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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. suzal

    Someone finally called out the hypocrisy. At least they have dropped Christian from their name. They should have. I think it is appalling the way these, "Christians have lied." Sarah Palin ought to be ashamed of herself in everyway possible.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      Agreed. As a former Christian, I am appalled that her "church" doesn't frogmarch her out for her hideous behavior. But then, most Christian churches put up with a stunning amount of appalling behavior.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  2. Steve

    Let me guess, the author is a Democrat????

    July 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
    • Kate

      Probably – reality does have that annoying liberal bent to it.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  3. funchy

    Spot on! Finally an article that hits the nail right on the head !!!

    July 12, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  4. mark nyc

    whether or not politicians act like christians, their first obligation is to act like humans, preferably compassionate ones.

    July 12, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  5. lg

    I'll pray for you.

    July 12, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • True Patriot

      me too, me too. You could be right after all.... and it couldn't hurt.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:05 am |
  6. UJ

    I don't think a news source should talk about religion. If it does, then you had better knock ALL religions. Why do they only focus on Christians, when all religions (yes ALL) have hypocrites and trouble-makers?

    July 12, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • Ituri

      Because CNN is primarilly US news for a US market, and the US is 75% so called Christian. That they comment on Christianity is hardly surprising. Your mistake is in assuming they are purposefully excluding those other religions when they are simply aiming for a targeted specific audience.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
  7. Flex

    The OP has completely ignored the role "christians" have played in supporting, and facilitating gay marriage bans, and abortion restrictions. Who told them they can tell everyone else whom to marry, or how to live their private lives?

    July 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  8. Happy Right Winger

    Obama voted "present" on a bill allowing babies who survived abortions to be given medical treatment. Utter barbarism. What's Christian about that?

    July 12, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
    • Luke

      Nothing. So what? This topic was also attached to a larger bill, by the way.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
    • Frogstomp

      Sounds like a legislative trap presented in order to make some clever point about the abortion issue, not to fix an actual situation where unborn children are dying enmasse because they have been refused medical care after a botched abortion.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
    • cheeriogirl

      A vote of "present" in Illinois, simply means that there is more to discuss on this topic before the voter feels comfortable going forward with either a yea or a ney vote. Careful "happy" right winger, your hate is showing.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
  9. Jeff

    I thought we wanted Christian politicians to keep their religion private? Now you complain that they aren't Christian enough? And on top of that, you have a conflict of interest because you don't want any Christians in politics at all. Hmmmmmm.

    July 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
    • Liutgard

      I think you really missed the point- politicians who insist on making their personal religious 'beliefs' part of their public persona had better behave as though they *actually* believed them. Not to do so it the very definition of hypocrisy.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  10. nsn1946

    So, all Christians are delusional!

    July 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
    • Steve

      You have to be to believe a 2,000yrs corpse will ever come back...

      July 12, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  11. nsn1946

    The bible aside, there is not one shred of evidence for the existence of Jesus or the events of his "life".

    July 12, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Luke

      True statement.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      There's more truth in Lord of the Rings than the bible. And it's wildly more entertaining to boot!

      July 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  12. Jack

    This article is exactly what's wrong with the conservative rightwing that has taken over the Republican Party. They are no longer Christians, they are fakers who seek power and judge. These are the worst kinds of Christians, just like the Taliban is the worst for the Muslims. Since 2004, I have seen the devil's work in the hearts of these folks, just like it is with the suicide bombers. These fudamentalist Christians only only a breath away from the same kind of violence in the name of God.

    I pray we pull this plane up before it hits the ground. Otherwise, we're in for a world of hurting, like we haven't seen in generations.

    July 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  13. David

    If abortion is the divider, How many miscarriages are there? Often you hear it was god's will.. so that would make GOD is the number one abortionist, correct?

    July 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
    • SomeoneElse

      It's not that he is an abortionist, it's just that abortion is natural and that obviously God does not see fetuses as people. I doubt pro-lifers have the critical thinking skills to see that though.

      July 12, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
    • Reality

      David, Nature or Nature's God is the #1 taker of everyone's life. That gives some rational for killing growing children or those suffering from d-mentia, m-ntal disease or Alzheimer's or anyone who might inconvenience your life?

      We constantly battle the forces of nature. We do not succumb to these forces by eliminating defenseless children.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
    • Reality

      David, Nature or the nature of god depending on your beliefs is the taker of everyone's life. This does not give one the right to play "god" by terminating the life of a growing child or someone suffering from mental sickness or depression or cancer or diabetes or anyone who might inconvenience your life.

      July 13, 2010 at 12:05 am |
    • Reality

      David, Nature or the nature of god depending on your beliefs is the taker of everyone's life. This does not give one the right to play "god" by ending the life of a growing child or someone suffering from m-ntal sickness or d-pression or cancer or diabetes or anyone who might inconvenience your life.

      July 13, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  14. Eric

    True followers of Christ will be no part of any of this (John 17:16). It may seem possible to many, but there is a world-wide brotherhood of such individuals. Ignore the world, soak yourself in the word... and most important APPLY it. This last step is the one the "Hypocrites" fail to do. But what a blessing it is when Jesus words of love are applied even with people in waring areas. It's happening today, all around you. They even come to your door to share that love, but do you accept it? Most won't.....

    July 12, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  15. stevie68a

    In the future, people will laugh at the idea of hanging a little dead man on the wall for good luck.
    A crucifix is a voodoo doll, if you think about it. The question then, is who does it represent?
    If you say this has been around for 2000 years, that there must be something to it- I say, people believed the world was
    flat for millions of years, and we know how that turned out......

    July 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  16. Gil T

    Whatever Mr Hughes’ political inclinations or biases the thread froth is indicative of the same party-spirit mentality to which many hold membership. Round follows round followed by volley after volley at so much as the mere perception someone has spoke ill of our party and our leader. Few of us ever listen and scrutinize those whom (particularly) Christians rally around as public arena champions of the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Some of these champions are self appointed and anointed. Others may find themselves pushed or ushered to the forefront reluctantly. (as if to make them king by force)

    I heard one such champion rail his distaste and displeasure on some government measure. I was struck by the deftness with which this champion of so many Christians mocked what those same Christians profess. I wonder how many of them caught it. I wonder how many of them ate it up like some tasty morsel. In his derisive blast on a government program he mocked, “It is nothing. It is fishes and loaves.”

    July 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  17. SomeoneElse

    "Christian" is not an adjective denoting a good person (and is usually used that way only when being bad). It is an adjective denoting someone who believes in a certain Faith. Good people are good people, bad people are bad people, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Atheist.

    July 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
    • Ic0n

      I agree. It's just kind of annoying when people bring up there faith constantly and then the next minute say something that goes completely against it.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  18. verify

    Human beings are social mammals. They desire a leader (of the pack, if you will). Leaders will arise in each unit – e.g., family, tribe, city, nation, etc. Humans revere and depend on the perceived wisdom, beneficence and protection of the leader.

    After the human ultimate leader position has been filled, these people are drawn to the idea of creating something higher still… something wiser, more powerful, more benevolent – more protective. The list of gods created by people throughout the world over the ages is huge. It is interesting that these gods possess human emotions and desires – love, anger, demands – as well as superhuman, magical powers. There is often an ‘afterlife’ for true followers.

    This behavior does not prove that there *is* something more/someone bigger out there, just that man *wants* there to be.

    Stories of shamans, oracles, prophets and priests, who have seen or talked to these beings, abound. The tales are often quite elaborate and eventually began to be written down, and became even more elaborate with the passage of time and with input from more people.

    Just as with selecting human leaders, where jockeying for position and strife occur, people with a need to have their ‘super-being’ be chosen to be the ‘best’ have become very contentious (to say the least).

    July 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      verify – Amen to that.
      Like yourself, I cannot understand how religious people do not see this. And it amazes me that religious organizations feel no guilt in taking advantage of the people who do not see this.

      The need to understand the "BEGINNING" is so natural and human. To then say that this beginning started with god is really just defining god to be a "holding place" for future knowledge. If someone needs this holding place to sleep at night – OK.

      But to kill and fight and argue that "my holding place" is more correct than "your holding place" is insane.

      Thus, as I watch religions, particularly the judeo/christian/islamic religions(all tracing their origin to that crazy voice hearing Abraham), I agree more and more with the authors that say "religious belief is a mental disorder".

      July 12, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • Luke

      ConcernedPerson – The mental disorder line is rather interesting. It is; however, without a doubt, easy to presume that if not for the simple fact that a majority of humans believe in a monotheistic deity, that people are not classified as having a mental disorder. Should this belief only be held by a handful of people, most psychiatrists agree that subscribing to an organized religion that bases itself of the supernatural would be – quote – crazy. We this in cargo cults (google it) and those that claim to be the living incarnation of jesus, who by the way, lives in South Beach and has a following of 100K (google that too).

      July 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • Frogist

      Hi verify et al,
      I find it interesting that you bring up the point of "something more/someone bigger" is what man wants there to be. I just watched an episode of Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole on Science Channel. And there was a scientist who creates the God experience through passing electromagnetic waves through the right temporal lobe of the brain. His subjects say they experience a presence who is apart from them, the sensation of floating upward... The same subject further in the experiment says she experienced striking visual phenomena of flames. And she also felt like she was part of her body but apart from it as well. These could easily be interpreted as what people claim is a conversion experience or the presence of God. The scientist... and I wish I could remember his name... he said, he believes that the need for a god who is ever present and everlasting and we can feel part of, is a counter balance to the basic human anxiety brought on by the idea of death.We are so terrified by the thought of no longer existing that our brain has created a way for us to feel better by giving us a forever God.
      So anyways, I wouldn't say people who believe in God and an afterlife are crazy. I would say that belief in such things is part of the human experience. And I don't mind that it might be imaginary but it brings comfort. I do mind that we attribute to it certain restrictions that are harmful to others outside ourselves.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Kate

      It wasn't until the Egyptian's Akhenaten (Egyptian king 1320s BC) that monotheism was even allowed at all. So I wouldn't say that today's popularity of monotheism is evidence of anything genetic.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  19. salmo8318

    Is it by plunging into politics that a person demonstrates he is a follower of Christ? Is this quest to better the world through politics the example set by Jesus and the early Christians? We can read in history books about the position taken by the early Christians regarding politics. Thus the book Christianity and the Roman Government by E. G. Hardy speaks of early Christians and “their aversion to all civic duties and offices.” Another book, On the Road to Civilization, A World History, by Heckel and Sigman, tells us: “Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens. . . . They would not hold political office.”

    July 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Ego

      It depends on the type of theology one subscribes to. It's a hot topic and not one that has a definitive answer, mainly because the bible was not written for our context and expects us to figure it out ourselves.

      July 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  20. ConcernedPerson

    Would Jesus ............
    -execute a prisoner
    -start iraq war
    -throw a woman in jail for terminating her own pregnancy
    -deny quality health care to children
    -deny quality health care to all who cannot afford it
    -allow only the wealthy to determine, via voluntary donations, what social issues need providing
    -make everyone, even the non-wealthy, contribute money to fund the military

    OKAY – end of discussion.

    July 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      NO – jesus would not. But christians do all the above, claiming the whole time to be followers of jc!

      I am an secularist, atheist, whatever "ist" u want to label me with, but not a christianist.
      So why do I agree with jesus, yet have never bought into the who jc belief?

      Answer – morality doesn't come from religion. Morality is human morality, and was discovered eons ago, before jc, before the bible, before the book of the dead, or else no human civilization would have survived long enough to write about the discovery!

      July 12, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • Ego

      Some how I think you missed somethings, like where JC said "I've not come to bring peace..."

      Morality comes from humans? Right, because it is instinct and our kids know not to steal without us teaching them about it, or to lie or to share....

      July 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      Ego – yes morality is very instinctual. We are a social animal, and instinct along with social following and training from those around us produce morality. I am not saying that social training isn't necessary, just like other animals train their young how to "behave". However, kids don't need to read the bible to be moral and well behaved. The majority of humans have not read the bible! Morality, clearly human morality, is the code of social behavior that guarantees that we survive. This code is actually very similar to the moral code of the other animal species.

      If god gave man morality, via the bible, then how come man existed, quite stably, way before the god of the bible? How come the chinese have existed quite stably without ever being introduced to the god of the bible?

      July 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • Ego

      Kids learn form parents, where did parents learn it from? Where did they learn it from? There is a source somewhere (outside of humanity) otherwise it's infinite regression and a moot point.

      The whole "not introduced" thing is the same logic used when considering the western hemisphere before Columbus. That's a whole topic I myself am not able to discuss, but not one I'm completely ignorant on.

      To come to a middle ground, I can say "nature" teaches us somethings, but not humanity itself.

      July 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • Reality

      Ego,

      To see how odd said passages really are, Matt 10:34-36 need to be noted in their entirety:

      Matt 10:34-36
      10:34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 10:36 and one's foes will be members of one's own household.

      Very odd statement considering it apparently says to be a Christian you must be against your family members? More proof that Jesus was just a simple preacher man of little intelligence? And by the way, these passages are some of the few that have been judged by most contemporary NT experts as being authentic.

      July 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      Ego, the "outside of humanity = god" requirement to end the progression is just a requirement u are imposing. You see humanity as something independent and outside of nature, which is a very classic christian limitation. That is the beauty of man being a part of nature, and its wondrous progression of learning, and passing the knowledge along(both genetically and by a continuity human adults teaching human behavior to the young), and writing it down to be passed along. The need for a god to introduce morality to humans at some beginning "moment" under the penalty of human extinction IS just a limitation of your ability to see that it isn't necessary.

      Since stable human cultures existed WAY before the biblical god, certainly you can see that at a minimum the christian god was a little late to the party.

      July 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • Ego

      @CP

      "Ego, the "outside of humanity = god" requirement to end the progression is just a requirement u are imposing. "

      Actually, if you read my post, I didn't say God was the requirement, for the sake of middle ground I settled with nature (since even the Bible agree's that Nature itself testifies of God). The rest of your comment is just as much of an assumption / imposing axiom as I have in mine. Moot conversation.

      @ Reality

      Which is why I brought it up. Of course you would interpret it the way you read it, since you haven't been "BBB" as it has been coined. It's difficult getting on a similar page (as I'm sure you have the same difficulty with majority of beleivers) so that a conversation can be fruitful for both sides. Calculus teacher can't teach calculus to a 3rd grader very easily, so why do you expect religious beliefs to operate on a different method of thinking that everyone is able to understand it right away? The bible is not for that; if you read it, you would know that. Just like there are pre-reqs for classes, there are pre-reqs for God, (which are just as plainly laid out as the other).

      July 13, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • Reality

      Ego, It is easy to get on the "same page" with 12 years of RCC education and extensive reading about the historic Jesus. Google the subject, historic Jesus, and you will see.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • Ego

      Why would I hold their opinion over counltess others, let alone the scripture itself? Peoples writing about scripture is becoming the Talmud of sorts, and it's not worth comparing to scripture.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • Ego

      Not to mention who decides what page we meet on. The page will most likely be more suitable to one or the other. I've only had 4 years of theological and biblical training, but it was not with the RCC.

      July 13, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • Reality

      Ego,

      Today one meets on the pages of Google and Bing. Start your search with names like Schillebeeckx, Crossan, Armstrong, Borg, Funk, Vermes, Pagels, Meyer, Mack, Doherty, Ehrman, Eisenman, Fredriksen, Ludemann, Macoby, Meier, Sanders, Freke and Gandy, Horsley, Johnson, Wright, Strauss, Reimarus, Holtzmann, Bultmann, Kasemann, Robinson, Jefferson and Schweitzer.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:19 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.