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. Ando

    I agree with the author, however, he reveals his own political position by ignoring all the ungodly acts of the democratic party. Both parties need to fall in line with God's will and stop giving Jesus black eyes. Mr. Obama, quit promiting abortion and homosexuality! Mr Bush, quit invading forieng countries that didn't attack us on 9/11! Everyone quit corrupt political practices! We need a revival in this country. We need Godly and moral leaders and Godly and moral people!

    July 12, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  2. Doug

    Well said Richard. Amen.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  3. Josh

    No successful politicians on the national stage are actually christian. They view religion as a tool to control people (more specifically, control the vote) and use it as such.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  4. DavidnCA

    "...partly responsible" ? Are you KIDDING? They're 100% responsible!!!! The ignorance, vitriol, and hatred stirred up by so-called christians is obscene. I can't count the number of times I have heard "good christians" condemning those of other religions and walks of life to hell without batting an eyelash. News flash to the born-again crowd- just because you think you have '"god" or Jesus in your hip pocket doesn't give you free license to act like a total A.H. This is never more evident in politicians pandering for the religious vote at election time.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      Last week someone (a Christian) on Facebook told me that I was going to burn in the lake of fire because I called her out on her radical hatred of ALL Muslims. She was actually happy to know I would be burning into eternity.

      Yeah, that's the love of God for ya.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  5. Heather

    There are a lot of people in the world who make good, noble choices who are NOT Christian. Who cares if our politicians don't "act" Christian? What happened to the separation of Church and State? We should be concerned if our politicians make educated, wise, well thought out and fair decisions...that is most certainly not necessarily Christian. As someone who was born and raised Christian, and works at a Catholic school, being Christian is definitely not on my radar for requirements to be a politician.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  6. Tirrell

    The closest thing to true Christians that I know of are the Amish. Say what you will, but they stick closest to the letter of the Bible. If you're online reading about celebreties, sports, or the latest plight of the Dow, you are not a true Christian. The Bible strictly says be not consumed by the ways of the world. And if you've been enjoying that BBQ pork xyz this summer, the bible adimately states the forbidance of eating swine. And as we know Gluttony is a sin distinct in the Bible, yet American is the most obese nation in the world. Just something to think on when your condeming people who have abortions as well as gays or lesbians. None of us are "true Christians". The faster we all realize that and live in love, the better.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
    • Tom

      Wow, don;t know where to begin with this posting as it is wrong on so many levels. Bottom-line, Christianity is about your charity and forgiveness of others. The Law is important but love God and your neighbor is paramount.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  7. Tom

    Good article and spot on. It is unfortunate but exercising Godly love and being a politician does not seem to be possible – at least from the perspective of actually getting any good work done. @Noble9 – funny you write that Christians feel superior because that is exactly how Catholics feel about atheists – you all think you know everything to the point that you think you are so smart and superior to understand the complex universe we live in.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
    • Noble9

      I am not an atheist, so not sure why you're using that line on me.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  8. Eric

    did someone say that politicians need to act like humans? Humans? That is exactly what is wrong with this world. We are acting on Human and animalistic nature, which is to rob, rape, murder, steal, be greedy, self centered mere mortals. God calls upon us to reject those things, so if a politician or pundit does something that contradicts his "faith" it is to be expected. That is why God gave us his son, to show us that there's a better way to live and treat eachother. He does not expect perfection from us, yet if you truly have faith you will strive to reject hate, malice, bigotry, lies, and every other temptation we face as self centered humans. Trust me, without the Judeo-Christian influence, we would be savages and there would be no reason for doing "good". If there is no God, then there is no real or inherent right/wrong. An absolute right/wrong would mean that it was something that was here before us, and who else could have created this? Thus, if you think that mere mortals created so called right/wrongs, then I guess you should question everything! That's a truly sad way to live, but it's your life and God gives you free will. Go ahead and put your Gasoline britches on! I pray you'll keep asking the tough questions and seek the truth.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
  9. Nursehope

    Christians are a "dying breed" in the US. As the anti-religion "children of the 60's" continue to educate their children/grandchildren with the science of the here and now, mythology falls by the way-side. Human beings cannot continue to recoil in fear of loss of some unsubstantiated redemption much longer. We are waking up to the hypocrysy that all religons represent (with the exception of Native American beliefs). Jeepers, it only took us 2,010 years.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
    • Tom

      What data do you have that supports Christianity is a dying breed? Islam is on the rise in the US and atheism hold steady with a small population becaseu older ones finally convert to some religion but younger ones take their place until they can let go of thier ego ad narcissm.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
    • Noble9

      Unfortunately christianity isn't dying out any time soon. The Age of Reason was published over 200 years ago and hasn't swayed the masses yet.

      July 13, 2010 at 12:52 am |
  10. Samuel Scrumpwell

    "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."

    Wow, the voice of reason in the wilderness. This is the best piece of political commentary I've read in a long time. Reminds me of the Gandhi comment "I lke your Christ, but not your Christians". I tend toward liberalism, and bristled when a coworker whose cube resembles a Christian shrine said "I hate liberals". She had no comeback to my response, "because hate is a Christian value?"

    July 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  11. Noble9

    Christianity is just a badge people wear to feel superior to everyone else. I have met many, many self-proclaimed christians and every single one of them was full of crap. Please, if you think you're better than me because you believe in magical superheroes who walk on water or whatever, keep it to yourself.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
  12. Barack Osama

    Well, at least Obama's a good Moslem!

    July 12, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  13. amy

    Well that pretty much covers how much conservatives suck at being Christians... I suppose liberal Christians are perfect? The way they keep pointing their self-righteous fingers at conservatives should make one wonder.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • Kate

      They do? On the whole, comparatively certainly, Christian liberals make almost no noise at all. I had begun to think they no longer existed. There are certainly no liberal Christian networks, no liberal Christians for the American family, no liberal Christian radio shows, no liberal Christian candidates, no Bill O'Reilleys or Becks constantly clamoring to say the most outrageous thing to get airtime now is there?.

      And to boot, I thought the big huge problem with liberals is that they are so enamored of apologizing for their own faults, they look like sissies.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  14. Sheila

    AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    God bless you for speaking the TRUTH!!!... The world is watching us. What type of light are we displaying?

    July 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  15. ed

    I think you are all nuts the athiest and the fanatical christians.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  16. Margot707

    More people believe the lies and misrepresentations because they want to believe them. It's easier than doing the research and finding out the facts.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  17. question

    God knows and controls everything, and everything is in his plan. So these tragidies are also God's will.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      What a lack of compassion your "God" displays for what you say He created!!!!

      July 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      PS: Your entire thesis negates the very concept of free will. If God knows and controls everything, then this whole life and existence is a sadistic playing out of an evil demon-being who plays with "souls" like chess pawns. Your entire religion is then a complete JOKE!

      July 13, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  18. GodIsForImbeciles

    Two points:

    1. I am really, really fed up with hearing apologetics and lies about "true" Christians, "true" Muslims, etc., when people discuss controversies in religion. Everybody has an opinion, and theirs is always the "true" one. It's pure rot!

    2. Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter are perfect examples of how morally bankrupt Christianity is. Not Christians...the entire ball of rhetoric and superstition. That you can claim to be a Christian and spew the hate-filled rot those two women do routinely, and not be frogmarched out of your Christian "church" for being the antithetical embodiment of anti-Christian behavior only proves that religion (Christian and others) are just a social club for superstitious people who want to feel special about themselves...but hold no accountability to the group for their behavior. That's what makes Christianity the Energizer Bunny of religions: you can be forgiven and forgiven and forgiven until your behavior just means NOTHING!

    July 12, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  19. Gwenie

    So true...a very good article indeed...I have been saying this for the longest..these are the same people who the bible speaks about on the day of judgement when God tells them...Depart from me..I never knew you...They go to church every Sunday, pay tithes..sit there and listen to these preachers who are not much better because a lot of them preach hate from the pulpit in a subtle underhanded way..reinforcing their warp thinking...Guns and God don't mix...These people are only fooling one person...themselves...

    July 12, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  20. Ic0n

    I loved this piece. It basically summed up how I've felt for months and maybe the last year. Whether it be CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Republicans or Democrats etc...there has just been way too much hostility being displayed by people on all sides. At times the negativity can almost feel contagious and we (not me...) will say whatever in attempt to fulfill a partisan goals, but we must all remember to practice what we preach (and hopefully we're not preaching all the hatred I've been seeing).

    July 12, 2010 at 10:21 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.