December 10th, 2012
05:00 AM ET
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."
(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.
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.
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.
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.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eric Metaxas.
About this blog
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.