July 12th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: Christian politicians should start acting Christian

Editor's Note: Richard T. Hughes is Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College and author of Christian America and the Kingdom of God.

By Richard T. Hughes, Special to CNN

Let me be frank from the outset: A great cultural divide is ripping the heart from this nation and Christians are partly responsible.

I say that because 83% of the American people claim to be Christians. If those Christians lived as they are taught to live by the teacher they claim to follow, the American public square would be a very different kind of place.

If one reads the New Testament—the charter for the Christian religion—one can discover rather quickly what that tradition is all about.

Jesus tells his followers to tell the truth.

Jesus tells his followers to make peace.

Jesus tells his followers to turn the other cheek.

Jesus tells his followers to bless those who persecute them and pray for those who misuse them.

Jesus tells his followers to extend justice, especially to the poor and the dispossessed.

Jesus tells his followers to serve as bridge-builders and agents of reconciliation.

And Jesus tells his followers to love one another, even their enemies.

But based on their words and behavior, we may safely conclude that many of the Christians who dominate America’s public square routinely reject the teachings of Jesus, in spite of their claims to the contrary.

Sharron Angle, for example, wants to be the next U. S. Senator from Nevada. She founded a Christian school but casually announces that “the nation is arming” since “if we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?” For Angle, that next step is clear: those who oppose the current administration may “have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways.” In other words, if the ballot fails, the bullet is the next best hope.

Sarah Palin is open about her allegiance to the Christian faith, but routinely trades in sarcasm, deceptions and lies about her political opposition. During the health care debate, she repeated over and again the falsehood that “the sick, the elderly, and the disabled . . . will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide . . . whether they are worthy of health care.”

Newt Gingrich trumpets his allegiance to the Christian religion and writes about the role of the Christian faith in American history. He also knows that Barack Obama is a Christian. Yet he shamelessly denounces Obama as “secular”—a term Gingrich defines as an “outlook [that] does not acknowledge God.”

No wonder that some Tea Partiers claim—as one woman put it—that “we are losing our country; we think the Muslims are moving in and taking over; we do not believe our president is a Christian.”

Glenn Beck warned a national television audience to “look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can,” adding that those terms are code words for communism and nazism. Surely Beck knows that there is no theme more central to biblical faith than social and economic justice for the poor, but still he is willing to distort the Christian religion for cheap political gain.

Ann Coulter promotes herself as a representative of the Christian religion. Yet, Coulter claimed after September 11, 2001 that the United States “should invade their countries [Muslim nations], kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

When public figures like these so completely diminish the Christian faith, it is hardly surprising that grassroots believers often engage in similar distortions of the Christian religion.

Some Christians at anti-Obama rallies have displayed signs that proclaim, “Since 1630: Bible hugging! Gun toting! Red Blooded American Against Tyranny.” Or another: “I will keep my freedom, my Bible, my gun, and my money.”

When Christians so widely and publicly embrace such blatant distortions of the Christian religion, they abandon one of the roles they might have played in America’s public square: fostering civility and dialogue and building lasting bridges of reconciliation.

But civility and respect have been all but lost in contemporary American politics. Alan Keyes, for example, has proclaimed that “Obama is a radical communist.” And one of the signs that routinely appears at anti-Obama rallies shows the President wearing a Nazi uniform and doing a Hitler salute. Another sign reads, “Barack Hussein Obama: the New Face of Hitler.” Those kinds of accusations are nothing short of slander.

The issue I am raising has nothing to do with whether one is a Republican, a Democrat, a Tea Partier, or an independent. Neither political conservatives nor political liberals have a monopoly on this kind of behavior, though in recent months conservatives opposed to Barack Obama have been especially guilty.

Yet the issue I am raising ultimately has nothing to do with whether one likes or dislikes Barack Obama. The issue has to do with Christians behaving like Christians and thereby telling the truth, doing justice, and promoting basic respect for other human beings.

After all, since 83% of the American population identifies with the Christian religion, that 83% could make an enormous difference in the tone of American politics if those Christians actually practiced what they profess to believe. They could also make a positive difference in American politics if they held other Christians accountable when they engage in deception and slander in order to score political points.

America’s churches and their pastors therefore have a grave responsibility: to urge their members to serve the public square as peacemakers, as truth-tellers, as people devoted to justice, and as men and women who are actually willing to practice what Jesus taught. If America’s churches refuse to take up this task—which, after all, is a task that is central to the Christian calling—the consequences for our country could be dire, indeed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard T. Hughes.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Culture wars • Politics

soundoff (586 Responses)
  1. PHIL

    Jesus said that we should love the lord our God with all our heart soul and mind and love everybody else as much as we do our selves . this is the greatest commandment. He wants our aditude to reflect this . You dont have to believe this to know selfishness is our biggest problem.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  2. NF

    For those who disagree with Hughes, are you saying that the New Testament does not have Jesus tell his followers to tell the truth, make peace, urn the other cheek, bless those who persecute them and pray for those who misuse them, extend justice, especially to the poor and the dispossessed, serve as bridge-builders and agents of reconciliation, and to love one another, even their enemies?

    Seriously, where some Christians get their image of who Jesus was? If they think Jesus gave a gun-loving, gay-hating, keep-all-your-money-for-yourself message then they are reading a completely different book than the Christians I grew up with. More likely, I think, they don't read scripture, but just accept what their leaders tell them scripture says. Sad!

    July 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
    • Ego

      What's sad is that you completely misread the majority of the comments and apparently read into certain scriptures just as the other has, which likens you unto your last statement.

      July 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • vegas01

      Give one example of him forcing anyone to do anything! Jesus gave all people choice and consequences. His HOPE for all was that they would CHOOSE to listen to him, but he forced no one. He chastised many, particularly the scribes and Pharisees; see the long list of "woe unto you scribes and Pharisees..."
      If you want to compare action to Jesus' teaching, let's compare mandatory health insurance to Jesus' letting each exercise personal choice regardless of what was "best" for that individual.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
    • NF

      Jesus did chastise many, but who would he chastise today? I seem to remember reading that he was not such a fan of rich people, but who are the celebrity pastors and other Christians of today, but not rich? Didn't he dislike the Pharisees because they were too judgmental? Who would he point a finger to nowadays for being too judgmental if not the very same celebrity pastors and other Christians? Just asking.

      Did Jesus charge anyone for healing them? Did he turn anyone away for not being able to pay? Would he approve of these actions if he were to visit an American hospital? You can say "Well they made a choice not to buy insurance, so tough luck." Do we say the same thing to folks without enough insurance who are whipped out by floods, or other disasters? A medical disaster can whip you out just as quickly as a natural one so why treat them differently?

      July 13, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • jbb

      I wish your words could be printed in bold type so they would be read and the clueless would get your message

      October 24, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  3. Hical

    Christ also teaches us to admonish and instruct ... something that most liberals say is hate speech.

    Christ says if you love Him ... you will obey His commands ... all 10 (which are a summary of all the Old Testament and New Testament Law and Prophets).

    CNN seems to like talking about God's Love .... but they never mention His Justice. Why is that?

    July 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • NF

      Some Christians only seem to talk about Christ's JUSTICE, and what he would hate, and never seem to mention anything about his love. It seems that a lot of people just think of Jesus as the Christ, the sword bearer, God's final wrath, and forget the human, the guy who hung out with society's outcasts. The guy who cured people, for free. The guy who wasn't out for a buck. Remember him?

      July 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  4. dave

    We need a new name for these want-to-be Christians. They are actually anti-christ when you really look deep into their ways. They are so evil it is hard to fathom.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  5. Johnny

    Right on. Many Republicans and their right wing followers claim to be christians because they are anti abortion. That is their only measurment of being a Christian. Jesus said many will come in my name. we all know many of these so called Christians are wolves in sheep's clothing. they could care less about their fellow man or God. It is all about greed and power. Unfortunately many of these so called Christians are Republicans and hypocrites but there will be a day of reckoning when they leave this earth. God is certainly not a Republican as they want you to believe......

    July 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • Hical

      absolutely true ... and on the other side of the coin there are many wolves in sheeps clothing in the democrat party that say killing babies is ok ....

      July 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  6. vegas01

    soprano116: Quite right! He missed how Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world. Jesus was not about "fixing" life on earth, but preparing us for eternal life in heaven.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • Frank Lee, my dear

      Then Christians should follow His example and STAY OUT OF POLITICS!

      July 14, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  7. soprano116

    The author's claim that "there is no theme more central to biblical faith than social and economic justice for the poor" reveals his own lack of understanding of the Christian faith and totally discredits his supposed authority to criticize other Christians for not being "Christian enough." There is no theme more central to true biblical faith than salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything else, while important, is peripheral.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • JPT

      Well then what's the point of faith then? How does this faith mean anything without works?

      July 13, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  8. vegas01

    The author fails to distinguish between obedience to God and ruling a people. Jesus taught we should render to Caesar what is Caesar's. What was Caesar's? The earthly authority to exercise rule as the scriptures also declare such authority is ordained by God to act on earth. What is taught to gain eternal life and godliness is not the same as earthly rule. The same Jesus who said turn the other cheek will also execute judgment and condemn to eternal destruction those who are disobedient, which clearly examples the "goodness and severity" of God. The scriptures also state the one who will not work should not eat, showing as Galatians 6 does that we remain responsible for ourselves, and are not required to support those who are not "bearing their own burden" first. Help requires effort from the recipient; otherwise, it is help.
    The author would try to support from scripture the notion we cannot enforce laws, punish law breakers, allow someone to be poor, etc., which is not what Jesus taught or practiced.
    It would be most interesting to see the author's definition of separation of church and state as I would suspect it is quite contradictory to the position taken in the article that religion should influence government action.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  9. PHIL

    Sorry for all the repeat responcese at first they wouldnt go through . You can blame it on me being a Cristion or my ADHD, either one will work. [Ill try to be more patient next time.] sorry ill shutup now.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  10. CrazyJoe

    Where exactly in the Bible does Jesus condemn homosexual acts? I'd like the book and verse please... didn't think you'd find it.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      He didn't, anywhere. Paul (the actual creator of "Christianity" as we know it, did.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  11. PHIL

    Studebakerr Bringing up the past especialy when I wasnt born or was a child dosent make sense. How about I dig up yours.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  12. Glen


    July 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  13. PHIL

    Attacking me for something that happened before i was born dose not make any sence.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  14. Mark

    It's plain and clear that when they tried to make Jesus a king, he fled. He also stated that his Kingdom was no part of the world. Jesus and the early Christians did not get involved in politics, it wasn't until Rome adopted Christianity did the Church become corrupt with the idea that the Kingdom would be here on earth. True Christians should have no place in earthly governments and should subject themselves only to God's heavenly throne.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  15. PHIL

    We have all made trrible choices . so throwing history in our faces will never help . Especialy when most if not all of us werent alive yet.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  16. Starhopper

    Judging from most of the negative and almost hateful remarks posted (and, I'm sure, in response to THIS post), I would say that the responding bloggers have simply confirmed what the writer was saying – those calling themselves "Christian" ought to act like ones. But, sadly, today's Pseudo-Christians are no more followers of Jesus' than todays so-called Patriots are patriotic. They are mostly self-serving, angry individuals who rationalize their awful behavior by hiding behind the label of Christian or Patriot. They have no clue what it means to be either.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • jbb

      Amen! I so agree with you! I have "Christian" family members who spread the awful words spewed by the Right wing religious right and justify all of it, basically parroting the crap on Fox News as if it is the truth! One so called self-righteous person even posted on facebook the idea that Obama is a "Hitler" figure, and that since God took her favorite actor, actress and singer last year, God please take the favorite President too! How does anyone truly believe that is a Christian or morally right thought? It scares me to think so many are espousing such horrible behavior!

      October 24, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  17. PHIL

    Imagration reform should never be about political correctness [favoring elegal immagrants over legal Americans] .Im sure this is a very complicated road ,but it should not be rushed or drag out beyond what reasonable. I dont think this is a job for Obama"s administration ,hes always in a rush ,wich I agree is opposit to the other administrations . Will they get voted in then you have to live with them for a short time till there gone . I m from Canada, there in till voted out ,wich can be 6 months or 16 years. GOOD LUCK OR GOD BLESS

    July 13, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  18. JPT

    I guess my main issue with allegd Christians regarding abortion is that they don't want to prevent them by allowing and promoting access to birth control. While this may enable people to be promiscuous, Christ specifically reserves judgment and grace to God, and it may actually reduce the abortion rate.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  19. Joe

    Maybe you should be keeping religion out of polotics as it dose not belong thier in the first place. I am sick and tired of you goof ball endtimers trying to cram your Blue Eyed Blonde Haired Jesus down everybodys throats. Its kind of funny that only your version is the right one and how everybody else is wroung!

    July 13, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  20. Rick McDaniel

    Actually, organized religion, irregardless of denomination, tends to be......condescending, intolerant of others, especially those who do NOT belong to the same denomination, persecuting towards those different from themselves, hypocritical to a fault.......in other words, they tend to behave just like the Congress.

    The nicest people I know, who are most respectful of others, who help others more, who do not pass judgment on others, and who genuinely like people, are NOT religious, at all.

    Perhaps you might rethink your message.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:22 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.