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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. David Anderson

    This essay is completely accurate. The author is to be commended.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  2. Joel

    Reading most of these comments sadly proves the author's point. If this is Christianity, you can have it, thank you.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  3. DernFoley

    For a few brief moments I thought that Evangelical Christians were going to become involved with the politics to do with environmental stewardship of the earth, world hunger and poverty – you know the kind of issues that Jesus Christ involved Himself with and Glenn Beck condemns – but, once again, I was wrong.......

    July 13, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  4. Hughes

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE. Finally someone has the guts to tell it like it is. Most self-proclaimed Christians I know are greedy, ignorant bigots. I for one believe the world would be a better place if there were no religion whatsoever. If we'd all pay more attention to science and fact, we could accomplish so much — maybe even save the planet and develop the technology to explore beyond our solar system. But these ignorant belief systems have us overpopulating, over-polluting, and combating ourselves to death.
    I have something to say to the morons who ask, "If man evolved from ape, why are there still apes?" The answer is: prehistoric MIGRATION of tribes. Some tribes, but not others, were forced to evolve over millennia according to their location on the planet. Those who stayed behind had no significant change in their habitat which would cause a major shift in natural selection or mutations that would have them evolve.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  5. Comedian

    If jesus is the answer, the question must be what do say when you hit your thumb with a hammer 🙂

    July 13, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  6. John Clayton - Altanta

    Jesus was a liberal by every standard. If you hate liberals as much as the extremists listed above, you have to deal with that. Lying to yourself is the method most used by todays right wing.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  7. RWESTUPID

    Religion is a mental illness. It does not belong in government, politics or foreign policy. Evolve people!!!

    July 13, 2010 at 8:53 am |
    • John Clayton - Altanta

      Science flies you to the moon, Religion flies you into a building !

      July 13, 2010 at 9:02 am |
  8. TheOneIndependent

    One of the best articles covering christianity and its daily use to manipuliate our daily lives I've ever read. What this author stated is exactly true. I've seen this all my life but never as is being used today politically. It is shameful and it makes you wonder why some religious leader isn't calling them all out. Could it be that they dont believe the garbage they spew out either but it gives them power, money and a following they couldn't have otherwise?
    Over the course of my years I have seen child molesting priests, an enabling Pope, dishonest men of God, hundreds of hypocritical Christians and many more naive people. They are ALL dwarfed by the number of lies told by crooked politicians.
    If christians would investigate the events that led up to the writing of the Bible and how it was written, the woulkd discover that this too was a political lie. Derived from stories story tellers told from generation to generation. Why was this political? Because it accomplished the same thing then as it is being used for today, manipulation, money and power.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  9. ezra

    Someone finally has the guts to speak the truth and write what we all have been thinkin about these, so called , Christians. Real Christians, who follow the tachings of Jesus, should change their label to something else- the workd Christian has been sullied by these hate-mongers – Palin, Coulter, Gingiich etc. Thess word "Christian " is now synonymous with guns, hate, bigotry and greed. I can only hope that most of the 83 % who say they are Christains do not follow these public examples, but I fear the worst. I used to be a Christain until I was old enough to realize that it is not what it claims to be – my parents really were Christains and there is no resembance between them and the current version.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  10. J.

    And this is why government and religion are separate and should remain so. People tend to side with what they consider to be the majority and even worse history has shown us that religion, and yes Christianity, is easily and often used to justify atrocities.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  11. bill

    I will never forgive senator McCain for laying this egg on us.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  12. BC

    I have to disagree with this article. Religion defines an 'in-group'. That is what religious does. It is not about making anyone more civil or good or kind. It's sole purpose throughout history is to define a group. Sarah Palin, Gingrich and Coulter, as members of a right wing conservative Christian definition of religion, are enforcing the boundaries of their group. Clearly Obama is not a member of this group. That they both label themselves as 'Christian' is irrelevant. The Christianity they each represent is completely different. The sooner we all get over the idea that religion, faith, etc has some higher or deeper meaning, the better off we'll be. It's sole purpose is to define an in-group. It's us vs. them. Christianity from its beginning has split into a myriad of incompaitible traditions. To say that Christianity teaches peace is like saying Islam teaches peace. Some interpretation do, others don't.
    What are we to make of this passage? Does Christianity teach violent Jihad?
    "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." Jesus in Matthew 10:34 and following.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:38 am |
    • Dobran

      About that Mathew 10:34 quote I was in disbelief but I looked it up and it is there.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:03 am |
    • Megan

      BC, pretty sure that passage was meant to convey that Jesus was not scared of ripping families apart for the sake of loving God, that God and the spread of the Good News was more important than family.

      More on the subject of psychology, the whole purpose of religion IS to convey a deeper meaning, a higher power, which people use to ward off mortality salience, which is ultimately the fear of death and the non-existence that it brings. It's difficult for creatures who define themselves by their mere existence to wrap their heads around NOT existing, and religion acts as a counterbalance to the fear and panic that brings on. Yes, it does create an in-group and out-group effect, but more to the purpose it is used against mortality salience. To say that we need to get rid of the sense of deeper meaning means that we would have to get rid of religion altogether.

      Also, religion can do positive things, not only for their community, but for the individuals participating in religion. Participation in religion has been shown to be associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, and isolation and is associated with more sense of belonging and purpose, and is also associated with a faster rebound-rate from negative feelings like depression, ultimately leading to more productive and happy members of our communities. One could argue that this would lead to better communities overall, and a better quality of life for all in the community.

      And Christianity is defined by an outside source, so those calling themselves Christian should act in that way, whether their personal in-group does or does not include another Christian.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  13. Vicky

    A tree (Christian) is known by his fruit. Looking at Obama's fruits, I can decide that he is not a Christian. It is not what you say that makes you a Christian, it is the life that you live in obedience and to the glory of God that shows your true heart.
    I am glad that my children will not attend the college that you are teaching at, by God's mercy!

    July 13, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  14. Doug

    The epitome of silliness. Why don't christian politicians act like christians? Why don't christians act like christians?

    July 13, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  15. Matt

    Mr. Hughes loves to name the Republicans who claim to be Christian and then point out all of their "sins" and un-Christian-like behavior. Now, did you notice that he also mentioned that Obama claims to be a Christian as well? Yet (amazingly) he doesn't point out any faults of Obama. Not one. Is he sinless? Is the hypocricy he talks about only by conservatives? This article could not be more biased or unbalanced.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  16. Nathan Ealy

    Seems Richard T. Hughes is only upset a conservative Christians. He's right. Liberal Christrians never ever ignore Jesus' teachings.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  17. David

    Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. We will all find out in the end what the Lord thinks about the way we have conducted business at home and abroad. Going to war over oil when the Lord has blessed us with abundant wind and solar energy sources would seem a huge sin. Lying to Congress and the American people to start the second Gulf War in Iraq seems equally as sinful. The longer we stay fighting in the Middle East over oil, the more the Islamic nations will hate us and fight us at home and abroad. True national security and economic prosperity will start with the peaceful pursuit of non-fossil fuel based energies. What energy solutions and economic strategies do you think Jesus would choose? We all need to repent!!!

    July 13, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  18. Rich

    What about Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Rev. Wright? I notice that this article only is critical of people who come from the right wing and not the left. Let's be fair and say that both left and right wing politicians compromise there biblical principles. What about supporters of abortion who claim to be christian? Is abortion a biblical principle? I don't think so.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  19. Gary

    While I agree with what the man says, I can find nothing as to the school being accredited.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  20. Jim

    Interesting that he only analyzes the "Christian-ness" of conservatives - not Obama, not Clinton, not Kennedy, Boxer, Feinstein, etc.

    I can easily see how many could question Obama's adherance to Christianity - he attended a notionally Christian church for years, but it was clearly far more about spouting racism than teaching about Christ.

    July 13, 2010 at 8:26 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.