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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. alan

    Funny hearing this from the crazy woman.
    They are actually acting Christian. Stealing money, little boys, lying, anyone of them could be the pope.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  2. cosmicsnoop

    This is perfectly accurate. When someone claims they are a "Christian" to me, my mind automatically replaces that word with hypocrite.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  3. tk

    The founding fathers were, for the most part, Christians. The evidence is abundant. Yet they fought for this country and spilled blood. Sometimes good Christians have to fight for the things that are right. It is the way it is in a sinful and fallen world.

    I find it interesting that the faith of several people is questioned in this article but not Barack Obama. I know he claims to be a Christian but I see no evidence to support it. Read his book. There is an entire chapter on faith and not one mention of Jesus being his savior. In fact, when asked by his daughter where we go when we die he ultimately admits that he doesn't know. THAT IS CHRISTIANITY 101!

    July 13, 2010 at 8:19 am |
    • cosmicsnoop

      Then he is telling the truth. As opposed to making something up. Have you come back from the dead recently and know where we go? Quoting mythology isn't good enough. None knows and if you claim you do you are lying just like the author states.

      July 13, 2010 at 8:23 am |
    • tk

      Proving where we go when we die is not my point. But a Bible believing Christian would hold to a basic belief that we do know and have a confidence of where we are going.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  4. Dobran

    What's happening is a reflection of what is happening within each and every one of us__in our hearts. All I can do is if I have fear and hatred in my own heart is to try and work with it and turn it around to fulfill the things Jesus said in the Sermon On The Mount. Take care of my practice and keep divine love in my heart and in my words and deeds. I realize that this is a life-long and daily task because it is so easy to feel despair and turn to fear instead of divine love.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  5. You are the Liar

    Dear Sir,

    Before you call somebody a liar you should look in the mirror.

    Maybe you should investigate the man Obama just quietly (without approval from congress) put in charge of Medicaid and Medicare. His name is Berwick and he is all for rationing care "death panels".

    You are pretty old maybe Mr. berwick will tell you to take a blue or red pill and to go away and die because you are to old and no longer useful to society.

    Why is it that you are only attacking republicans?

    You are being dishonest and your are the liar.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  6. Jacqui

    This article hit the nail on the head. I would just like to point out that I have observed that there is a new trend where people are equating Conservatism with Christianity. This is obviously not so and is obvious by the kinds of comments I've heard from many pastors. I believe that God's principles are recorded in the Bible and that they are absolute. I believe that we recognize people by their fruit. If anyone, republican or democrat behaves in a manner contrary to the Word of God then that is un- Christlike and they are poor representatives of Jesus.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  7. Robbie H

    As a "believing" conservative myself, I too am frustrated with those on "my" side waving the flag of God yet ignoring the fact that Jesus and the Early Church who followed him were more Socialistic than they were Capitalistic. I find it quite ironic that Barrack Obama may, in fact, be the most "Christian" president we've had in a long time.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:40 am |
    • Agathe

      I wish that American people take time to learn the definition of "Socialism". I found a simple one online:
      Socialism is a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
      I don't see nothing derogatory or insulting in the word yet some of the Americans hurled it around as if it's a nasty word. I would take the label " socialist" as a compliment not an insult.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  8. Mark C. Potts

    It's quite interesting to read these comments, it pretty much proves what the writer is stating. In our own Church we had a great divide between some very nasty religious Christians vs. the relationship Christians. I do find it disturbing that so many people can quote scripture and love the Bible stories, but don't get one bit of the philosophy of what Jesus, Peter, and/or Paul even spoke of. Some Christians are now loving to hate. Isn't that what a Nazi was? Do we resort to McCarthyism, are we going to have witch-hunts, or start some good ol' book burning in the name of Christ. The rants I've heard mostly come from the right at this moment because they're not in charge, later when it switches around the left will rant. But most of the ranting comes from people that usually have not done one minute of public service. Some just quit if they don't get their way. We had a Christian man running for Governor here, he definitely didn't have huge backing but he made a big impact because of his style and being a gentleman. Even the Gentleman that did win respected this and quotes him even now long after the elections. Disagreeing and speaking up isn't anything new and shows a healthy society (free thought) but there is a way to disagree diplomatically. Sometimes the common ground can be a surprise if people would actually look at both sides of an issue. I learned that lesson strongly as a Councilman. Doing this helped serving the public and do what was really essential. Not get stuck in the trivialities.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  9. Deborah

    Excellent article. Bizarre comments. The author hit the nail on the head. Our country would be great if we followed the original message of Jesus: Love one another. Sad to see that the media is hired by the wrong people and that TV preachers only care about making money. I believe we need to put more money into education because the people who are writing negative comments did not read comprehend the article. Instead, they glanced at it and then wrote comments of poison. Guess what? I forgive you.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:32 am |
  10. sailor1031

    The majority of posters here have made Richard's point much more strongly and fully than he did. Look at yourselves people! "Take the log out of your own eye, then you'll be able to see".

    July 13, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  11. evalue

    I see this article left out the great men of peace and wonderful humble servants, Al

    I see Mr. Hughes betrayed himself when he had no mention of the humble, fairminded, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Rev. Wright. He calls out his narrow dislike, but seems to feel ok with the rants of these so called "men of God".

    July 13, 2010 at 7:17 am |
    • Nina

      Evalue what does that have to do with anything????? We are talking about Christians and we need to stop with this measuring of people and we need to measure ourselves with the God said as Christians.

      July 13, 2010 at 7:21 am |
  12. Nina

    I am so glad someone has finally challenged those who say they are Christians. I am ashamed of my christian brothers and sisters white and black who spew anger and hatred and then say they believe in the Bible the Word of God. We who are Christians should denounce these people whether Palin or Jackson. Anyone who continues to spew hatred and anger should not be acceptable. Whether or not we agree even with the President as Christians we need to be in prayer for him daily and our country. As Christians our faith should not have anything to do with the flag or a gun but with the Word of God the Bible. If we can not love even those we disagree with we are not practicing God's love and we are Christians for those who don't believe we will also have to answer to God for our hatred, God is going to hold us accountable as well. I have never seen so much hatred and we say we are examples of Christ. Politicians especially who say they are Chrisitans who continue to keep this hatred going are the worst offenders. Each day I want my behavior to be an example of someone wanting to know the Christ I know and not because I want someone to vote my way. I want someone to pray more because they know me not to go to a rally and I want someone's soul to be with the Lord because I have shared my faith and not my party affiliation. To the unbelievers if that person is not doing that then you can question if they are even a Christian at all.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:10 am |
  13. J E Johnson

    How convenient, Professor. Write a column about Christians behaving badly and then only mention Conservatives and Republicans. Shameful. How about mentioning Nancy Pelosi, a self-declared devote Catholic, who supports abortion and is as crooked as they come (even though she promised to clean up Washington)? How about President Obama who described his Chicago church (Rev. Jeremiah) as a place where "we're just praising Jesus"? Don't liberal Democrats get to be baked into the same pie you placed Conservatives and Republicans?

    In other words, if Christians would just shut up and be quietly pious in the corner, then this world would be so much better off. Yeah, that's what Christ declared. Shut up and let the world go to hell in an hand-basket or suicide bomber's belt. Way to sell out Christians and embolden the godless left. They protect the rights of terrorists, are the true racists, strive hard to kill the unborn, and want tolerance – except if you're Christian. Thanks, Professor. Now go back to your quiet office and feel good about maligning your faith and those who follow after God.

    July 13, 2010 at 7:05 am |
  14. Thee Ox

    My all time fav is Geo Bush, the War President, told hios parents that " God told Bush that He( God )wanted Bush to be President"

    That statement was actually good for me because now I HAVE heard everything...

    July 13, 2010 at 7:04 am |
  15. Joe

    I find your naivete amusing, Mr. Hughes. When have politicians EVER told the truth? For them, Christianity is a nice political tool to get votes, nothing more. And for too many preachers on the right, 'faith' is a tool used to gain influence, riches, and power.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  16. Mary Blu

    This article is spot on. Unfortunately, some of the comments made from other posters prove the author's point.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  17. Frank

    Do we tell our christian police officers and christian soldiers and Marines to turn the other cheek? When is he going to talk about Joe Biden (catholic) supporting abortion while christian? First person that judges another christian as not following Christ is likely using religion as tool for politics so to make someone appear as a hypocrite for political purposes. CNN seems to be doing a fine job at that.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:40 am |
    • Eric

      Actually Frank, we tell these ones not to turn the other cheek, but to get out of the world (John 17:16). Then they can begin to act like Christians, rather than being a part of facilitating all this worldy mayhem. I'm not judging them, don't get me wrong. They have their choice and I support that (as would Jesus).

      July 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
    • Sophandy

      Michael sure has that special effcet on people No one else can do that to everyone except our MJ!You're VERY lucky to have seen him that close too!! He seemed to be in great spirits back then. He looked excited to be out in public after a while.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  18. Fr33d0mhawk

    Lets count thine Koreshian ways of the GOP. Reagan gave arms to Iranian terrorists, Reagan is a Christian Conservative Hero. Bush tortured innocent Iraqis, Bush is a good honorable Christian, because Jesus would have joyously tortured innocent Muslims. Tom Delay is a mighty Christian Warrior against abortion, well unless you are talking about his wife collecting a million dollars from a sex slave company, in the Marianas that kidnaps women, forces them to have abortions to keep them "working" for Christian family values politicians, Delays wife being paid millions so that Delay will call off an FBI investigation which Delay did, and is on tape admitting the forced abortions. Christian Talibaggers think its Godly when big business or big government make the decision to abort, anyone but the woman. What about Ted Haggard, Holy Roller Warrior of God himself, telling people that its allright to execute gays, well,except for Haggards male prostitute and of course Haggard himself, I mean the Chairman of hte Christian Coalition explained it well, "God wants me to have a little fun." But the rest of you can look forward to a good old fashioned GOP stoning. Palin, onward Christian Grizzly, accuses Obama of palling around with terrorists because Palin wants a good old fashioned war, and she will lie to get it, which is ironic, because Palin is married to an AIP member, a terrorist organization by Cheney's own office, a terrorist organization that hates America more than Osama Bin Laden hates America, but its all good, cuz they're Christian, Ubethca! Right Wing Chrisitans in America have gathered under the banner of FOX and right wing Hate Radio, and are plotting national terrorism right before our eyes, and they have bought all the guns and ammo. The US is about to have a Christo-Taliban problem that will make Al Qaeda look like choir boys at an icecream social.

    July 13, 2010 at 6:37 am |
  19. Joe Clark

    An excellent article! Quite refreshing even as painfully truthful as it is.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:51 am |
  20. brutaltruth

    The good doc should go out in the back and find some stones. Can he not just put the 10 commandments up and comment or does he need to re-write that too? Also, just because you are Christian does not mean we are sheep. AP stories come out all the time noting the need for cut backs (IE rationing and "death panels") on the hopefully to be defunded health care debacle that was SOOOO good the dems had to bribe their own party to do the "right" thing which was FAR left and WAY off center.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:33 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.