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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. Harpcat

    One more thing...when did Jesus EVER fight for the rights of the wealthy?

    October 13, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  2. Joe citizen abroad

    Well said. If you look at actions instead of words, we are not a "Christian" country.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  3. Ed

    This is just another example of using a quote from the Bible totally out of context to defend a defenseless point of view if you're a Christian. According to Luke, Jesus said the words below, but Jesus was quoting a "noble man of birth" in a parable who had left his land to be appointed as the king who was hated by his subjects. If anything, Jesus was propping him up as a bad example.

    "Joe Shoemaker
    Jesus also said:

    Luke 19:24 – New International Version (©1984) 'But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.'"

    11While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.[a]'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'

    14"But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.'

    15"He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

    16"The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'

    17" 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'

    18"The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.'

    19"His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'

    20"Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'

    22"His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'

    24"Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'

    25" 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'

    26"He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 27But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me."

    September 19, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  4. SoVeryTrue

    Amen.

    September 8, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  5. Rick

    To say that Barack Obama is a Christian is absolutely wrong based on the teachings of scripture. Consider the following:

    1. Barack Obama works hand in hand with abortionists and especially Planned Parenthood the biggest abortion mill in existence. On three separate occasions our officials in Washington voted on legislation to help babies that survive abortion to live and receive medical aid and comfort. Every person who voted except Obama voted yes on this issue. Obama voted no all three times and it is on record. This man is a defiled child murderer by implication because he agrees to what the abortionist is doing even if the child survives.

    2. Barack Obama in a public statement declared that there are many roads that lead to God. Any genuine Christian knows that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Jesus said; "I am THE way, THE truth and THE life. No man comes to the father unless he comes through me." Obama is condemned out of his own mouth by, in effect, calling Jesus Christ a liar and leading many away from God through his false testimony.

    3. Barack Obama has more history and background as a Muslim (radical) than I care to go into. If what Jesus said in the Bible about "knowing them by their fruits" is true, and I believe with all my heart that it is; then Barack Obama stands far more chance of being a radical Muslim than a Christian. One instance that is revealing is that he personally and financially gave open support to his uncle Odinga who, as a radical Islamic, murdered anyone who stood in the way of his regime. Does the bible advocate that Christians support and honor murders? I think not!

    If you would do some research of this man's life you would know beyond any doubt that he is not a Christian. You could begin with his family heritage and pursue his life from infancy to the present day and find enough evidence to erase any and all considerations you may have accepted prior to that research concerning his faith.

    Of course there is some confusion on the part of people in this generation as to what a Christian really is. To be concise for you I believe a Christian is someone who has genuinely repented of his/her sins and asked God's forgiveness and received by faith the salvation that only Jesus Christ can give because of his sacrifice on Calvary. Anything less is not Christian but a fantasy. Among some who are deemed to be Christians but are not are Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and other purveyors of false doctrine.

    Barack is not and undoubtedly never has been a genuine Christian according to the Biblical standard set by Christ in scripture. His life, his heritage, his actions and his associations, among other things, are solid proof of this.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  6. Zebula

    Too bad all this is moot as there is no God. It's hard to believe so many are still so ignorant in the 21st century.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • Rick

      You will find out either now or when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ that there is a very real God who is Holy and has absolute power in the universe. He has given proof that is written inside very human being including you.

      September 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Joe citizen abroad

      Zebula, do you pretend to ultimate knowledge? It seems to me that arrogance is just as bad as ignorance.

      September 25, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  7. Camille in Raleigh

    The responses to this article drive home to me that I was oh so right to turn my back on the abusive relationship that is Christianity and seek the friendship of my ancestral gods. Hail the Aesir and Vanir, and may Odin bless Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin as soon as possible.

    July 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Rick

      To turn your back on God for any reason is foolish no matter how people act. You need to remember that there are many who call themselves Christians who are not. There are also many Christians who are very young in their faith and immature when it comes to dealing with other people.

      Christ died for you. To throw away his sacrifice for any reason is to consign yourself to separation from the love of God for all eternity. That is the most terrible thing that could ever happen to you or anyone else. Your ancestral gods are existent only in human minds. They can do nothing for you and they certainly can't offer you the salvation that only Christ can give.

      I am sad that you have turned to false Gods from the one true and living God and pray that you will return to Christ before it is eternally too late for you. Remember also that by following and advocating what you are teaching you could well be used of the devil in turning others from Christ as well. It is bad enough that you have done so, but leading others to do so is great folly and runs against God. Please repent and turn again to Christ for your salvation – it is your only chance for eternal life.

      September 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  8. cb

    Excellent article. From the vitrial responses, however, clearly little hope of America becoming either civil or Christian.

    July 20, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  9. Mike Hawk

    Is there such thing as a political party that has republican financial values, but isnt infested with religion????? I believe that people should be allowed to live their own life and that seperation of church and state is extremely vital. But I also believe that the welfare system should only exist for people who actually need it and health care shouldn't be mandatory.... RELIGION DOESENT BELONG IN POLITICS, BUT I WANT TO KEEP THE MONEY I EARN! hahhahaha

    July 19, 2010 at 1:41 am |
  10. Jerry Sabo

    Well stated and as for me and my house unless a politican demonstrates they are a Christian they will never get my vote.

    July 18, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
    • Kate

      Then by policy, you are voting against the most moral of all.

      July 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  11. LO MON

    Unless I am wrong, Christians are people who identify with Jesus Christ, written about in biblical literature, and talked about by traditions that go back 2000 years, plus or minus. It really doesn't matter to me. Anyone can identify with whomever or whatever they wish. I learned that "actions speak louder than words." I know persons who do good deeds and are kind and persons who do harm and are unkind. One lesson which is universally clear from New Testiment Scripture says, "Love one another, as I have loved you." Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me? Feed my sheep." For me, if I do these deeds, and I treat others as I would be treated, qualifies as Christian behavior. Most all that I have read so far seems to miss this test.

    July 16, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
    • Jerry Sabo

      Christian behavior is far differnt than Christian Salvation. Salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ . There are a lot of good people who have went and are going to hell. It is probably true that Stalin,Mussolinni,and Hitler were "good" to some people but their goodness did not warrant them a pass into the kingdom.

      July 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
  12. verify

    Dealing with HUMAAHNS can be real tricky sometimes. You can say, "Have a nice day", and some will think that you truly mean it; some will think that you are being a trite moron for saying it; and some might even resent it as a perceived command... "What if I don't *want* to have a nice day."

    July 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  13. NF

    For the believers out there who still do not understand the skepticism of atheists just think about astrology for a moment. Almost all atheists and most Christians probably don't believe that astrology actually works, right? We all probably know what sign we are and could recognize the symbol for that sigh. We may have even had readings, or read our horoscopes for a lark, but we don't really believe it, right?

    But what if astrology grew in popularity and more and more people actually started to believe in it? What if a lot of people you know actually started using astrology to make all their life's decisions and taught their kids to do the same? Well, it's their business and people have a right to teach their kids what they want, right?

    But what if astrology rights groups started to demand that astrology be taught alongside astronomy in the public schools? Remember astrology is ancient. It's even mentioned in the bible. What if astrology kids are teaching how to read charts to your kids, and are questioning what the science teacher says about just how much influence the gravity of a distant star can have upon us living on earth.

    Pretty soon over 80% of America claims to live their lives through astrology and they are starting to demand that the rest of the country follow their charts least disaster befall everyone. You are part of the small minority that doesn't believe that it works. You try to reason with believers by asking them to examine what proof they have that it does work. Their response is that you just don't have enough faith to read your charts correctly. That's why you don't get the proper results.

    That's basically how many atheists in America feel.

    July 15, 2010 at 1:22 am |
    • sealchan

      Your comment makes me think of how there seem to be so many times when people need to learn how to discuss, even argue their beliefs and still be able to maintain a sincere respect for those who have a different opinion. It is, perhaps, not clear, except in the principles of a democratic society, that we should. It is easy for us to fall into the belief that what one believes will dictate what one's ultimate moral goals are. Rather than trust that good, sincere people may differ in the means to an end we often fear that other's means are categorically counter-productive to the common ends we all share for a safe, happy and free experience of life and society.

      July 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Gene

      To NF;
      Atheists declare and practice their denial of God. Agnostics are wise enough to admit uncertainty, instead of total denial – Agnostics realize that they don’t know everything. Atheists have no moral guide and any moral decision they make would be subjective, instead of objective. The ends justify the means? Do they believe that nothing in this world, is more valuable than human life? How many Atheists, are anti-abortion? Do Atheist consider the handicapped,elderly or invalids, as useless and a burden to society?
      Atheists consider those who disagree with their Atheistic point of view as stupid and ignorant. “Particularly key is to RIDICULE the FAITHFUL (while attempting to transition the very faith itself into a core element of socialism called “social justice”) – is a tactic used by many Atheists, in their comments on any CNN blog that becomes an Atheism verses Christianity debate.
      My questions to the Atheists: If the goal of Atheism is to eliminate all religious belief for the purpose of uniting humanity and this goal were achieved…Would you have unity among all humans, perfection, utopia, peace, paradise….. or what?

      July 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Anonymous Coward

      Let me rephrase my previously removed comment. The painful feelings caused by the difference of opinion can be reduced by putting less weight on the religion as a definer of everything and considering religion as a process, like a child's play, some of which is useful and some of which is not. Let the results of the religious practice speak for themselves and resist vigorously those religious opinions which are destructive and accept the positive where ever that may appear. This way it is easier to be an atheists or otherwise of a different opinion and live in harmony or without fear even in a very religious community.

      July 15, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Rosell

    To all the atheists and agnostics (Gary, Manic, STL Broker, Mark, peace2all, and more):
    You are looking in the wrong places for "proof" of God. You won't find it in other people or writings. You must go to the source: God. If God really exists then God must speak for God. It's a dllemna, but one worth testing. If you seek and find God, then God alone gives you what you need to live a changed life. Any person who completely follows another person, religious or political leader, without testing or discernment is open to being manipulated and used. That's why dependence should be on God, not any one else.

    Jesus came to save us from that manipulation (as well as our own foolishness) by giving each one of us direct access to God. Most of us never utilize it. Some so-called "Christians" test the waters once in a while, but they are not consistent in seeking God continually.

    Christianity is the only world "religion" with a savior. I think even atheists and agnostics (my favorite is Bill Maher – great mind, great logic, great compassion) would even agree that the world (its entire population) is in need of saving. Jesus put his life on the line to do that, one person at a time. No offense to this article, but most of this is irrelevant to the real purpose of Jesus Christ. This article just points out the failure of so-called Christians, liberal and conservative, to get their directions and answers from the source: God.

    July 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • NF

      You're right, people should come to their conclusions by themselves. Most atheists I know are freethinkers, meaning that they pick and choose what ideas they believe in and don't accept entire ideology packages outright. If you believe that following individuals leads people astray then would I assume that you are not a fan of mega-churches and televangelists?

      Many atheists may agree that humanity needs saving, but the only force that we can identify that can do the job is humanity itself. Christians appear to be waiting for God to save them, but isn't the old saying that "God helps those who help themselves?" Shouldn't Christians then be taking their share of the responsibility for saving humanity along with the rest of us?

      July 15, 2010 at 12:57 am |
    • Kate

      Your source is amazingly absent the argument. As are the millions of other gods goddesses and what have yous that someone somewhere was just sure that if you tried hard enough, the rest of the world could detect and learn the truth.

      Your god is so subtle it's as if he wasn't there. Too bad.

      July 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Zebula

      If you're convinced someone invisible is talking to you, you're mentally ill and need help.

      September 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  15. Jersey George

    Christianity and all organized religions are an absolute fraud! The "decency and goodness" of people does not come from religion but rather from their inner ability to know right from wrong. Followers of religion are nothing more than fools and tools of propagandists spewing their fanatical and hateful teachings in the name of an imaginary god. Evangelicals and all radical religious groups, here and abroad, are cut from the same cloth, all hateful and condescending to those who don't look like them or share their beliefs.

    July 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  16. SilverChair

    Amen, Richard. I couldn't agree more.

    July 14, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  17. catherine

    Richard
    Thank you so much for your comments and for the points that you have made. It is past time for us to think about what is good for the country and put a stop to some of the nonsense that is being presented as a way to attack the present administration. There is so much covert racism and certainly a lack of christian charity being expressed in a lot of what is being said by politicians and a lot of the folks that have responded to your post. I am not very interested in whether or not people agree with the President because we all have a right to our thoughts, but we do not have the right to spread hatred and to make threats against the President while pretending that those threats and uncivil comments are about trying to make the country better. They are not about anything but trying to foster a rather sad political agenda and using God to make it sound better than it is should bring much sadness to all of us who are trying to live with some level of honesty and authentic faith. Richard thanks again and many blessings to you.

    July 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  18. Praise the Undead!

    All glory to the omnipotent Zombie Jew, Jesus! Also, praise Muhammed because the angels told him to tell you to do so! (I wonder how much hasheesh one has to smoke in order to hear angels? Just curious...)

    July 14, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  19. Andrew

    The sheep of America no nothing about Jesus. Jesus would have given his money away. Religion is human kind's mass psychological disorder.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  20. Gary

    As an agnostic I view most religious people or fundies as folks living in a fantacy land. I am not attacking them but by their own admission they are separating themselves from reality.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:40 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.