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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. Jesse in Maryland

    Interesting that Dr. Hughes couldn't come up with any Democrat Christians who likewise fail to live the example of Christ. Is it only a conservative Republican problem? If you say so, you're not being truthful. Liberals, Democrats have plenty of examples of Christians not living Christian lives. Clinton's adultery and outright lies on the stand? Chuck Rangel's tax fraud? John Edwards affair and blatant hypocrisy? Or how about abortion? How about forcefully taking from those who work and giving it to those who do not? Don't Christians agree with Christ and the apostles that "the worker is worthy of his wages"?

    This article is so ridiculously one-sided and biased that it completely undercuts his entire message of living in the light of truth and fairness. How about publishing a direct response, CNN?

    July 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  2. Smc

    Finally, someone had the courage to say it out loud. Of course, many "Christians" will try to shoot the messenger. They refuse to step back and really evaluate what falsehoods are being said "in Jesus' name." Sarah Palin not only lies, she gets thunderous applause for it. It's so different from the Christianity I was brought up on. I've stopped taking my children to our church because of the things that get said nowadays, and I'll bet I'm not the only one. I see a whole generation that is turning against the church and it makes me sad. But it's a self-inflicted wound. I have not lost my faith, but I have lost confidence in these people who presume to speak for "Christians."

    July 13, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Frank Lee, my dear

      I, too, stopped attending my church when leaders began to imply that God was a Republican and wanted me to vote for George W. Bush.

      July 14, 2010 at 12:32 am |
    • Bernard Webb

      My cable box broke down the other day and left me stuck on one of those "Christian" channels, so I watched a little bit of it. It was a local preacher speaking. The subject? Politics. 100% politics. I watched for about ten minutes as this guy slammed Obama, slammed cap and trade, slammed the health care bill, and on and on. This was on Sunday! On a "Christian" TV channel! It was like tuning in to the Glenn Beck show or listening to hate-radio nastiness from Limbaugh or Hannity. This is "Christianity"? God help us.

      When did Christianity turn into 100% right-wing-wacko politics? None of the conservacrap they spew is addressed in their damn Bible. Why is this all they talk about now?

      These people baffle me. It's like they are of a different species whose brains work differently.

      July 14, 2010 at 7:36 am |
    • jbb

      Frank Lee my dear and Bernard Webb took words out of my mouth. I am saddened that religion in this country now supports telling congregations how to vote, and what to think about the political world of our country. No wonder the secularist population is growing! It is distasteful to sit church and listen to a sermon from the pulpit that judges all who have a different point of view, and promote anger and distrust. My aunt in the Buffalo area actually told me that Obama took two oaths of office, one on the Qaran! Also that he supports giving old people like us a pill so we die rather than get medical care! Part of that she heard in her very powerful church, and part on Fox News! It shocked me-I live in So Cal,, but grew up back there and can't even understand how anyone believes such lies! Any one with some intelligence should question those who tell the lies and challenge them to make a difference. I have grown up in my old age, and see the world is not simple black and white thinking, but shades of gray and deep search in our souls has to come through and spread the truth.

      October 24, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  3. DJW

    Can’t say that I agree with this commentary, but that is not all that surprising! Nothing gets my ire up more than someone telling me that I am not Christian enough because I do not see things his way. I do not line up behind Newt, Sarah, or Glenn, but neither do I support an administration that doubts my ability to be Christian enough to help people in need as I believe I can afford. Prof Hughes needs to read about who should cast the first stone.

    July 13, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      He's telling you you're not a Christian because you aren't seeing things Jesus' way. Big difference.

      July 13, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  4. Carl

    A significant number of the responses to this blog are pefect examples of the point he is making. All those "Christians" who oppose the government taking action to provide some social and economic care should look in the mirror and ask themselves "Are you willing to step in and make it if the government stops doing it?" Are you willing to put your actions where your mouths are? Jesus preached his fundamental guidelines and the gospel writers have captured it, if you believe the literate truth of the BIble. He did it in his Sermon on the Mount, in his discussion with the Scribes and Pharisees of his time, and in his example of embracing the dregs and rejects of Jewish society. If you claim to practice Christianity, go reread the story of the Good Samaritan and ask yourself which of the three who saw the beaten individual on the side of the road you are.

    Davd, Mr. Beck did indeed suggest that if one's church uses terms like social justice or economic justice, one should run from it. He was not addressing government, he was addressing the very organizations Christians are so proud to join. The only reason government takes on that task is because no one else will do it, and your representatives determined that it is appropriate. Remember that your government is partly you, if you eve nbother to vote. "In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve"

    We are not and have never been a Christian nation, just a nation of Christians. Lastly, from, I think, G.K. Chesterton: "The sad thing about Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting. It's that is has never actually been tried."

    July 13, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  5. David Host

    I agree with the main premise of this article; i.e., that Christians engaged in public life should follow Christ's example (just as we are called to do in our personal lives). Nevertheless, the author should take care to practice what he preaches. For example, he himself bears false witness by misrepresenting Glenn Beck's message. Mr. Beck has never suggested that Christians should not care for the poor; rather, he opposes government compulsion and confiscation. In other words, he disagrees with churches that place more faith in the power of government than in the work of the Holy Spirit within individual hearts. Since God has granted us free will whether or not to follow Him through Christ, shouldn't Christians value freedom above all else? Is it possible that those pastors who promote government as the solution for all of society's ills are unwittingly promoting government as a god?

    July 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  6. JK

    Claiming you’re Christian, Mr Hughes?? Malarkey!! Guess you have never read God’s word the bible!!?! It is very clear from the bible how we should view involvement in Politics and who presently runs the world!

    1 John 5:19 (English Standard Version)
    19We know that we are from God, and(A) the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

    John 18:36 (English Standard Version)

    36Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."

    Daniel 2:44 (New American Standard Bible)

    The Divine Kingdom
    44"In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.

    1 John 5:19 (New King James Version)

    19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.

    John 17:14 [American Standard Version (ASV)]

    14 I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

    John 17:16 (Today's New International Version)

    16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

    Guess You missed the point that the devil runs the world and to remain no part of this world. That is why Christendom and all false religion will Fall – Failure to abide by the standards of the Scriptures!!

    July 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      You sound strangely happy that the devil is running the world. That aside, why didn't you just quote from the New World Translation, instead of from numerous translations? One translation wouldn't make the point? Who are you trying to confuse?

      Although I am not a Christian, I agree with your premise that Christians should have no involvement whatsoever in politics. But I think there's some other agenda behind your post.

      Just wondering about it. Aside from that, have a good day.

      July 13, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • Rob

      Stop worshiping evil!!! By giving negativity power you feed your own Satan. Look to the light!!

      July 13, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  7. Christine

    To those that would claim Obama is not a Christian:

    Romans 14:1 (CEV)
    1 Welcome all the Lord’s followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don’t criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours.
    ...
    Romans 14:13 (CEV) We must stop judging others. We must also make up our minds not to upset anyone’s faith.

    You have no right to judge him. Hold your tongue.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
    • tk

      You are right, we are not to judge. However, if someone says to me, "hey, look at that bird. It is a duck." but I see that the bird doesn't have a bill, or webbed feet, nor does it waddle or quack then I think I can make the call that it is not a duck.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Kate

      So what do you judge of the person who says the bird with the flat bill, webbed feet and ducklings is not a duck?

      July 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Ron Nospam

    Can I get a big AMEN to that? 🙂

    July 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  9. Hayden Chasteen

    There is a story in the Old Testament (Genesis 25:-34) that illustrates what has happened to conservative Christianity. It is the story of Jacob and his brother Esau. His brother came in hungry and thirsty after being outside all day. Jacob had made some stew. Esau asked for some but Jacob asked Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. As the story continues, Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. In the late 70's early 80's, the far right Christian groups had lost a lot of their pull in American society. In an effort to gain power, they sold their collective birthrights to the far right in the Republican party. This gave them a sense of great power but it also cost them dearly. Most far right denominations (my own included, Southern Baptists) have seen their memberships fall since the 80's. Young people are turning away from these churches by the millions because they see far right Christianity as the ultimate hypocrisy: saving they love all people but actually expressing hate from many groups. I unfortunately believe that we will see a day when many of the far right churches WILL take up arms and become the Christian equivalent to Al Queda. Many are already preaching this from their pulpits on Sundays.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • jbb

      Yes, yes, yes! No longer is the educated and talented younger generation of students blindly following teachings that are so contrary to their own consciences. The more I hear the righteous words of the Religous Right, the more I fear we will become a society we so fear!

      October 24, 2010 at 8:13 am |
  10. CarminaB

    No, Christian politicians should not behave like Christians, they should behave like people of reason.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • PHIL

      Ouch, if I wasn't so dumb I be hurt by that .

      July 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  11. Historian

    If Christians are unable to express themselves politically then we would still be an unrepresented colony of England. When government does not fear the people there is tyranny. When it does there is liberty.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • Kate

      The US government is the people and the people should not have to fear the people especially those that don't do their homework.

      July 14, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  12. Mark from Middle River

    No thank you very much for staying in Canada. Peace dude.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  13. jim Forbes

    American politics has sunk to a new low. The so called christians aka Republicans, have pulled out all their dirty tricks and now are relying on actual lies, which feeds the outright hatred of the Obama administration. You silly, ignorant, ultra religious people who would rather tear down one of the better Presidents you have had in a long time, only because of his name and the color of his skin. I am so disgusted with the "American Way " I will stay in Canada thank you very much. The USA has nothing that attracts me under the present conditons Jim

    July 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • PHIL

      According to factcheck.org both sides including Obama are stretching the truth and lieing to the voters to win thier cause ,imagine that. So if the Republicans are using dity tricks I guess thy learned it from the Democrats. Thats not name calling its just politics.

      July 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  14. William Duke

    Wow, there are so many issues in this opinion (spiritual and political) as to make brief comments difficult. I know the professor would agree that even Satan quoted scripture to Jesus. Quoting scripture and using specific examples of people on one end of the political spectrum in the already heated debates is not helpful. Many of the policies and solutions being promulgated by this administration so violate the fundamental principles of good governance and the rule of this nation by its people that hyperbole by conservatives seems necessary to get the attention of this current breed of democrats.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  15. Billy

    Generally speaking, people do not tend to conform their lives to the scriptural teachings of their religion. Rather, they tend to interpret their religious texts in whatever way conforms to their own proclivities, personalities, and emotional inclinations. People of an angry, violent, judgemental or intolerant nature will tend to interpret their religion as somehow promoting those attributes. I think Christians who interpret the Bible as somehow advocating violence, war, and intolerance are a particularly interesting case in point. It seems to me that violence and intolerance were pretty much the status quo at the time of Jesus's alleged historical appearance on the scene. If He were merely advocating the status quo, what would have been the point of God sending Him in the first place? What is so urgent about incarnating a divine messenger only to preach the status quo? I personally am not a Christian and have no inclination at all to believe any of the dogmatic tenants of conventional religion, however, I do find it fascinating that supposedly religious people's views seem so in conflict with the seemingly obvious teachings of their own various religious texts and prophets.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • jbb

      Sadly the people who espouse the views of the religious right, would not understand the point you so well made. What would be the point of sending us a man to speak for God if all he did was spread the hatred and intolerance of His time?

      October 24, 2010 at 8:07 am |
  16. Chris

    I'm an atheist, but amen. Seriously.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  17. Christian in Austin

    This author has lost credibility by writing such a clearly partison article. While both sides need to keep the dialogue honest, this author writes as if only the right has issues with their actions. Christianity urges individual Christians to give to the poor and help the less fortunate because they love God and their fellow man; however, Christianity is about free while and individual choices. God doesn't force us to do these things – yet, this author wants the government to force us to give to the government (taxes) so it can practice it's version of social justice which may not have anything to do with Christianity. This author would have Christians believe we should turn the other cheek no matter what the government and politicians do. Prayer has been removed from the schools and abortion made legal all while Christians said nothing. I will not be silent.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      Prayer should never have been in state-funded schools to begin with. If you want your kids praying in school, send them to a Christian school. Sheesh.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • JPT

      And vice-versa– those who complain about the Establishment clause are almost laways the first to complain about secular aid to the indigent.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • NF

      Christian charity is great,... for fellow Christians. Certainly not for anyone who is considered a sinner, right? Is a "take care of your own" system of charity really what Jesus would have wanted?

      Your pastor may not force you to give, but he might warn you that you'll likely not get into heaven if you don't, right?

      July 13, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  18. Steve

    I'm really flabbergasted at the continuing debate beneath this article. The writer although he means well is acting shamefully gullible. The politicians only use religion as a tool to get the weak minded to vote for them. They have no actual interest in being Christian. That is all. No outright Athiest is ever going to be elected in the united states of god and guns and there all smart enough to know that.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • Frank Lee, my dear

      So why does the "Christian Right" allow themselves to be used by these hypocrites?

      July 14, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  19. Maryanne

    As long as money and support is offered to the Church, even the mafioso is welcome. Please.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  20. Vic of New York

    Religion is nothing but the conspiracy of pin headed minds trying to control the beliefs of others. To that end I tell the so-called religious believers to stick it in their ears. You don't need anyone external to put you in touch with creation, you just need to listen to your own conscience – if you have one; and clearly the Palins of the world do not. They are simply sickos.

    There's an old Chinese proverb: "Those who know, don't talk. Those who talk, don't know." Go ahead and listen to all the so-called "Christian" talking heads. A lot they know....

    July 13, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
    • PHIL

      People calling me [not personely cause you dont know me] a pinhead and weak minded makes you look angry and intolerant

      July 13, 2010 at 1:52 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.