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. Birdwatcher1

    Sarah Palin, Sharon Angle, Glen Beck, O'Reilly, Coutler... I love how they say they are Christians. What a travesty. Where is the Christ-like compassion, love of brother, charity, humility, poverty... someone else said that Jesus was a liberal by any standard. Let us not forget that he was also an "illegal immigrant" when he was forced to flee with his parents to escape Herod's rampage on newborns.
    There is a great song by John Prine called "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" – it was written during the Viet Nam war era, but it applies to today's bigotry as well.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  2. Dave

    The author of this piece is completely correct. The far right wingnuts have co-opted Christianity and distorted it to serve their political agenda. Somehow if you don't hate Muslims or Jews or you don't love the death penalty you don't qualify as Christian. Interestingly, the people under the age of 35 are not participating in this and have become the most non-religious generation in American history because they see the hypocrites who claim to speak for Christ as nothing like Jesus.

    When Christianity is politicized as it has been by the neo-cons, it will rightfully not flourish because it isn't Christianity at all.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
  3. chris

    apparantly christ also taught priests how to pump little boys up the rump too.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  4. Greg G

    "Christian politicians should start acting Christian"

    That way, sane, rational people can easily identify them as not fit to hold public office!
    Excellent idea!!

    July 13, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  5. jephman

    Christ taught many things. One thing he never taught was politics. Going into politics is not the best way to serve God no matter which God you worship.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  6. Eric

    I applaud you, Mr. Hughes for pointing out something that has become increasingly apparent to a new generation of Christians. Authors such as Greg Boyd in his book "The Myth of a Christian Nation" and Rob Bell in his book "Jesus wants to save Christians" have addressed the inconsistencies of word and deed in many American Christians. The term "Christian" has become a bit of a misnomer. While there are 33,000 brands of Christianity as an earlier person suggested, most "American Christians" refer to the corporate sense of the word, or "going to church." However, most denominations and sects understand the meaning of being a Christian as a private matter or having a relationship with Christ. While the tenants of faith you presented are not necessarily the most important aspects of Christ's ministry (the Gospel or salvation through his sacrifice and righteousness being his chief goal), they provide a basis for how a Christian is to live. Indeed, the entire life of a Christian is spent trying to honor God and love others as we love ourselves. Yet as humans we are drawn to self interest, much as the Pharisees in Christ's day. There will never be a perfect solution to any system of belief and how it is perceived in society, but hopefully, with some honesty and grace, the body of Christ can return to a humble loving state of caring for those in need, and throwing parties for the prodigals.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  7. waitasec

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation UNDER GOD indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

    Those two words, “under god” changed the meaning of the entire pledge in 1954 by the Knights of Columbus (a catholic organization). Before it said, “We belong to the United States because of what it stands for, ONE NATION UNDIVIDED WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. Not for the MAJORITY but for EVERYONE, with liberty and justice for ALL. However, since these two words were added to our allegiance we now find ourselves as a divided nation by the injustice of our freedoms being infringed upon by the majority. Why else would our politicians go on national TV proving their belief in the god of the bible? The religious right not only carries the weight for political advantage but are also infringing on our freedoms. This must stop.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Mark

      Just once I'd like to see an atheist campaigning for president. Can you imagine the sh-storm that would create? Look at how much people flip out just because Obama MIGHT be a muslim. Separation of church and state would go right out the door and it would dominate the entire election. Rational policy takes a backseat to personal beliefs in this country.

      July 13, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
    • NF

      Added by the Knights of Columbus, eh?

      I wonder when Dan Brown will add it to his list of Vatican conspiracy thrillers?

      July 13, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • NF

      Hey Mark, I know it's real, but I was just wondering why Dan Brown hasn't spun it into novel about how the Catholic Church is actually plotting to take over the USA. I wonder how evangelical America would like a story like that?

      July 13, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
  8. gregory

    Once again, the only thing that should be clear is that religion is a poison. God is not real. Get over it. Things will run more smoothly. If it's ok to believe in things you can't prove, then which things that can't be proven are ok to believe in and which aren't, which behaviors and interpretations, and who gets to decide? It's all or nothing.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
    • Clark

      Right on Gregory! Its sad that people are weak and need the delusion but thats the way it is and people aren't going to change.
      Most likely religion will bring about the end of the world with a nuclear war started by groups of people fighting over which one of their imaginary friends is real.

      July 13, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  9. Timothy A Montalbo

    I thought the unites was a representative democracy not a evangelical theocracy. The think we should had dont ask dont tell policy for politicians about their religion. I don't care what religion a what governor believes so long as they represent the whole.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  10. Gary

    Mark I know more and more people with your exact testimony. I am leaning towards buddism and universal God as a philosphy not a religion.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  11. BC

    According the the World Encyclopedia of Relgions, there are over 33,000 ( yes 33 thousand ) brands of Christianity. Which one is the 'correct' one? When one calls oneself a Christian, what does that even mean? Might as well say one is a 'blik' and fill in your own meaning based on what one thinks a blik is.
    Maybe Palin, Gingrich, and Coulter are behaving in accordance with their definition of 'Christianity'...'judge not lest ye be judged.'
    Yes, someone will say that I ripped this out of context which will just further esablish my point.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  12. STLBroker


    You were never a Christian. Your parents may have been but you grew up and made your own choice.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Mark

      I went to church, I was baptized, I went to a catholic grade school and catholic high school (both of which had religion classes every semester), I took communion, and I prayed to god at night to thank him for what I had and asked him to bless my family. I'm pretty sure I was a christian. But yes, as you said, I grew up.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • NF

      Does this mean that the only people who can claim to have been Christians are people who never doubted their faith for even a minute? How would you judge that, look for witnesses after their funeral? Personally, I've never met a Christian who didn't have a good personal "backsliding" story to share with everyone in church. Sometimes several. If they're not Christians in the in-between times, then what are they? Who knows, Mark might regain religion at some time in his future and have this story to tell.

      July 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      What a loser you are to say something like that to someone else. How do you know if he is or isn't a Christian? What set of prerequisites did you create in your own mind to make that kind of determination? Please, spell them out for us so we can each determine if we "qualify", okay?

      July 13, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  13. Mark

    I grew up as a christian for the first 22 years of my life. Hypocrites like the ones Richard mentions are some of the main reasons why I stopped believing. So I applaud him for speaking out, though I'm going to contest the claim that 83% of america is christian. I think a recent figure was 75% but it really depends on what town you're surveying.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
    • Gary

      Mark I see your point. I have become more and more agnostic over the years. I understand why so many folks adhere to religion and I have no way of proving them wrong. I just can not believe much less worship a god I never seen heard from or met .......religious texts, are no proof of any God.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
    • Mark

      Part of the reason I became an atheist is that I didn't see any inherent truthfulness of the bible compared to other religious texts, such as the book of mormon, the quran, the torah, or any others. The only reason I was a christian was because my parents were christian. I could have been born into any family in any time period and believed in something completely different. Everyone thinks they have the "right" religion, but my faith was luck of the draw more than anything else.

      July 13, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      I was raised Catholic, went to a Baptist church, became a "born again" Christian, and unfortunately, continued going to church. I think there is something to the conversion experience, something that makes the person having the experience feel closer to God/the Universe or whatever you want to call it. But in my case, after my experience, and continuing to attend church, everything got watered down and none of what I was being taught was making any sense; none of it could be backed up with facts or anything other than "It's in the Bible, so it must be true." It actually took away from my experience and I ended up leaving the church entirely. Why would God give me a mind, the ability to think and reason, and then have teachings telling me NOT to think and reason? That's just crazy.

      July 13, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
    • Rob

      It is not at all 83% if you ask the right question. It is more like 70 something and as he pointed out of the 70 something percent of Americans only 20% actually follow the teachings of Jesus.

      July 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  14. STLBroker


    You are correct. There are many non-believers that do good things and many believers that do bad things. The fact is every single one us is a sinner and deserves death. It is only by God's grace that we might be forgiven and receive eternal life. Hence, the millions of people that are seeking that grace. No number of good deeds will do it.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • Mark

      STLBroker, this is one of the reasons I became an atheist in my 20's. Christianity kept telling me "you're worthless, you're weak, you're a sinner, you're going to burn forever because of what two of our ancestors did". It grinds you down and destroys your self-confidence until you cling to whatever promise of hope is offered. Be proud of your life and who you are! If you really believe in a loving and rational god, what sense does it make that the entire human race defaults to eternal damnation?

      July 13, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • Gary

      STL broker , I realize you truely believe that and as a peaceful agnostic I respect your beliefs. My parents are devout methodists and my wife is catholic we love each other and dearly. I hope you have a great life and after life as well one day!

      July 13, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • Rob

      STL Stockbroker....stand up for yourself and stop hiding behind your so called god!!

      July 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  15. Emmitt Langley

    This guys claims to care about what Jesus said, but he seems somewhat selective in his Jesus quotes. What about "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." That's a really good one. Or what about Jesus' several claims of forgiving sins litter throughout the gospels? Seems like this guy over looked some great biblical passages that shed a great deal of light on who Jesus was and is.

    You say you want open dialog, but how can we have it when you so blatantly misrepresent what the Bible says?

    They should change this blog name to How Can We Slam Evangelicals Today?

    July 13, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
    • Gary

      Emmitt langley you are right and thanks for opening my mind to religion.....Thats why Benny hinn,Osama bin ladin,David koresh,Jim Jones ,Jim Bakker , many pedofile priests are such great people ...because the love a God.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • Eric

      While Mr. Hughes may not be shedding light on the entire Gospel, the verses he isolates do have a lot to do with how we are to live once we are under grace. God gives us blessings in order to bless others. God doesn't need a defense. He needs a witness. As St. Francis of Asisi said, "Preach the gospel to the entire world, and if necessary, use words."

      July 13, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  16. STLBroker

    Even more people only acting fools.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  17. Noneisgood

    Acting only fools people even more.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  18. STLBroker


    Congratulations on naming some nut jobs that claim/claimed to be religous. Not sure I understand your point. I guess I could start naming some nut jobs that claim to be atheist but the list would be too long.

    Or I could name religious folks that have done a ton of good in this world but that list would be too long as well.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
    • Gary

      STLBroker, good point sir. religion has nothing to do with being a good person or helping others.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • Emmitt Langley

      I disagree Gary...respectfully. Because where do you even get the idea that helping others is a good thing? I'm not saying that non-religious people lack morality. But I am saying that you have no basis for morality except for the fact that religion has influenced society in which you live.

      My opinion is that we should be kind to others because the God of the universe says it's one of the greatest commandments. You can disagree about whether this God exists, but you can't question my source of authority. If the God of the Bible does exist, then I think we both agree that what he says, goes.

      But if there is no God, then why how can you say that people who killed in the name of atheism are wrong? Mao, Lenin, Stalin, the French Revolutionists...if there is no God, then maybe they were right to kill. If we're only animals that have evolved outside the existence of God, then why was Hitler wrong to murder millions? Maybe he was on to something? Who's to say?

      The truth is, if there was no God, there is no basis for saying anything is wrong...or right.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
    • nonesuch

      @ Emmett, a sense of right and wrong do not, and never have, required a belief in a supreme being or adherence to the Bible. It is absurd to think that believers have morals and non-believers don't. And those morals do not come only from the context of our society, either. People who live in societies that don't worship a god have laws and rules that prescribe what is acceptable and 'right', too.

      July 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  19. STLBroker

    It's amazing how many "non-believers" read the "Belief Blog" section of this site. Even more amazing that they feel the need to blast Christians for believing what they believe. When they have the "Gay" section up I don't go to that section because it is of no interest to me and I certainly don't go in there for the express purpose of blasting gay people. I'm betting all these folks are here and blasting Christians because of their own self doubt.

    A wise person once said "I would rather live my life like there is a God and die to find out there isn't one than live my life like there isn't a God only to find out there is one."

    More good quotes by a great scientific mind:

    "God does not play dice." Albert Einstein

    "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." Albert Einstein

    "There are two ways to look at life, like nothing is a miracle and like everything is a miracle." Albert Einstein

    July 13, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • Gary

      STLBroker you are so correct Jim jones,Osama bin ladin,Pat robertson,Benny hinn,David koresh,Jim Bakker,Jimmy Swaggert, and all those great religious leaders applaud you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 13, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • WrongAgain

      "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." (Albert Einstein, 1954)

      July 14, 2010 at 2:00 am |
  20. james jones

    I'm posting this on every relevant site I can find: TING, TANG, GU! There is no god, There are no gods, Grow up!

    July 13, 2010 at 4:47 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.