Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Presidents wear a lot of hats. They serve as commanders in chief. They nominate Supreme Court justices. They veto congressional legislation. Increasingly, they are also coming to serve as our pastors in chief.
In his remarks Sunday night at an interfaith service at in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama vowed to use “whatever power” he has to prevent more mass shootings, and he all but promised to push for stricter gun control laws in the next U.S. Congress. But policy was not top of mind yesterday for either the president or a grieving nation.
Obama began by quoting from the second letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away ... inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).
He then reminded us that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once put it, we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” The tragedy that visited Sandy Hook Elementary School could have been visited on any school in any town in America, Obama said. So Newtown’s grief is not its alone: “All across this land of ours, we have wept with you."
As a pastor among pastors at Sunday's interfaith event, Obama spoke of sadness and comfort and evil and inspiration. As a parent among parents, he referred to "caring for our children" as “our first task” as a nation.
Presidents are often tasked with posing difficult questions about foreign or domestic policy. In this speech, Obama asked philosophical and theological questions instead: “Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?” He then spoke, as Lincoln did at Gettysburg, about moving through the darkness, without easy answers, “often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.”
In his famous hymn to love in his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote that "the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). For me, the most surprising turn in Obama's speech came when our president did the same.
"Love" is not a word that typically comes flowing off the tongues of our chief executives. But on Sunday, Obama spoke of love nearly a dozen times. In an uncertain world, he said, love is the “one thing we can be sure of."
Then he read the names of the 20 children who died.
Earlier, Obama had spoken the names of the six teachers and administrators who were killed. As he did so, the wailing in the auditorium was audible. When he read this litany of the children, the wailing returned. He read the names slowly. He read them surely, like someone looking out loud for a fallen friend on the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He then asked for the blessings of the Almighty on those who were killed and his comfort on those who are grieving.
It wasn't a speech. It was a sermon. And it is worthy of the talents of our current pastor in chief.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
Obama a "pastor" - the guy who ran the most divisive, nasty, hateful campaign (and past four years) in our history? What are you people smoking? Just how hypnotized are you?
You're the one smoking something and if we had to guess, fox news.
You're not too good with thought, are you?
The most divisive, nasty, hateful campaign amongst Democratic candidates, maybe, but compared to standard Republican tactics his was a Teddy Bear's picnic.
All the liberals have are lies and hate. Guns kill? They also protect! Drugs as in illegal drugs kill. Meth and heroine kill more people than all of the guns in the us combined year in year out. Where is the national tragedy spokesmen on this issue. Oh Hollywood would be really upset if you took their drugs away. It's a choice they say, then so is it my choice to defend myself against you and yours. But that's not ok with them. They live in secluded getaways and guarded neighborhoods. But as for me and mine, they "the liberals" want me to live in a combat zone where innocent little killers and rapist steal and murder with impunity. Look at the gang problems in Chicago, LA, Tacoma, DC, Baltimore and oh yes the White House. Keep your filthy liar in chief. I will cling to my guns and BIBLE!
So true, why is it now that the liberals can't take the credit for this antagonistic hate filled course they have charted? Oh it is easier to blame Christians than to look into the mirror and face the truth. How many of the bloggers here are attacking Christianity? Many!!!
"Drugs as in illegal drugs kill. Meth and heroine kill more people than all of the guns in the us combined year in year out."
What is your source for that?
In 2003, the death rate due to firearms in the US was 10.4 per 100,000 people.
In the same year, drugs deaths averaged 9.9 per 100,000.
Separated by gender, guns killed 18.3 males per 100,000 while drugs killed 12.9.
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 54, no. 13, Apr. 19, 2006)
1 "e" in heroin
hollywood are not the only folks who do not want to give up their drugs
"How many of the bloggers here are attacking Christianity? Many!!!"
How man of the bloggers here are purporting to know the mind of god? Many!!!
See, Billy Boy, we can all play that game
COLUMBINE STUDENT'S FATHER 13 YEARS LATER !!
Guess our national leaders didn't expect this. On Thursday, Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Columbine, Colorado, was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee. What he said to our national leaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful.
They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every Sociologist, every Psychologist, and every so-called expert! These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness.. The following is a portion of the transcript:
"Since the dawn of creation there has been both good & evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers.
"The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used.. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.
"In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA – because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder I would be their strongest opponent
I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy - it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.
Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage,
You've outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question "Why?"
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That God is what we need!
"Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs - politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts.
"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America , and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA - I give to you a sincere challenge.. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone! My daughter's death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!" – Darrell Scott
You don't do much research, do you, FatherG?
@Tom, Beat me to it. Good speech, he actually gave it, just 13 years ago to a smaller House Committee.
Yes, he gave it. The rest of the story is false.
How very sad this is what people have become. Full of hate writtings. When will we as a nation care? When its your child, when its your grandchild, when its your brother or sister, father or mother? Only then will you care? When its your family. We need stricter laws, we need mental health for people. We need to be vigalant with others who you think are suffering. We need each other. Whether you belive in God or No God, republican or democrat, gun totter or not...these are our kids. All our kids. We need to come together.All i can say is psychiatrists across this country should be alot busier, because what i have read, many of you need one.
please add link if you have it I would love to read it. this was somthing I go via the internet and I figure if CNN and Fox could report news with out research we could. But I want to know the truth and if you have the link to his speach please share it so I can correct myself. Please forgive my error.
The link is right there in my post. The man gave the speech. The rest of the story is fabricated. The speech elicited very little reaction at all. The next person to speak to the group advocated gun control.
Here is the link and if its is different then yours please replay http://www.nrawinningteam.com/scotttext.html
here is the true story and link with links to what he said and its close to what I post http://www.snopes.com/politics/guns/scott.asp you can also read what Byrl Phillips Taylor said about gun control.
His is one opinion about gun control, Gump. The next woman who spoke was also the mother of one of the Columbine victims and expressed the opposite view.
It is really sad to see the comments on here...I see nothing but hate, politics, and nothing about the 20 poor little angels and 6 adults who were masacared...does anybody see something wrong with this picture. Why have you already forgotten these children??
God Bless America Just happy to be Canadian and not have to deal with assault rifles and hand guns in our homes.
HE INTERJECTED POLITICS INTO HIS SERMON FROM THE MOUNT
So glad we have a president who can quote scripture of PEACE. God is Love and all who follow him is for PEACE for all mankind.
god is omniscient
god knows who will accept his son as a savior before they are born
why does he allow those who will not to be born in the first place, if not to torture them?
While hateful Christians blame teaching of evolution, prayer in schools, and even gays for the killings, the truth is a lot of violence is perpetrated by hateful Christians.
They are "militia training" right now to "take back America."
Nice bithate you're spewing there. Are you a troll or just that stupid?
Interesting, with a name like "Liberal Hate" – you fall right into what he is describing, most specially with your insults.
I love you and Pray for those who hate. Jesus told us to love one another, sin is the same for all, we have all sinned but God still loves us so we must love one another. God Bless you.
I think he briefly referenced Jesus once.
I didn't think that the people who installed him into power after half a term as a senator whose greatest accomplishment was writing 2 autobios would have allowed that.
We aren't even allowed to mention Jesus at Christmas.
Nor are we allowed to have a nativity scene at the white house.
Oddly, a giant menorah lit by ultra-orthodox jews who think that non-Jewish life and souls are worthless compared to those of Jews.... that's just fine.
And had he referenced Mohammad, you would be in an uproar. Hypocrisy be thy name sir.
And had he referenced Jesus more than "once" you would be screaming about him forcing HIS religion down our throats, too.
@ Joe from CT, not Lieberman
Wait… so…you’re saying I’m tolerant enough not to complain about him reference his god. But had he done so more than once I would reach my limits? Wow… you are really stretching to make a point there ..i’m sure it…
Man believes he can save the world with wars of guns and bombs,but only the Cross and Gospel of Jesus Christ can save man in body,mind,and soul,in this life and in the life to come. Satan tempted Jesus' flesh in the desert,a stone to bread for his flesh,angels will save his body from a fall,and riches to please his flesh. Satan tempted Adam and Eve's flesh to eat the forbidden fruit and sin the sin of pride. In wars Satan tempts man's flesh to kill the flesh with guns and bombs,killing even the innocent,including children and fetuses,even by mistake,God doesn't kill the innocent,and God doesn't make mistakes. So wars with guns and bombs are not of God,but of Satan,of the flesh and the devil.
You condemn ‘wars, guns and bombs’ yet say that the cross which is a torture device will save us? lol
Would you like a glass of Kool-Aid to go with that? You are so deluded you can't see the world around you. There's more to life than a moldy book written by man that is unverified, unsubstantiated, edited, translated, and not accepted as evidence by any legal means.
On the Cross God's Son died for man's sins,God's Son endured it so that man can be forgiven of his sins,even the sins of wars with guns and bombs,and so man can restore his relationship to God which was lost at Eden when Satan tempted man's flesh to sin.
Please show us your evidence of "Eden", and more inportantly, please show us that your "god" actually exists. I'd really REALLY like to know how to propagate a species with only 2 viable beings, and then their offspring (as stated in your own book) were ALL male?
Nice dodge. Prove it happened and we can have a discussion. Until then, you’re just another crazy person basing their life on mythology. Please don’t hurt anyone because the voices in your head told you to..okay?
angel: not at all convincing. but, if it makes you feel all pious, go for it
It's also said that God helps those who help themselves, so what's so wrong with trying to help ourselves with better gun control?
You Know. Jesus didn't DIE on the cross. He slept there for maybe three days. Then went back to his home in heaven. You really can't call that dieing.
I hadn't thought of him as Pastor-in-Chief, but I guess that's one of the many hats he has to wear.
To all, here is something to think about. Guns only kill when the trigger is pull, a car kills when a drunk driver is behind the wheel. I hate it that anyone dies from either one and before you say it I have dealt with both. The Morals of the nation has to change. We took God out of school and put first person shooter games in every house hold. You can't turn on a sports event without seeing alcohol being glamorized. I could keep going but till the nation turns back to what made it strong "God" we will keep making bad decision and not looking for the really issues in our life’s. Seeking peace through the Ten Commandments which us to be taught in schools up till 1964 then the first school shooting was in 1969. My heart goes out to all who Died and the families affected. So if you go after the Guns you must go after Alcohol and shooter games to be fare.
If you want your kids to learn about the Ten Commandments, teach them at home, or take them to church. They do not belong in the public school system
"Guns only kill when the trigger is pull, a car kills when a drunk driver is behind the wheel"
People get beaten to death with guns, too.
There are plenty of fatal accidents where both drivers were stone cold sober.
And, the word is "fair", not "fare"
God Bless you! And thank you for making my point and showing me my miss spelling. Teaching of the Ten Commandments is no more wrong then teaching the Law which was written from the Commandments because this nation was founded under God and I’m standing by that. God is my life and I am a member of this country and until I’m dead this is one country under God. So blessing be to you and your family and May God Bless the United States.
It's sickening to see you calling him a "pastor" when he represents a theory of governance that seeks to completely remove religion from government. Putting aside whether he is a true Christian or not, the man certainly does not represent Godly values. Dividing Americans on the basis of race, developing a cult around his own ego, destroying the character of others for his own gain, and endorsing a culture of death to our most vulnerable... these are not practices that God endorses in his Bible.
He represents a theory of governance that seeks to treat all religions equally, you mean? We are a nation of more than just Christians, and certainly more than just conservative evangelical Christians. November is over. Get over your loss and try to do something constructive. Obama's days in office are numbered now, after all. Rejoice in that, if it's what brings a smile to your face.
President Obama is not the monster you believe him to be. Your views have been obscured by the misinformation resource (*cough* Fox News) you listen to. If you could remove your blinders and look at things unobstructed, you'd see that he is a good, well-meaning person. Views like yours are what cause obstruction, as you can plainly witness within your own post.
Um.. This is American not Iran genius… religion is SUPPOSE TO BE SEPARATE from government. Besides he isn’t removing anything. (there is a Christmas tree in his house!) He is allowing equality for those that don’t follow YOUR religion.
You probably also longed for the data when everyone respected the office of president, back when Bush was president, right? In a time like this, it is especially warranted that we turn off the radio/tv station that makes us feel so rught so victimized at the same time, and start thinking,like one people. In truth, it is not Obama that has divided the people. In the quiet of your heart you have to ask yourself: why do you love to hate him? The people he came to comfort appreciated it very much. Doesn't that mean anything to you?
Dang auto correct.
Matt, I would be interested in hearing which sections of the Bible you are referring to. Especially as the traits you are describing seem to follow perfectly along the line of a lot of the Hebrew Prophets, and Paul's treatment of Jesus.
Heard it said, that this was Gods will....sorry if this is the God you worship, then we are better off without him in our lives and government....I think YOUR president is on the right track! It is this God so many blindly worship that needs to be reconsidered!
Matt, sickening is to see all of the hate in your heart.....Looking at all of the replies for your hateful post, I hope you will do some serious self examining. May God be a source of strength for victims and their families. My prayer and hope is that the president is very successful and continues to show the world how to love even though evil is around us.
Is this clown serious? "Pastor-in-chief"? That is an insult to those who have committed their live's to serving God. Just because someone quotes a Scripture passage does not make them a pastor, and if this person had any clue about everything a pastor does he would not mistake Obama's poltical speech about being a pastor. Many of you may take issue with me categorizing this as political speech, but that is absolutely what it was designed to do – a springboard for Obama to push gun control.
Still sore about November, I see.
Your imaginary friend does not exist.
As for gun control...what is wrong with you that you would see this as a problem? Are you so blind that you fail to see the need for it?
I think the springboard you refer to was the incident in CT. Everything else is just a logical response to that.
Not logical..emotional. Blaming gun or video games or your personal choice of scapegoat has nothing to do with logic (as they fall flat in the face of facts) and everything to do with emotion.
One thing about white people even during tragedy THEY STILL HATE...............
Not all white people...colored people are capable of hate also.
Christians organize hate into a campaign.
Everyone is capable of SOME degree of hate, but the religious like to think their "god" tells them it's ok to do so because of some "holy" out-of-date texts
And so do you when you feel it justified. You are no better than anyone else. Get over yourself.
To whom are you referring?
That was a hateful thing to say, I am white and I am not hateful. I love President Obama and I've worked hard twice to have him elected. You owe me and a lot of other people an apology. It's time to put hatefulness aside and come together as a nation to fight against what happened in CT, we must do this for the sake of our children.
M-y wife and I recently signed up for 23.anadem, which analyzes a sample of ones DNA. It is useful for identifying potential health risks, and tracing an.cestry. My own ancestry, through the genes, was mun.dane My wife had a remarkable ge.netic make up, which includes 3percent gen.etic material which is N-eanderthal. She is Ja-panese, with Sp-anish, French, Sl-avic, and South American na-tive (think Inca) background. But several thousand years ago (note this; it must have occurred well before 8000 years ago which creationists believe was about the time that g-od created man), a very distant ancestor of hers m-ated with a N-eanderthal. I know this is hard to believe, it is hard for me to believe, but this is true, and should cause some of you to think, as it has caused me to do. For those who wonder what this cross looks like – she is beautiful.
It is affirming to read the raw hateful vomit spewing from Christians. They are blaming prayer in school, evolution, and gays for the event. That's okay Christians. I hate you as much as you hate me.
Atheists will always take the fall from christians sadly. If they looked outside their bubble they might see the damage of their existence within that belief. If they looked to updated stats, they might comprehend that more secular countries endure less violence in regards to mass murder, crime in general (less than 1% of prisoners within the USA are Atheists with another approximately 75% being christian).
I vomited after reading this crap
While not particularly religious myself, I hope that one day, you are not in need of the comfort he offered the families of this unspeakable tragedy at any time in your life.
You vomited mean vile venomous Christian hate.
It's scary to have a leader who believes in fairy tales.
I was especially touched by the fake tear that Obama wiped from his eye.
You bought it, you own it.
You're a heartless person.
Good job. Everything is not political. Part of the president's job is to comfort the nation in times of crisis even if only in words at that moment. This is not to bash former Pres. Bush, but only now do I really understand why there was such a public outcry and the feeling he didn't care when he delayed saying anything for days after hurricane Katrina. People were looking for comfort and reassurance that they weren't alone.
He's a lot of things.....but he sure as heck isn't a pastor to anyone.
Good to know that someone here has actually spoken in person to every single resident of Newtown.
That's your opinion, but not necessarily shared by everyone.
Seriously? Get over yourself.
Because he isn't point fingers at who to hate, is that why he doesn't look like a pastor to you?
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.