually, it's not unconstitutional. It is not a government function, and elected officials can choose to go to private functions, including religious ones.

      But if I were him, I would find something better to do than listen to this dingbat.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • leadercraft

      no violation here. haven't you heard? it's a free country!!!!

      December 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  16. Jesus

    This article is not worthy of being on a site like CNN. Personal rant is not worthy of national news or attention.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • leadercraft

      it's called an OPINION.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • usmc1999

      it's called an OPINION piece. CNN places opinion pieces on their site every day. and from all view points. look it up.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  17. The Dude

    Way to whitewash the other side, padre. Both sides acted pretty badly.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • usmc1999

      he didn't whitewash the other side. he just didn't mention it. his total focus was on the current President and a personal experience with Obama.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  18. True

    I love it when zealots use the whole "biblical sense" phrase. Why not apply this to everything in life, not just marriage? For example, next time you get sick take a biblical approach and don't see a doctor. Or maybe next time you need to use the restroom, take a biblical approach and dig a hole outside. Travel? I don't recall any airplanes in the bible. Better take a biblical approach and walk everywhere. No one amongst the modern humans will miss you, Alex.

    December 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • JFCanton

      Properly that isn't even a phrase; did that exist before it came out of Billy Graham's mouth?

      December 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  19. Harriet Buggs

    Apparently the writer only observed and evaluated one side of the campaign: No mention of the other side, and their tactics. Hmmm! No pressure!

    December 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • usmc1999

      his focus was on the sitting President, not previous Presidents, future Presidents, or those he ran against. i suppose you missed that point. no pressure.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  20. Jeebus Chribus

    Forced v aginal ultrasounds.

    Forcing r ape victims to bear their r apist's children.

    Outlawing birth control and calling women who use it "s luts".

    Requiring women who use birth control to get their bosses' permission.

    How dare anyone "demonize" the GOP!

    Repent!

    December 10, 2012 at 5:34 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.