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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. Another Perspective

    Christians should peacefully participate in politics (either that, or abstain from participating in politics). If you are not able to befriend someone of the opposite political party, what does that say about your ability to love your enemies?

    Jesus befriended sinners. He didn't say "Hey. I am going to make your sins illegal. And then when you are legally unable to sin anymore, I will convert you"

    Jesus thought more along the lines of "Hey. I don't care who you are, I'll be your friend. If you change, that's good – but it's not a condition of me loving you."

    Whether or not you believe in the Deity of Jesus, those are some powerful perspectives that could change the world. Applied religiously, true love will make the world a better place. Applied in a secular manner, true love will STILL make the world a better place.

    Tolerance, please. I may disagree with you but I will still try to love you.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:57 am |
  2. Michael R. Yearby

    I like this article by Richard T. Hughes, his words seem heart-felt and filled with general concern about the Christian faith as a whole. To better understand this article we must break this article down in three parts (Politics, Biblical history, and Emotion/Opinioned views). In Richard's political view point he sites that Christians should wake up and take their quiet but humble roles in society without I might add asserted his belief in God and the foundations of the Bible (Ref: Last paragraph of this article). Secondly, Richard uses paraphrased versions of the interpretation of the word of God to begin his argument about the Church and/or Christianity position in Politics. This should be a red flag to individuals that Richard’s view and/or stand point is outside the Christian arena. Lastly, through Richard’s writings in this article he indicates his political stance which is a “Democrat”. He tries to reassure the reader that his view is one of purely observation of the facts, but in last statement he states “The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard T. Hughes.” Hughes, (2010). Furthermore, Mr. Hughes calls out Glenn Beck as a political activist which is true but then tries to give an assert of him as one running for a political office than distorts their faith for what Mr. Richard’s call a “cheap” political gain. One thing that he stated that I agree with is 83% of American population “identify” with the Christian religion. Which necessary does not make you a Christian cause you associate yourself with some of the Christian values.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael R. Yearby (A Christian Man).

    July 13, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  3. MattJustice

    Golly, Dr. Hughes, no need to wonder what side of the political bed you roll out of each morning!

    Your innuendo is that “anti-Obama rallies” displaying signs with President Obama in nazi attire are the work of hypocritical Christians. But you didn’t tie such signs to Christians, just to people at anti-Obama rallies. I suppose it’s just one of those ‘everybody knows’ sorts of arguments.

    You left one thing out, however. If our Founders, Christians to the man, had turned the other cheek, we’d be eating fish and chips instead of hamburgers.

    No, we won’t be fed to the lions this time. God will forgive us, just as he forgave the Founders.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:31 am |
    • I'm glad to have Hamburgers

      but... Romans 6:1-2

      July 13, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  4. Barry

    "... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."— From Article VI of the U.S. Constitution Too bad people haven't gotten this little tidbit hammered into them.

    The fact that all religion has ever done is to be used to Beat people about the head and shoulders should make it perfectly clear that we need to Tax religion out of existence in this country.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  5. Jiminy

    Sterilization should be part of the abortion procedure. Everyone is entitled to one mistake and the taxpayers should be protected from paying for more. Real Christianity is like real gold and fake Christianity is like fake gold. The fake gold bar still sells for twenty dollars but the real gold bar has always been rare and remains desirable. Just because there isn't much of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist and it has no value. We haven't even seen a Sasquatch but it's on the Endangered Species List!

    July 13, 2010 at 12:13 am |
    • nonesuch

      Then you have no problem castrating the men who cause unwanted pregnancies, right?

      July 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  6. Steve

    I've got news for you, before Obama backed off on all of the ultra-liberal aspects of the healthcare bill, section 1223 provided money to doctors who could convince patients to deny advanced

    Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive - money - to do so. Indeed, that's an incentive to insist.

    Patients may refuse without penalty, but many will bow to white-coated authority. Once they're in the meeting, the bill does permit "formulation" of a plug-pulling order right then and there.....

    Of course, once the truth came out, Obama backed way off the section and sent out his soldiers to shrug and insist it never existed. However, who is really lying here?

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

      That would be you, Steve, believe it or not.

      I believe you're referencing old parts of the bill that were not even ready for proper voting yet. The bill went through how many rewrites? I'm sure you have more nitpicking to do though, so have at it.

      July 13, 2010 at 12:23 am |
    • civiloutside

      You do recognize, I hope that there's a vast difference between 1) encouraging a doctor to discuss whether "advanced life-prolonging care" has any actual value with a patient while leaving the ultimate decision up to the patient in a version of the bill that never even made it out of committee, and 2) insisting that the bill that Congress was actually voting on creates panels of government bureaucrats empowered to pull the plug on granny at their whim. The first is a potentially well-intentioned if poorly implemented effort (there are many people who genuinely believe that prolonging life in some instances is a disservice to the patient) that ultimately didn't survive politically, while the second is a flat-out lie used by the Republican party to whip up public sentiment against health care reform.

      July 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  7. ReformedDemocrat

    So he 'judges' only the right-wingers, claims it isn't political, mentions Nazis and calls it a day... wow.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
  8. Henriet

    Unfortunately, Christianity is like many religions in that some of its most outspoken adherents often portray attitudes that seem (to me) to be to be completely opposite to what its founder taught and lived. I have often been absolutely amazed at how harshly a few outspoken people throw Bible verses around, and no one really challenges them. Fortunately, there are many people who do reflect the type of kindness and compassion that Jesus taught. II don't think they are just a tiny group – but they certainly don't get into the news.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  9. Sarge

    In other words, anyone who doesn't share Hughes' pro-Obama views, isn't acting like a Christian.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
    • Steve

      Well put Sarge. I get tired of these political talking heads calling people liars and spreading mis-truths simply because they disagree. it's shameful and worthy of bad political internet boards but has no place here. I am comfortable with my Christian beliefs and am not lying when I accuse Obama of trying to create panels early in the healtcare debate that would have tried to convince elderly patients of not accepting advanced life-prolonging care....

      July 13, 2010 at 12:09 am |
  10. patrick doyen

    Your right. Your absolutely, positively, unabashedly right. We have lost our way, and have gathered together in mobs, one side or another. We seem no longer to be able to discuss a platform, or a political philosophy, but most bone-up, growl, and yell our cheers for our team without any desire, willingness, or presence of mind to hear anything not directly linked to our mobs thinking. We're in a deep hole, but instead of working together, everyone is trying to buy a shovel. I don't see a good end to it. We have simply decided to rid ourselves of ourselves, and are going at it pretty straightforward.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
  11. JC

    My take – If your church doesn't believe in abortion, then make SURE NO ONE in your church has one. I have been in many churches and every one people are having abortions and the the music minister is GAY. If CHRISTIANS want to TELL the rest of us HOW TO LIVE OUR LIVES, then LIVE IT FIRST and THEN TELL US HOW GREAT YO ART.....

    July 12, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  12. Frogstomp

    I want to live in a world where decisions that affect me are not made based on somebody else's ancient superstitions.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
  13. Margaret

    I am a Christian, and I couldn't agree more with this article! The bigotry and hatred spouted by some of these politicians and their followers is disgraceful and dangerous to democracy. The author should be commended for succinctly reminding the reader of what Jesus actually stood for!

    July 12, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  14. XNeonDragonX

    Too much hate in the world as is.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  15. XNeonDragonX

    ReconsiderEverything

    What word of God? Has he/she/it ever spoke to you? Because the Bible is not the word of God, it is the word of man that was edited by man, then edited by man, then edited by man, passed down to man, and again edited multiple times by man.

    The Holy Bible IS the living word of God. I don't know why this is so difficult for certain people to understand. It's not a book of fairytales or something MAN made up. Oh and @Nursehope Christians are not a "dying breed" and science won't be able to redeem a soul. Only God can do that! I have a lot of respect for science but, you won't obtain salvation through a scientific formula or theory. @Noble9 Christianity is NOT a badge to be worn to feel superior to everyone else! I'm a Christian and I know for a fact that we're all human beings, we're all sinners, and we're all imperfect regardless of our ethnicity or financial standing. I don't know what types of Christians you've run into but, that's NOT what Christianity is about I can assure you. I won't disagree that a lot of Christians like to bash people over the heads and think they're above everyone else in the world but, they forget a lot of things and I offer just two: Free Will and Love Thy Neighbor.

    Free Will meaning you can do basically whatever you choose to do because God is not forcing you to have a relationship with Him. There are two roads we can take in this life: one road leads to life and the other road leads to death. It's our choice to make. We're supposed to love one another and treat people the way we want to be treated ourselves. Unfortunately, evil, ignorance, misconceptions, and many other negative things are pretty much the norm in this world which is sad. I'm a Christian and I'm not better than anyone. I believe in the word of the Lord, I believe that He was crucified on the cross and took our place so that our sins would be forgiven, and I believe that love is the answer.

    I'm sorry if something negative happened for you to feel the way you do about Christians. I don't view Our Lord and Savior as a superhero. I view Him as I described: our Lord and Savior. To me He is the meaning of life and not everyone shares this view but, I won't hate those people because they don't share my opinions or views.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • Q

      "The Holy Bible IS the living word of God" And you know this because.... it says so?

      July 12, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  16. baruch

    There are different branches of christianity in the usa. The dominionists, who tend to be evangelicals, follow more the style of moses and his relationship with god; harsh, vengeful, jealous and exacting. While they call themselves christians, many people in many denominations are actually not following the teachings of jesus. In this way a large percentage of the christian churches in the usa are duplicitous, dishonest, lying.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  17. SusannaW

    Remember that a lot of people think they are Christians because they were born in America or because they go to church. so just because "83% of Amercians 'say'" doesn't mean they even know what they're talking about. People think Barack Obama is a Christian because he went to "church" for all those years, got married there and had his girls baptized there. But that is not the definition of a Christian, nor the mark of one. It is definitely hard to not get sucked in when you are in an environment that is replete with hypocrisy, lies, deception, hatred, malice and man-made shades of gray. It is definitely easier to point out the speck in someone else's eye than to see the log in your own. But that is true for ALL people of every background. I appreciate Michelle Duggar for her graciousness of speech when given opportunity to speak publicly of public matters. People may not agree with having 19 kids, but I hope they all grow up to be the example of Christ that their mom has shown.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  18. XWngLady

    AMEN Mr. Hughes! ......And to top it off, Proverbs 6:17-19 says, "These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

    – A proud look, (note that this is the FIRST thing listed)
    – A lying tongue,
    – And hands that shed innocent blood,
    – An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations
    – Feet that be swift in running to mischief,
    – A false witness that speaketh lies,
    – And he that soweth discord among brethren

    Clearly God is JUST as concerned about pride, lying, witnessing falsely against someone and devising wicked schemes as he is about shedding innocent blood (abortion, homocide, etc.). So Christians on BOTH sides of the aisle should start being less judgemental and stiffnecked and more Christlike or else don't call yourself one.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
  19. Mike in Texas

    What should they be acting like?
    Passive compliant pushovers for those that have their own covetous interpretation of social justice?
    Which flavor of Christianity?
    Which flavor of any ideology; atheism, agnostic, sadist, ...?
    You?
    There will always be a critic that doesn't believe in a standard that mocks someone else for not living up to it, based upon the critic's interpretation. For example; confessed moral liberals bash hypocritical moral conservatives for doing what the liberals believe is acceptable.
    The hypocritical message in this article is that liberals were going to be such great contributors to the unifying of America. Instead we have individuals and groups spouting out putrid and divisive rhetoric.
    The crusades were fought to keep from being overrun by the Moors. Must the 'Christians' of today do the same to protect their liberty and faith?

    July 12, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
    • Steve in CA

      Hey Mike,

      How about just turning the other cheek? Don't lose your soul, trying to gain the world.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • Mike in Texas

      After the second cheek is turned and slapped then comes my sword.
      If he stays my sword then so be it but if I be an instrument of his wrath then so be it.
      Christians are too easily bullied. I will give my life in the defense of the liberty and rights of my posterity. And only God will judge me justly and I will accept his judgment.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  20. DPHARP

    Let's put it this way...if the fetus that was "saved" by anti-abortion legislation grows up to be a homosexual...will the religious right STILL fight for his/her rights? If the person in question is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death...will you fight for that person's right to life then? I'm just trying to figure out how this works...seems a little hypoctritical to me.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:04 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.