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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. Jerrod

    True Christianity is neither Republican nor Democrat; both are guilty of Biblical distortion as a means to win political brownie points. However, for this author to single out supposedly Christian leaders only from the political "right" to exemplify his point seems to convey the message that those on the left are somehow superior Christians. His attempt at objectivity - two sentences closing with a back-handed stab at the Christian "right" - is so insincere as to be laughable. Even as he preaches the need for Christians to act like Christians in the political sphere, he undercuts his own proposition by personifying the real problem for Christians and politics - the demonization of those who differ theologically and politically. For Christians to have an active role in healing the nation's divisiveness, we must first show unity and humility ourselves. Political dogmatism within Christianity will only deepen our country's divide.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Gary

      Jerrod, Impossible to happen as United states population of muslim,hindu,budist,secular and all the divisions of chrisianity grow.

      July 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  2. arkie

    True followers of Christ do not get involved in politics, he said they were no part of the world, if you do your research early Christians stayed out of politics.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Sue

      I agree with you fully, Arkie. When Jesus knew that they were coming to make him king (over the Jewish nation), he withdrew (John 6:15). He promoted his Father's Kingdom being the only true government for this planet. People need to investigate what the Holy Scriptures really teach.

      July 14, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Woody

      If ALL religions would stay out of politics everywhere, what a much better world this would be.

      July 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  3. jdnzero

    This article would be spot-on if it weren't so blantantly biased against conservatives. The author diminishes his credibility with his slant. Frankly though, I do agree with the case he makes against the conservatives specifically. The fact is, it is that party who has the louder voice when it comes to "Christian Politics". I just don't hear many Christian liberals sounding off, or when they do, they don't sound half as hypocritical or even malicious as do the vociferous GOP'ers and Tea Partiers. IMO this article: good point, bad delivery.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • asrael

      Does he even mention the word "conservatives"? And if the behavior he describes – and decries – comes from the conservative side, it would seem that he makes his point very well after all...

      July 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • asrael

      Well, to answer my own question, yes, he does mention conservatives. But his point is still the behavior, is it not...?

      July 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  4. Sakura

    While 83% of Americans say they are "Christian" how is that defined? There are so many sects who all claim to be "Christian" but would say all the others are not. Additionally, many people identify themselves as Christian as if it were an ethnicity much like many people identify themselves as Jewish but do not practice the Jewish religion.

    July 14, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Sort of a Secular Christianity?

      July 14, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  5. Lifeguard Mom

    It is so funny when non-Christians who know nothing of the Bible or the true nature of Jesus Christ try to tell Christians how to live!

    Hughes knows nothing of the meaning of turn the other cheek or make peace or extend justice. Funny how he mentions justice, yet I bet Hughes is against the immigration law in Arizona. All that law does is enforce the federal law that is on the books. It is justice at work – telling those that are here illegally that you may not be here unless you enter the USA according to legal means.

    Just because people say they are Christians does not make it so. I can walk into an auto parts store and buy an oil filter for my car, and it doesn't make me a mechanic. I can teach first aid classes and know how to care for those who are hurting, but it doesn't make me a doctor. I Samuel says "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart". Hughes is judging the outward actions of a person. Only God knows the true intentions of the heart.

    CNN needs to hire people who truly know the Bible, the Jewish history of the church, and go to evangelical, Bible-teaching churches to write these articles. But CNN has never been pro-Christian, so I won't be holding my breath.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      I fear that far too many people claim to be Christian and yet do not follow Jesus. We have become so wrapped up with the notion that God works for us.

      July 14, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • jdnzero

      I’m sorry, but I must take issue with your statements.

      1. It is Christians who never stop telling the rest of America how to live. As an Atheist, I am daily barraged by proclamations that assert the Christian way is the American way. Frankly, I do not want to live “under god”.
      2. Hughes does not mention the AZ law. You put those words in his mouth.
      3. Hughes doesn’t claim that Gingrich, Palin, etc are Christian, THEY do. And in his OPINION, repeat, OPINION, they do not act like Christians when they spout hypocritical, slanderous blather from the soap box.
      4. “Hughes is judging the outward actions of a person. Only God knows the true intentions of the heart.” And you are judging Hughes.
      5. Buying an oil filter might mean you are an amateur mechanic. Just like going to church once in a while might make you an amateur Christian. In both cases it gives you just a little license to sound off. It also gives rise to the tendency to say too much and embarrass oneself – not in Hughes’ case, but in yours.

      July 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  6. Michael Schulze

    If people suddenly started acting Christian, there would be no survivors... Not even the Taliban are ballsy enough to follow the Old Testament 100%, and if we did what "jesus said", we'd abandon our lives, resulting in a complete financial collapse. Everyone knows religion is a sham, but I'm surprised how few can face up to it... Seriously people, I'm embarrassed for you.

    July 14, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  7. Gary

    religion is not a arguable subject. As an agnostic I realize there is no way to prove to any muslim christian ect that God dosnt exist. I just wish some religious folks could reveal some kind of proof their God exists

    July 14, 2010 at 9:03 am |
    • RC

      "Religion is not arguable". Your point is itself an argument, thus disproving your own point. It is quite arguable if you would only familiaralize yourself with history. Philosophers for centuries have argued and found strong evidence for the existence of God. In fact, taken all in all, the weight of history is against atheists to disprove God's existence. If you care to know some very hard-to-ignore arguments, including scientific facts, I'm happy to suggest "Case for a Creator" by Stroebel for example.

      July 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jeff

      Gary,
      No proof is needed. The Bible begins with the words, "In the beginning God . . .".

      The Bible presupposes the existence of God and makes no argument for His existence. There is really only one reference in the entire Good Book that even touches on the subject, and it says that God is evident in everything around us, and that the fool has said in his heart, "there is no God". No direct argument for God's existence is presented in the Bible!
      You either believe it or you don't.

      July 14, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Woody

      Jeff writes, "No proof is needed". Atta boy, Jeff! They have you right where they want you.

      July 14, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Kate

      Sure Jeff – now tell us – which bible? There's only a couple of thousand different versions out there and each has it's own set of rules and stories.

      Kind of throws a wrench into that little diatribe, now doesn't it? Or perhaps you think you are the grand pooba specialist of "Which Bible Is The Right Bible" decreed by God hisself?

      July 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  8. jks

    Notice the article had to criticize Conservatives and Republicans only. Somewhat hypocritical if you ask me.

    July 14, 2010 at 7:40 am |
    • VA Grandma

      Democrats get no free passes when it comes to distortion of the truth and attacks on people they disagree with. However, Demcrats are not currently claiming that the Christian God is on their side......

      July 14, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  9. TBA

    We do not need a dumb idoit crazy nutt christian to run this country. Look at how many GOP came out running claimming there so call GOD told them to run for President? Mike Huckabee a Republican Extremist whom has his own show on the Republican News Network known as Fox News, then there is Geroge Walker Bush who stated that GOD told him to run for President and ban all GAYS from our country.

    July 14, 2010 at 7:38 am |
  10. Bernard Webb

    For me, "Christian" used to mean "a pious, upright individual whose faith causes him or her to engage with the world in a positive way."

    Now, it means "a Fox-News-viewing Glenn Beck lover who thinks Sarah Palin is brilliant and who will believe and spread lies about our president, no matter how absurd; a person who completely violates everything Jesus said, taught, or stood for in the Bible."

    Wow, what a difference! I'm 60 now, and during my lifetime "Christianity" has become for many a dirty word describing people associated with the worst, lowest forms of conservative lies and hypocrisy.

    Remember the Great Torture Debate, when the cheney/bush administration violated US and international law, not to mention the Geneva Convention, by cruelly torturing prisoners? (They explained that it is OK to violate our basic principles when we are very, very frightened, and if there's one thing today's conservatives are, they are very, very frightened.) Polls showed that evangelical Christians were the fiercest defenders of inhuman torture, with 44% screaming "Waterboard 'em!"

    The religiously defined group with the lowest approval of torture, at 17%, was the atheists.

    July 14, 2010 at 7:23 am |
    • Housla

      I value your input which I totally agree, except that the 44% should be 60% as reported in the media. We discussed this issue
      of torture in our small group which consisted of a pastor and 11 supposedly very mature Christians in the church when we
      studied and discussed "The Jesus Way" book by Eugene Peterson. Almost all of them felt it was justified to torture. The church I come from is wellknown and led by one of the key Christian leaders in the country. Has this country become a non Christian nation?

      July 14, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  11. Pastor Bob

    For years as the author suggests I have confronted my fellow Christians who forward "hate emails." This produces a positive result albeit maybe not the one I pray for. They remove my email from their distribution list.

    This is sort of like the old arguments about giving street people money. Many Christians claim they'll just run to a liquor store and buy booze so they don't give money when asked by certain types of people. When in reality the Christian act of giving to those less fortunate is what you'll be judged on and the person who receives the money has to answer for what they do with it.

    Many here are claiming that this person or that person who says they're Christians can't be because of this or that they said or did. I have no ability to judge another's salvation. I can look on their fruits and call them on their sinning but only God can judge their heart.

    If you are following Jesus, then you shouldn't forward any of the political hate messages, no matter which side or where they originate from. These messages are never completely truthful, if at all, which means you are simply "gossiping" and spreading lies or partial truths many times against a brother or sister in Christ. This behavior can also create a "stumbling block" to someone coming to Christ which is evident in many of these comments above.

    July 14, 2010 at 3:45 am |
    • Housla

      Blessings, you are one of the few pastors who dared to preach against hate emails, etc. But I have to disagree with you on the issue of someone calling another Christian that his or her walk is not that of a Christian. This is not being judgmental because no salvation was mentioned. You contradicted yourself that we are judged by our fruits which is not from the inside but is obvious from the outside. Yes, we should not judge what is inside a man's heart; only God knows. But you mean to say we cannot say a Christian is not a Christian if the person continues to walk a life (fruit) of a non Christian? To me, this is not being judgemental. If you disagree how would you say to that person? Nothing? And if you say it in kindness as Jesus taught us what would you say as a pastor?

      July 14, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • Jeff

      Pastor Bob,
      Regarding your example about giving money to street people. I don't do it for the very reason you stated. In fact, the giver may actually be feeding someone's addiction, not helping them. The addict is not in a position to help themselves in that setting, and really can't be held accountable. However, I do give generously to the Union Gospel Mission, which provides meals, housing and presents the Gospel. I receive a newsletter that frequently tells stories of people getting off the street through the Mission. Indiscriminate giving, I think, is unwise and poor stewardship.

      July 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  12. opinionguru

    This dude has no clue what he is talking about; he is confusing Hollywood christianity with Real Christianity (no they are not the same). Rule #1 ...never argue with a fool (or a person with an agenda) ...people might not know the diference and their minds are already.eady made up. If you wish to find the TRUTH of the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST, go to the source, for you will not find it on CNN.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:48 am |
    • peace2all

      @opinionguru.......I would like to find the "TRUTH of the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST." to which source do you refer me to...?

      The catholic version, mormon, Jehovah's witness, methodist, lutheran, episcopalian, etc......Wow...so many different opinions even within christianity.....what is one to do...?

      July 14, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  13. Frank Lee, my dear

    Jeff – you're right, but the Bible does condemn hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The Pharisees, who were the "far right" of the day, came in for the most scathing of Jesus' condemnation.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:46 am |
    • Jeff

      The Pharisees were condemned by Christ because of their pride and selfish motives. They were beating their chests as being better than other people. That type of protest surely is reprehensible.
      But that is not the same as taking a moral stand against issues and behaviors that the Bible and Christ himself condemned. Not all moral protest is self-righteousness. In fact, I would say most of it is not self-righteous, but is frequently portrayed that way by those who disagree.

      July 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Jeff Pelton

    This "expert" on religion makes a common secular assumption: That "turning the other cheek" means being a doormat, not standing up for what you believe in. Christians have every right to stand up to immoral behavior and to those who would preach is as "normal behavior". Nothing in the Bible condemns this.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  15. Housla

    Richard T. Hughes has the courage to write this article. It should be read by all pastors and elders in this country. Dr. David Barton and Dr. Charles Stanley should read this. Does Dr. Stanley have the courage to address these issues to his congregation? All Dr. Barton could say was this country was a Christian nation? Who is saying it is not? The problem is that many American Christians today are not followers of Jesus and thus the US is no longer a Christian Nation. That is the issue, Dr. Barton. Dr. Stanley preached several weeks ago that the government is to only protect the people but not to care for them! Shame on you Dr. Stanley for speaking like a Republican. For all these years I didn't realize that you harbor certian political agenda. Please teach only based on Jesus' teachings. If you read this article in conjunction with the recent one on "why Christians are jerk online" you'll come to conclusion that the US is no longer a true Christain Nation.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Keep believing that sunshine. Hope for it , dream for it .... maybe one day it will happen. According to our book of faith it is suppose to happen all around the world.

      July 14, 2010 at 1:17 am |
  16. Bill Gilman

    First -- I am a Bible-beleiving born again Christian ... an old sinner saved by Grace. That said, the author is right in what he says but omits some key elements. There are many liberals, the president included, who claim to be Christians but who have no trouble with abortion or with sexual promiscuity. The problem from both sides is that they want to put "self" and "personal rights" and "individual freedom" frist and foremost. These are the building blocks of america ... but they are NOT the building blocks of Christianity.
    Dear PT -– yes the new testament decries homnosexuality as a sin, right alongside lying, adultery, and having angry thoughts against your neighbor. Jesus was NOT using hyperbole when he said turn the other cheek, love your enemy and pray for those who hate you. He meant what he said. And if you decide to pick and choose tidbits in order to persecute people whose lifestyles you dont approve of you do so at your own eternal peril.
    Jesus said all gthe commandments come down to two ... love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself ... when asked you a man's neighbor was, the response was clear ... your neighbor is everyone, even (and especially) the person who hates you the most, as the Jews hated the Samaritans.
    If you dont love your neighbor then you dont love God.... dont love God and, well, let's just say eternity is a loooooong time.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:00 am |
    • Kate

      America is not Christianity. Save your religious rules for those in your church.

      July 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  17. Eiolgj

    Why is Beck mentioned so much when Christianity is mentioned? He doesn't claim to be a Christian, under the conventional definition of Christian. He does claim to be an historian, but he isn't that either.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  18. jimbo, st. louis mo

    After reading all these posts I am soooooo glad I am an atheist.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
    • Just Muddling Through the Best I Can

      Funny, although I think Jesus had a lot of good advice, I too feel relieved I am an atheist. If nothing else it gives me the solace knowing that I am free to seek the truth as I find it, without the need to bear false witness, hate others who don't share my beliefs, and castigate my way through life as I see so many of my fellow citizens doing.

      In my 59 years, I have yet to find anyone who can prove to me that they have met God personally and were given explicit instructions on just how the universe works. Besides, if one wants to know that, all one has to do is become learn mathematics. As noted by Galileo, if "God" were giving directions, one needs mathematics to decipher them. Given poor numeracy skills, it seems clear that few could understand what "God" was telling them anyway, which makes the entire notion of religion serving as a guide to much of anything little more than self-delusion based on fear of one's self and a fear of death.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  19. Mark from Middle River

    Phil – Don't worry, last week it was the article why "Christian's are jerks online". Another goofy smiling Christian writer and a bunch of atheist whipped into a frenzy. I think the next one will be more of the same. A author who says he is a Christian but for some reason wants to say he is a "different" thinking Christian...the athiest will go hay-wire ... and the Christians will post defence. Both sides will declare victory.

    I think I saw this in a movie once ... My atheist brothers and sisters, look towards the stands and shout with us people of faith ... ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED !!! In the end, thats all we are doing is fighting for someone elses entertainment.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
    • PHIL

      That was a little tongue and cheek ,but your right , everybody needs a hobby .Entertainment is king ,shallow but entertaining

      July 13, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  20. PHIL

    Im getting a real anti-christion vibe here , lots of nasty venting going on , Its getting way to predictable to be of any worth.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
    • NF

      Consider it an indication that the US isn't the 85% dedicated Christian nation that only Christians claim it to be. I think that serves a useful purpose. How about you?

      July 14, 2010 at 12:26 am |
    • Kate

      I was thinking the same thing. Either the vast majority of Christians never look at a forum and the vast majority of atheists do, or there's a serious flaw in that 15 percent figure anymore. Perhaps a little education has had it's affect.

      July 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
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About this blog

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.