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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. d

    "83% of the American population identifies with the Christian religion" = complete and utter B.S.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:26 am |
  2. Steve

    I find it sad that even this Journalist and many of you missed the lies these politicians are using against you. They are NOT christians. There not! They have no interest in religion! They have no interest except in saying they are so all the idiot religious people will vote for them! Its not complicated! Religious people will vote for a candidate soley on the "religious" point of view. Why would they continue to do it? Because most religious people arent very smart, and there are ALOT of them. Its an easy way to get a TON of votes. If a candidate said what I would, that HEY I'm an athiest. They would NOT get elected, end of story. This isnt an argument it is a fact. Enjoy your free manipulation.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:16 am |
  3. Eric

    I agree with this article. If christians acted as christians and followed the word of Christ then I might rethink being an athiest. Not that I believe in god or an afterlife; but I do believe in being good to others, telling the truth, and helping the poor - all good sound ideas that seam to have nothing to do with being christian in todays world.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:05 am |
    • Nina

      Eric it's unfortunate that our behavior as Christians has turned you off to hearing God's word and acceptance of Jesus Chrits. I disagree with the hatred as well and I am ashamed as a Christian whether white or black and I am more ashamed that more well known Christian preachers hae not come out to denounce this behavior, we have concerned ourselves with votes and taking over the house in Washington than being concerned with more people coming to the house which is church. All of it turns my stomach and my prayer for you is that you do not allow this to deter you from the Lord

      July 13, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  4. Nicky Ceucescu

    As a former Evangelical who is not for Obama and not for abortion, they bully women who have any brains and they favor the few wealthy tithers in the church. I had one "pastor" shove me during an interim ministry – he and the weathly "phony" patrician in the church felt it their duty to put me down because I was "intimidating" (read smarter than them) and did not have my fairly well off father or late great uncle come in and protect me. These people never find fault with themselves – and they do a host of awful things (I have sat in their ministry, I can tell you stories) and are always ready to pick up a gun. I worked harder than they did my entire life, but I threw away my life trying to go into the ministry for them. I have 7 Yale graduates in the family, a former Lt. Gov, a well known doctor, well known business families, and these people had no respect for what I brought to the table – just jealousy. Again, I do not like Obama or Crist, but these people are "incompetent" – Palin and Angle are as incompetent as Obama, and frightening. Take it from one who tried to stand up for herself.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:01 am |
  5. Andrew

    I, as a Christian myself, am saddened to hear how Christians are behaving. However, many biblical figures in the Bible did absolutely horrible things in their life before knowing the love of Jesus. We ALL are born of sin. Churches are made of sinners but hopefully strive to know Jesus and his love for ALL. If you do not believe in God, I do not mock you or laugh at you because I respect you. Most of the time I do not get that same respect but nor do I expect it. Do I commit sin, sure... but I ask for forgiveness and try to better myself.

    In response to the article, the author does indeed point out a valid fact that Christians are not living up to the words of Jesus, but neglects to show the good Christians (or any with like beliefs) are capable of. America seems to be turning into a nation of popularity vice morality.

    What confuses me is those that chose not to follow the word of Christ but will have no problem using the very same things they do not believe in to mock and criticize Christians. I read of people with the agenda of abolishing all religion because of how "pushy and preachy" it is without acknowledging their right to their own beliefs. Our education system and laws would allow a phrase such as, "Death to all religion!" in schools but prosecute a child who says that, "Jesus loves you." or even allow for them to pray while on school grounds. The Bible teaches to stay away from all things evil and yet Christians get criticized when they object to having to pay for abortions through taxes. Christians are told to raise their children to know and love Christ but yet are being sued for trying to and yet at the same time atheist's teach their kids that there is no God and teaches their kids to mock and laugh at those who do. Why are Christians not allowed their own opinion in a peaceful manner?

    A last note, Christians are told to follow the teachings of the Bible... in whole. Read the Old Testament too.

    July 13, 2010 at 4:14 am |
    • Nina

      Then Andrew as a Christian then PRAY. Whether or not people say things against us or do things against us we ought to pray and be more concerned about what the bible says for us to do. I did vote and I educate myself in politics God would have us to use wisdom but I am more concerned with how I live my life in front of non believers so that they may come to love the Lord. We as Christians have confused being loyal to the flag and not the word of God. Our light should shine. I am praying for the President and Pelosi that the Lord would penetrate their decisions. People bring up abortion and yes it is murder but Jesus also spoke about caring for the poor and we are a nation of greed who has forgotten the teachings of God, we say abortion and yet we hate, we say abortion as if that is the only sin and we as a nation are full of PRIDE which God says he hates. We have become a greedy Godless nation and God is dealing with us and I am glad because we are worse than other nations because we fakely and immorally go against God and then we want to sing about how He should bless our nation. Andrew pray pray and pray. I am ashamed at us who say we know the Lord.

      July 13, 2010 at 7:19 am |
    • verify

      Andrew,

      "I read of people with the agenda of abolishing all religion..." - Those are just knee-jerk comments from angry people who are frustrated with believers' self-righteousness. Religion will not be 'abolished', per the U.S. Constitution.

      "...Christians get criticized when they object to having to pay for abortions through taxes." That is a hot issue, certainly, but many taxpayers pay for things which they are against; for example, those who are against the death penalty have to pay taxes to pay for the executions; people who are against undocumented foreign workers still have to pay taxes for benefits for the illegals; the property taxes of the non-religious taxpayers are higher because the churches don't pay any; etc.

      " Christians are told to raise their children to know and love Christ but yet are being sued for trying..." – Christians can freely teach their children their beliefs... just NOT in public schools.

      "Why are Christians not allowed their own opinion in a peaceful manner?" - You are, and so is everyone else.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  6. Andrew

    I find your commentary to be politically charged and one-sided. While your arguments have some merit (from a certain perspective) they also focus solely on conservatives and fail to point out the obvious shortcomings of liberal Christians as well. Sanctity of human life anyone? The left promoted abortion despite almost all major Christian denomonations steadfastly opposing it. If you want to speak of loving your enemies and turning the other cheek then perhaps criticize President Obama for sending an additional 30,000 troops to war? Although I staunchly disagree with your assessment, I can objectively see the merit of your arguments. I simply wish you had balanced your argument to show that this is uniform across both sides of the aisle. Your true motives are easily called into question as a result.

    July 13, 2010 at 3:27 am |
  7. Jim

    My question is who has the right to impose their belief system on another? People seldom choose a belief on their own. Most are conditioned, even beaten, into them by others.

    Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and Temples have always served money and power over others through fear rather than serving God as they claim to do. God doesn't need anything from us. God is not a person with all our ego driven flaws and insecurities. God is all that there is, both seen and unseen. God is within everything that has been or ever will be created.

    If there is an "Original Sin" it is the mistaken belief that God, or whatever you want to call "the force, eternal life or source of creation" is somehow sitting separate from us, somewhere out there in some place. No one needs to pay for any organized religion to connect with God for you. God doesn't have an ego, humans do.

    It's time for people to cut off the parasite businesses selling salvation and controlling you in exchange for your money in the basket. It is time to tax them all, preferably out of existence. Find God within yourself. Find God within others and within all of creation. When you realize you are not separate from the "whole" your life will automatically change. You will not fear or hate diversity and in that there is love and your salvation.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:54 am |
  8. Joe Worth

    I'm not a believer and frankly distrust all organized religions. Nonetheless I see Jesus teachings and the model he set as benign, especially relative to that of the warlord Mohammed. I'm not a partisan either, and loathe the hypocrisy that typifies adherents to religion and political parties.

    The author of this op-ed, is presumably Christian and clearly partisan in his exclusive critique of Republicans and blind eye to Democrats. Talk about lies and hypocrisy – what irony! This guy is a complete tool.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:52 am |
  9. Mark from Middle River

    This article is a bit bias. But ...sigh.... G.W.Bush and Laura are still together ... Tipper and Al...ecch.

    I wonder whose office these blogs come from. Week or so ago it was why are Christians online jerks. Now it is why Christian politicians are bad. Goodness dudes, we get it ... yall aint too happy with us Christians.

    The problem is that this writer has is that when he sees "Christian" in his mind he is seeing a pious and holy'er that thou type. Someone that has four kids that never get in trouble and every weekend we go to church picnics on Saturdays and Church services all day Sunday. Never watch football or any sport. Lights out at 9pm and waking up at 6am.

    As much as I believe I am a good Christian if that is the ideal that they, the outside media, wish me to strive for it is not me. The wild thing is that God understands that. If any thing this article should have been called , why are Christians acting more like Democrats.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:08 am |
    • Joseph

      Yeah it's a shame that Al and Tipper are getting a Regan.

      July 13, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  10. Steve Jacobs

    Wow, thanks to so many of you for providing us with a beautifully ironic example of the kind of mindless repetition of tired, illogical, ignorant, and inflammatory rhetoric that causes all of us who are true followers of Jesus to groan while simultaneously applying our hand to our forehead. Well played, everyone.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:59 am |
  11. Na Yeo

    As usual, a non-Christian sets himself up to judge all Christians as being unworthy of the name.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  12. Hmmm

    So, let's say he included some examples of self-claimed Christian Democrats..... His point is that some very prominent self-proclaimed Christians in the political/entertainment arena do not have very Christian-like behavior? I'm sorry to say that it has gotten to a point where I can identify a similar type of Christian by their hate speech and judgement. I thought the hymn went, "They will know we are Christians by our love...." I think Jesus would be sad to hear Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Limbaugh, and Coulter doing their 'gigs' while they claim to follow him. Why only mention Repulicans? Their politics is incidental to the fact that they are very vocal about following the God of Love, yet are so hypocritical in their words and deeds. It draws the most attention (and the most $$$$). I think they push people away from God. Who wants to follow a God who makes people so mean, unforgiving, fear-mongering, and angry?

    July 13, 2010 at 1:49 am |
  13. Nate

    And Jesus also supposedly said that those who don't abide in him will be cast out and burned (John 15:4-11). So, in reality, the Republican war-mongers (and Democrats, too, like our Christian war-monger-in-chief, Barack Obama) who want to kill the Muslims are acting very much like Christians.

    Christians need to get realistic about how awful their doctrine really is, instead of pretending that all the evil people who hate Muslims, or gays, or science, or free-thinking women, are somehow misunderstanding their beloved religion.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:39 am |
    • Steve Jacobs

      Nate, thanks for that great example of how one who does not fully understand the meaning of scripture can easily distort it.

      July 13, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  14. mike

    George Washington said that it's impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. The Constitution states that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator... It's time for Christians to get involved in the local, state, or federal level and let our voices be heard. Christianity and our belief in the Lord Jesus is what's made our nation great. The government cannot save us. Only Jesus can. Engraved on the lower part of the door of the Supreme Court are the 10 Commandments. Our nation was founded by men who believed in God. What's wrong with our country is that the Christian principles that founded it have been reprimanded and deemed 'politically incorrect.'

    July 13, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  15. Ellen

    This is so well done, greatly needed, and true. I am encouraged to find someone astute enough, and willing, to say it.
    Thank you!

    July 13, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  16. Ken in NC

    WOW.........I believe that if J.C was to come among us here, the entire lot of you gun toteing bible quoting Christians would crucify HIM again. Our sins have been so many, must our FATHER sacrifice HIS only SON again for our sins?

    July 13, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • Henriet

      Ken – in reply to "WOW.........I believe that if J.C was to come among us here, the entire lot of you gun toteing bible quoting Christians would crucify HIM again. Our sins have been so many, must our FATHER sacrifice HIS only SON again for our sins?"

      Good point, but would it just be others who would crucify JC again? I find it interesting that he was betrayed not only by religious leaders, but also by those with huge political and social power. As far as I could tell, no one stepped forward to defend him – friends, family, religious, political – they all gave in to fear and the mob mentality.

      July 13, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  17. SeisDeMayo

    I voted for Obama.... Some tea-partier what to take my vote away? I'm looking forward to you trying.
    Don't think I'll fight back? Think again.
    And hey, I don't claim to be a Christian. I love Christ, I just think christian churchs are dens of hypocracy.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:31 am |
  18. C

    Oh my goodness, this has been on my mind so much lately. I know a lot of conservative and Christian people going with the aniti-liberal anything flow right now, doing anything it seems to oppose them. Even disagreeing with charity. I know the U.S. is still in a bad situation, and it's going to take time to get out of it. But I thought charity was a Christian value. I see the conservative "image", or stereotype–I'll use the word. But stereotypes sometimes have truth and some of these parts of their image aren't offensive to them. And I try to overlap that image with Christ or the more wise and good people of the Bible and the image doesn't fit well over it. I can't help but wonder if Jesus came down today and tried hanging out with his crowd, they would have a hard time accepting the way he is? But I don't know. My image of a "good" Christian is a gentle person. Of course there are times when anyone has to be tough, though. But it seems people are leaving their values at church sometimes. To remind people they believe in God, they'll fight for what they think are his values for political gain. There are liberal Christians, I'd like to remind people. I think if all Christian politicians starting representing their values better, there might be more cooperation even if they had moral disagreements. But all this talk of "acting" Christian...I hate that that is another word for "good person" as if you had to be Christian to be a good person. It is the case in some minds.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  19. Brian Kiley

    Brilliant article, couldn't agree more. Certainly there will be many on the right that will complain that this piece doesn't do enough to take politically liberal Christians to task, and that is a fair point, however for conservatives to focus on that truth would be to obsess over the speck in the eye of another while ignoring the plank in their own eye. Certainly political rhetoric by professed Christians on both sides of the aisle is anything but 'Christian', and this shows the extent to which political platforms have been turned into idols that must be served, worshipped, and given sacrifices. We are in a place where we desperately need humility and repentance from Christians on both sides of the political spectrum. Political platforms can be of some use, but they are lousy and dangerous gods, and unfortunately for many professed Christians, gods is exactly what they have become.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  20. Bloke

    Anyone here noticed that many of the responses are people playing partisan politics? The point of the article is completely lost on those going "Well the Democrats do it too!!! Nah nah nah!"

    Grow up America. This isn't something that should be abused so boldly as it is by REPUBLICANS the majority of the time. The Democrats do it as well but not nearly to the same magnitude. Not nearly.. it's not even remotely comparable. Republicans vilify and demonize anyone who disagrees as people without God or country. It's absolutely sickening.

    Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, or Eisenhower wouldn't even be able to get elected via the current Republican party. They'd be too moderate and too willing to work with the opposition. Nixon even thought we could use healthcare reform! *gasp*

    July 13, 2010 at 1:03 am |
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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.