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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. Nietodarwin

    Many comments on here have shown profound disgust with this article. Mine started with the first sentence. "Imagine the president "had to sit and listen"....."couldn't escape." I don't know any christians who just VOMIT all over the table when people are eating, but this is the effect they have on our society (and government) when they start talking about "belief"
    Freedom of religion is WAY our of control, and has turned into "freedom to abuse and bully society and government.' Too bad non-believers aren't as deluded and violent as the christians, we have no defense, we been hiding in fear for centuries, because we don't want to be murdered.

    December 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  2. Nietodarwin

    This is not "free time" for President Obama, it is an official event. I voted for him (twice) but I am disgusted that he attends this event on time paid for with tax dollars. I am disgusted that this event is held every year, and I've emailed him to express the former and beg him to help do away with this event altogether forever. Join me, write him.

    December 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Nietodarwin

    “Countries with a high percentage of nonbelievers are among the freest, most stable, best-educated, and healthiest nations on earth. When nations are ranked according to a human-development index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries - Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands - all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the fifty countires at the bottom of the index, all are intensly religious. The nations with the highest homicide rates tend to be more religious; those with the greatest levels of gender equality are the least religious. These associations say nothing about whether atheism leads to positive social indicators or the other way around. But the idea that atheists are somehow less moral, honest, or trustworthy have been disproven by study after study.”
    _ Greg Graffin

    December 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  4. Nietodarwin

    Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.
    Richard Dawkins

    I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation.”
    _ Daniel Radcliffe

    “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”
    _ Thomas Jefferson

    December 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  5. mama k

    I agree that civility in the political process is always a good thing. Achieving civility with one's enemies is always a good goal in our society as well. But one must be careful of those espousing love of their enemies on behalf of their religious belief. This has proved to be a double-edged sword as is pride. Some extreme fundamental Christians often only spew their love for their neighbor when their bigotry has been exposed. Some are adept at taking any side of an issue an arguing it from their conflicted tenets. And they seem to spend as much time telling each other "you're not a good Christian" as they do others. This has always been the case. The President does not need this man's advice on Biblical anything, IMHO.

    James Madison, 4th POTUS, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights (which would become several of the Amendments including the 1st Amendment):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    (from A Remonstrance and Memorial – delivered to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785)

    Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

    The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.

    (from letters to Edward Livingston & Robert Walsh)

    Our most recent Constitutional Amendment, number 27, adopted in 1992, was first introduced by James Madison in 1789.

    Thomas Jefferson, 3rd POTUS, principal author of The Declaration of Independence:

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    (from Notes on the State of Virginia)

    John Adams, 2nd POTUS:

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history. "

    (from a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 09/03/1816)

    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.

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

    December 12, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  6. Benedikt

    ευχαριστώ Mr Metaxas

    December 12, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  7. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog: see p. 31 for added details–

    Putting the kibosh/”google” on Mr. Metaxas and also all religions in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    December 11, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  8. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    December 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Reality

      Moving now to the 21st century with a modern prayer:

      The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (References used are available upon request.)

      December 11, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • TC

      Your reposted spam shows a great deal of hubris. You might want to curtail your own "ego response". It just turns people off.

      December 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  9. Benjamin

    Herzlichen DANK an Mr. Metaxas !!!

    December 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  10. Darren

    Eric Metaxas is a sleazy crook spouting off about the old god con game and raking in the dough from it. Stupid losers actually give him money. More fool them.

    December 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  11. Jimmy Brown

    And Glenn Beck as his running mate! Or vice-versa? I'm ready to start writing checks again already!

    December 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  12. Jimmy Brown

    Eric Metaxas for President 2016!

    December 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  13. Dave Veerman

    I heard your speech, Erik, and it was powerful and profound–right on target. I share your disappointment with the rhetoric of the last presidential campaign. Winning is NOT the only thing. I seem to recall Jesus saying something about the "last" being "first" and the first, last. Keep speaking and writing and reminding us of what is truly important.

    December 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  14. Zefjan Nikolla

    I am so grateful to Eric Metaxas for all he has done and is doing to promote important values in society and politics, and not just in the US but around the world. Thank you Eric! What you have to say is as always challanging, but very insightful and helpful.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  15. jmhill

    I've read a few of the comments, some of which criticize Mr. Metaxas for not speaking against President Bush and his getting the U.S. involved in Iraq, etc. I don't know that Mr. Metaxas didn't speak against that, and so unless I know it's unfair to criticize him. But most – no all – of the criticism of the article takes Mr. Metaxas' remarks in a direction that they didn't go – his article speaks against "campaign hardball rhetoric" and how we treat others, not whether or not the Iraq war was a good idea, or whether or not taxes should be raised. So let's focus on what he addressed – not some side political issue. I daresay he would say the same thing about Governor Romney's campaign, but Romney didn't win the election.

    campaign hardball rhetoric

    December 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Nathan

      You are right on this but sadly many people tend to read into things with their own prejudice and miss the point the writer is making. What is even worse this comes from many who claim to be the enlightened ones.

      December 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  16. Barbara U.

    Thank you, Eric. Your thoughts are a breath of fresh air in a nation deeply divided, with few truly reasoned voices coming from either right or left. I pray for our president though I disagree with him. May he and all of us find our way back to civil discourse. It can't come too soon.

    December 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  17. lol??

    He who writes the first campaign book gets to cast the first stone. The other books are all excuses and reactionary. Winning, charlie!

    December 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  18. elisabethjordan

    Thank you for your words. They are true and honest and yet quite respectful. I'd say you've got them talking! Keep up the good work.

    December 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  19. Robert F. Davis

    Eric Metaxas is a man of integrity, he speaks truth in love as is characteristic of Christian integrity. Eric is a Christian leader in the spirit of King Solomon who said, “Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.” Proverbs 20:28

    December 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      To clarify, he speaks "his" truth, but we usually refer to it as an opinion. Truth is something we classify as verifiable by evidence or experimentation.

      December 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  20. The Orthodox Catechumen

    Reblogged this on The Ruminations of an Orthodox Catechumen and commented:
    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.

    December 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
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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.