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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. Observer

    This must be depressing news for all the Republican morons who are circulating the lie about President Obama cancelling "National Prayer Day".

    December 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  2. lionlylamb

    The bastions of irreligiously navigated circles will ever and always circularly navigate the odds away from the evens leaving ever awash their wakes diatribes’ rather blatant trivialities worthiness of but pennies only and nary worthy a plugged nickels wooden markings.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  3. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    @Eric Metaxas,

    Mr. Metaxas, until such time as the religious right and the GOP are prepared to put Matthew 7:5 into practice in their political pronouncements, any criticism of the President for engaging in partisan political rhetoric is moot.

    No pressure.

    Matthew 7:5
    "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

    December 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  4. Person of Interest

    Hmm, if you want to talk about the political discourse in the this country be fair, the Romeny campaign was just as critical and harsh. You had an amazing opportunity to speak about the need for open, honest, and less hostile discussions of hot button issues. You instead wasted by being completely hypocritical.

    By that I mean you talk about loving those you disagree with and showing respect for them. Yet show no respect to Obama by saying he looked un-Presidential and un-Christian for saying the exact same things that Romney was saying (but in reverse). As a moderate you threw out any thoughts of me thinking you are non-bias and thinking you had a point.

    Then again, you aren't really trying to push forward true political discourse and talk to people like me. You are talking to the conservative base of the GOP because they will buy your book. I can say, I will definitely not check it out. Congrats on "being edgy" to sell some books. People like you are the reason the country is so factured. The majority of us are moderates/independents who just want honest and factual discussions, not a politically biased rant.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  5. Louis

    He just discovered this about politics? If Christians just went about living a Christian life, rather than engaging in the dirt of politics, doing things like demonizing their political opponents, I'd take them more seriously.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  6. Sy2502

    The author needs to keep in mind that having religious beliefs and abiding by them is one thing. Trying to impose them on those who don't share them through law is quite another.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Kim

      There's no democracy in Christian faith. You can't vote on what you want to be lawful. God hands down the Law and you obey, or else!

      December 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  7. James

    This analysis by Eric Metaxas seems to redefine reality. President Obama has never persued a scorched earth policy. Neither he nor his adds have demonized anyone either. He has openly described people who disagree with him as "people with reasonable differences of opinion". When have you ever seen him describe people the way top level Republicans have described him or those who work with him? They use words like "incompetent, liar, and idiot" like those words are a dime a dozen. The time has ended when we keep say "they" and include everyone like we do with children. Its time to treat politicians like we do people in a court of law. We don't say there was an altercation and everyone is going to jail. We have witnesses and we pin down the agressor or the person who threw the first punch and we assess the response to it as either appropriate or accessive and then someone takes responsibility. If the first punch isn't thrown then no others usually follow. But self defense is generally considered honorable. But this analysis is really bad because its like an NFL ref throwing the flag on a guy who just got his eye poked in the pile and is now pushing the offender away from himself. The audience always sees the first punch but the refs just see the last one. Eric Metaxas is in denial if he things President Obama has ever thrown a first punch. But he certainly has learned to finish well.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  8. lol??

    Servants are always better off after servin' up the Masters' future.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  9. Corey

    Your faith is not my faith. That is what you religious people fail to get. The faith that drives you doesn't drive everyone else. Your hell is tique heaven and vice versus. Yet you try to push your values on everyone else. Some might say that's what the other side does by promoting choice and equality. It couldn't be farther from the truth. If you don't believe in abortions don't have one. Your choice. Don't believe in contraceptives, don't use them. Your choice. Don't believe in gay marriage, don't have one. Your choice. But what I and people like me won't stand for is you trying to take that choice away from us. And as far as how the president ran his campaign. Like others have pointed out, were is the critique of how the right ran their campaign?

    December 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • U

      Your faith is not my faith! Thats right not everyone has the same faith not everyone would look at the way you look at it as well. And that applies to you as well, that you have no right to take the choice of others if they speak otherwise. One thing i want to point out here with your statments above simply says no one can shove you, particulary with the kind of response you have, into their faith. Having said that, Faith cannot be forced into, if your own heart is being forced by other persons faith then your faith isn't reliable in the first place. Thats the reason you are being shaken. Faith in no way cannot be forced on the other person.

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

      If you want those of us who are not of your 'faith' to stop exercising our right to speak out about the things we believe in, will you agree to stop speaking out for what you believe? If you believe in providing abortions for non-life threatening situations and for contraceptives, will you pay for them, or will you force those of us who do not support them to pay for them with our taxes? Will you stop forcing YOUR values on us?

      December 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  10. Bill P

    Eric Metaxas – You can see by the vile and hate filled responses to your plea that what Obama has done during this last campaign, how he is continuing to behave on the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, is simply a reflection of the hearts and minds of the people. The people always get what they deserve in terms of their leader. Always. Without exception.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • sam

      Then I'm grateful as hell it's not Romney and his penchant for pissing off our allies that's in office.

      Also, people who disagree with your worldview are not automatically hateful.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  11. child of midian

    A campaign is war, you don't throw cotton balls at the enemy, you toss grenades. For g'ds sake get over it. Mitt went so far as to say that no one asks him for his birth certificate and to refuse to show us where his money when for 10 years, you have to push back at someone like that, hard. If Satan came up, would you love him and say only good things?

    December 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  12. Aimee Whetstine

    Amen, Mr. Metaxas. Well done.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  13. QS

    I, for one, will be glad to see the day that religion no longer infects our species to this extent.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      That's what you say now.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • sam

      Here, let me be helpful and add "...WHEN JESUS COMES BACK AND YOU HAVE TO STAND IN FRONT OF GOD AND REPENT YOUR SINS."

      December 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • LiberaLIowan

      Amen, QS. Well done.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Oh dear, Jon

    Strange, the entire GOP campaign which climaxed at the Republican National Convention was nothing but an Obama smear machine. The GOP party leader practically filled the time in between announcing each speaker with a couple cheap stand-up comedy style jabs at Obama with absolutely no class, no civility and no grounds.

    I guess the good news is the GOP hasn't learned their lesson and will likely continue to loose elections by large margins because it seems like most of America completely sees through this BS.

    This article is nothing but a selfless plug for a book.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  15. Chris

    The author of this article should go apply at Faux News. . .

    December 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  16. rockysfan

    Tell it to the right! Please! And then go home. Tired of preachers preaching, and guess what? I get to leave. No pressure!

    December 10, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  17. scuffed

    This pseudo-something uses the pro-noun "I" way too much. The "ideas" are a regurgitation of republican b.s. He says nothing about the history of how we we as a country reached this point and why. The right-wingers are the most anti-science, anti-evidence, insulting element in this country and claiming it is the liberals is just a bully whining after losing a fight.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  18. Art

    Long Live the President. He is doing an exemplary job considering the mess Bush and his boys left him. Stabilizing the economy and stopping the hemorrhaging by itself was worth another term. Yes, Mr. President, you and all humankind should repent but you like us should repent for your sins and nothing else. After all, if we regard iniquity in our hearts, God will not hear us. Be blessed.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Nick

      Art, what are you talking about? Adding trillions in debt is "stopping the hemhorraging"? Thinking his joke of a "stimulus" stabilized the economy when in fact what little improvment occurred was done in spite of his policies, not because of them? HIs tenure has been "exemplary" all right, an example of form over function, style over substance and a dismaying contradiction to the old adage "you can't fool all of the people all of the time". Obama is a disaster!

      December 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • sam

      Suck it up for 4 more years, Nick. The same thing would have happened no matter who was in office. But, enjoy your fantasies.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  19. MaryJ

    "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."

    Do you skip straight to loving those you disagree with, or do you try to understand why they disagree with you first?

    December 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • More Common Sense

      If you dont know why you disagree with them, then its just blind hatred. Which is what 90% of the comments on here represent. I dont know you anymore than this auther, but most people on here just want to yell about something. There is not love in that either.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • MaryJ

      More Common Sense
      My experience is that too many Christians take the stand that whatever they believe is what God believes (not the other way round in practice), and if it's not what you believe then you have to be wrong, which means that you're against God which makes you evil. PERIOD!

      Logic isn't their strong suit.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Dulos J

      I would like to assume that loving someone inherently involves seeking to understand them.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  20. John

    I wonder if this author feels the same way about the tactics of the Romney campaign. The two campaigns seemed very similar to me and yet the author only criticizes the president. Not Romney or any of the republican primary candidates who engaged in the same tactics. I wonder, if the outcome of the election had been different, would the author have written these words about Romney as president. I don't think he would. His description of political opponents and other Americans who have a different view as "enemies" makes me believe this is editorial is more about political finger pointing than faith or values.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Rich

      John,

      He didn't mention Ronmey because he lost and isn't the leader of our country. Obama won and is the leader....the author is simply asking him to act like one. Bad behavior can never to excused because of bad behavior of others.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:31 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.