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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. Doug

    You talk to invisible people. Stop doing that and maybe we can take you seriously.

    "God commands me to love those with whom I disagree, to treat them with civility and respect, as creatures made in God's image."

    I think it's sad that you had to learn this from a book, or that you do it only because some big invisible sky daddy tells you that you have to. Many of us go through life just treating people the way that we would want to be treated.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  2. Jesus

    "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?"

    Care to tell exactly how he has divided the country? No? Ohh, it must have been when he called his opponents Muslim, unamerican, not a legal citizen... oh wait...

    December 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Lee-Anne G

      Guess in your book the actions of a few (very few in reality) make it all right? 2 wrongs do not equal a right.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Joe

      Brother you hit it right on the head. All these people calling the elected President of the United States a traitor, a Muslim, a socialist, a communist sympathizer, etc.. are THE problem that divides the nation.

      The WORST part of it for me is that the people saying this are mostly white christian men in the south – which is what I am. They make the rest of us white guys in the deep south look like a bunch of low IQ, racist, ignorant, inbred hillbillies who throw a 5-year-old style tantrum when we don't get our way.

      Obama did not "fail us all" like they say. Look at the job creation chart from Bush to the end of Obama's first four years. Obama did 10x better than Bush and did a great job of digging us out of a horrible hole. He ended the utterly stupid and pointless Iraq war that was costing a billion dollars per day at it's peak and cost a total of 1 trillion dollars, killed 5000 Americans, 300,000 Iraqi civilians, and injured over 30,000 Americans also.

      Bush doubled the unemployment rate. Obama doubled the freaking stock market!!!!!!!

      December 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Madtown

    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
    -----------
    Was this the first election the author paid attention to? Did he only listen to the Obama side? What he's griping about(things I agree with completely) are just politics 101. All candidates, all parties, all elections are exactly the same. I think this column could be taken more seriously if he'd have just left out his biases, and make his criticisms of the process in general.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Yeah, it was kind of funny actually. A grown man gets up one morning and says "Wait, we've got politicians using underhanded tactics and...can it be...not being totally honest?!?!"

      December 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  4. The Left Wing

    Some like President Obama, William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer "passionately lived out their faith by standing up for their fellow human beings". That might be by pursuing an economic system in which both workers, management and owners fairly share the rewards of business, and it might even include occasionally helping the poor and needy as Jesus so often did.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  5. Mike, Albany

    Why single out the president? This was happening on both sides of the campaign. We really have Mr. Newt Gingrich to thank for ratcheting up the level of vitriol that has spread like an infection within the Beltway and across the country. If one side were now to choose to tone it down in the face of the insults from the other, it would be seen as weakness rather than turning the other cheek and would ultimately cause that side to lose.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Charles

    Yawn....

    December 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  7. njpat

    OMG – Did he watch the same election we all did? Remember that the GOP thought they had the right guy and went for the jugular against Obama.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. folkandtattoos

    This whole op-ed piece was a waste of time. Our country was founded by Atheists who believed in right and wrong based on their education and common sense- not because a book someone wrote thousands of years ago commanded them too. Despite feverish attempts by those who would wish it, this is NOT a Christian nation and I abhor any individual who suggests that the head of the Executive Branch of Government must act as such.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Huebert

      You are correct in saying that this is not a christian nation, but our founding fathers were not atheist. Most of our founding fathers were either deists, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison, others, George Washington for example, were christian.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • HadziJo

      Actually, FolkAndTatoos. The article state that the POTUS CLAIMS to be a Christian, and the author says if that is what he claims to be, then he should act like one, or be considered a hypocrite like the rest of the Christians.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  9. HadziJo

    WOW, it’s amazing how a single opinion on a single narrow topic can generate so many ill relevant remarks. It’s almost like none of you read the entire article before you started pounding on the keyboard.
    Denise, do you really think the world would be better off without people like Rev King, and his insistence on peaceful demonstrations for civil rights? I also thought this event was sponsored by the US Congress, and Eric Metaxas was invited to attend.
    Chris, I’m sure if Eric Metaxas were to include all us sinner by name, he’s still be writing, and CCN would have enough disk space to post it. If you’d like to hear about others that disappointed him I’m sure he’d tell you.
    Jerry, I’m not sure what you meant be your first comment about life, but regarding your second, I believe GW Bush was the first pres to send ½ Billion $ to Africa for AIDS prevention programs.
    I’m a little surprised that no one else posting remembers the phrase “fat cats” coming from the POTUS, and his VP. I’ve been around a while and this was the most disheartening presidential campaign trash talk I’ve ever heard. I listened, and did research on a lot of what I heard from each of the candidates, and couldn’t believe how twisted the truth became. Unfortunately, I’m not angry. I see the half baked opinions used as a thin veil to cover a lot of hate, and I am depressed. I wish I was angry that my fellow Americans don’t listen to what they hear, and can’t seem to view any topic from a difference perspective, perhaps then I’d have the energy to fight the ignorant flu infecting so many brains.
    Whatever happened to the generation with the motto “Question Authority!”? If anyone is left I’d love to hear from you.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Zach

      Welcome to CNN Belief Blog. I'm guessing you're new here.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • lol??

      The educratists are big on the Hegelian dialectic that was taught to EVE by the serpent. It's very popular and the perfect art form for demobocracies to do their business.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  10. Laverne

    Why does the POTUS have to be responsible for some people reaction and actions because he happen to be a black man who wanted to be president. Ever since this man announced back in 2007 his candidacy for president, the ugliness that has come from some has been unreal, but yet surreal! President Obama had no other choice than to walk a very fine line to not ever appear he sides with anyone of his own race because of fear of being a bias prez. I have not seen many republicans act like Christians since this man took office. Because many feel uncomfortable with him being the black leader of the free world has led to nothing but confusion and hatred and please don't say it is his policies and not his race because any rational person know it is much more than that! As a matter of fact President Obama has shown more compassion and decent qualities than I have seen from a lot of his critics!

    December 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • HadziJo

      Why are you the only one talking about race? There wasn't anything about race in this article, it was about how ANY candidate for president should a campaign. take a minute and count the number of comments here that contain a tone about US & THEM, and the rich. Our country is becoming polarized very quickly. Since our president is in the best position to do anything about it. he becomes the number one subject to address.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  11. coriolana

    cram it you delusional stormtrooper

    December 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  12. Oregon

    This sounds like an apology for rich people who don't want to be required to share their wealth or pay taxes. I've heard this sort of thing before from Religious Right leaders. It always gives me an impression they're lapdogs of the Republican Party and big corporations.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Justin

      It is ridiculous to imply that they should have to share their wealth. why not raise taxes to share your wealth with the rest of the world? the fact is, my wealth is my wealth, whether it is a poor mans shoes or a rich mans lambo. It is not yours to take and not yours to dictate how I use it.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  13. Reality to the Rescue

    If YOUR mythcial interpretations of "god" would simply stay out of politics and everythig else the world would run much smoother.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Pete the Ninja

      then Stalin, Mao, and Ghengis Khan can run unopposed. Hooray!

      December 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      stalin, mao and ghengis khan are dead. try to keep up

      December 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  14. Brahm

    You lost me at the "Think of the Children!" trope.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  15. Humanitee

    This is the counter to the Democrat's position on the debt ceiling negotiations? I understand now a little better why the majority of citizens polled blame congressional Republicans on the deadlock. Metaxas, it would probably help you immensely if you narrowed your definition of what an enemy is to you and stopped loving them.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  16. Cinman

    Easy to say when you don't have the "pressure" of running for President. Why don't you try for your local mayor job and see how it goes.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  17. SMJ

    I agree with the writer, in that Obama is facing a divided nation. However, Obama and his reelection bid were not the sole cause of it. The partisan divide is caused by well meaning, well educated, highly paid individuals whose job it is to spin each fact to lean toward those which pay them to do so. We can not even agree on the facts as a natrion anymore. I understand that most of your feedback is going to relate to the christianity you speak of, but the point you made regarding the divided nation was worth noting.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  18. Republican Class Warfare

    The trick to accepting christian morality in a secular world (and as a secular person) is to realize that it has practical limits. Christian theology wasn't designed to be bound by practical limits: it's all about what happens after you die, so it's okay to be eaten by lions or slaughtered as a martyr because you're dead, in heaven, hooray. If you want to actually continue living your life, you have to know when to put the breaks on. Love one another? Great. Treat people how you want to be treated? Works great until they do the opposite. Turn the other cheek? You've only got two cheeks. 6000 year old earth? Now you're just talking insanity, which taints the rest of the belief set with falsehood and doubt. If Obama really believes, as most of the country does, that he'll be the best guy to advance the interests of all Americans, then you can't begrudge his means of achieving that position.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  19. geoz

    I'm sure I missed it in there as I read too quickly, but I'll bet the author also mentioned Santorum, Romney and the rest of the gang who treated their enemy – President Obama – so well. And I'm sure he mentions that there are those in the GOP base who are, to this day, talking about the President in demeaning ways. I'm sure he did talk about all of these things.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  20. Ross

    It was actually not bad, pretty boy Eric Metaxas (is this his real last name? sounds made up) eloquently selling me his breakfast speech and making it all about himself until I read ..."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." I quickly realized I missed the "prayer" part of the article before I clicked. Oops!

    December 10, 2012 at 12:16 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.