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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. nashdog

    Brian in Germany – thanks my brother; you hit the nail on the head.

    Political power is the Power of The World (the greek 'cosmon'). The scriptures very clearly state that it is impossible to love God AND the world. Followers of Yeshua (which comprise some percentage of what we call 'Christians') are citizens of The Kingdom of Heaven. Their American citizenship is really resident alien status.

    Think about this, Christian patriots and worshippers of Donkey and/or Elephant: when you PLEDGE allegiance to the flag, are you aware that you are committing an act of idolatry? You don't know what the powerful world system that is America is going to do. As we've seen, it is not always pretty – and it is often at cross purposes with your Lord and Savior. So, be careful...

    Romans tells us to honor authority, because the world powers are established by God alone. Pay your taxes. Obey the law. Rebellion is prohibited. With that in mind, let's think about what the Boston Tea Party was... From the very beginning Christians have held erroneously held a belief that America was righteously founded on Christian principles. This is not so; it was founded in disobedience to God.

    Jesus also said that if you are His disciple THIS WORLD WILL HATE YOU (as it hated Him). I believe Him. And for this reason, I do not think America ever has had or ever will have a strong, completely Christ-surrendered executive. I don't think these people will get elected to Congress, either.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • James Edwin Whedbee

      Note... Given human nature, just because the world "hates you" doesn't mean it is for Christ's sake...being Christ-like is the requisite here.

      July 13, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  2. PHIL

    JPT I think you understand GOD very well. Life is very important to GOD .

    July 13, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  3. Debbie

    This man is spot on in his observations. Everything he says is reinforced by some of the comments here by people who think they're Christians, but don't have the first idea how to behave like one.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  4. W

    To God be the Glory

    July 13, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • Christian Soldier

      Le the Glory go to God and let the cash in the collection plate go to man.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
  5. JPT

    I once attempted to hold a friend of mine accountable as Christian regarding illegal immigration. My biblically rooted stance is that private individuals should love and aid them, contrary to the law. I based this argument on the Christian notion that Christian charity is more important to God than enforcing immigration law. Her response? She un-friended me.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  6. Dave R.

    Thank you Mr. Hughes!! You have nailed it!!. I have many friends that keep asking how can Republicans call themselves Christians when the political philosophy they preach is contrary to what Christianity teaches. They want small government unless it benefits them. Then, it's all the government they can get. For those receiving Social Security and Medicare, have they begun returning their checks yet?

    July 13, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  7. PHIL

    The law is rapped up in the ten commandments ,it shows that we cannot follow dos and donts and he dosent want us to .Jesus wants us to get to know him , not tell the world how to live . We an imperfect being will always throw in dos and donts . We do it [ maybe not always intentualy ] often to show we are better . Thats not what Jesus intended us to do , he wants us to get to know him and to treat people , animals , the planet and all things he has created with a love that is patient, kind, dose not envey, brag about its self, rude, self-seeking,easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, truthful, protects, trusts, always protects, always hopes, always keeps going . This is not how I treat people , but it is to me what a relationship with Jesus Christ would eventualy rub off on us.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  8. Robert Douglass

    Jesus said that he is going to make everyone who disagrees with him burn forever in Hell. Coulter, Gingrich, Beck, Palin, etc., are just following Jesus' example.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • Gumby

      Actually... Paul said that, not Jesus.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • JPT

      I concur; Paul never really quit being a religious policeman; he just changed his denomination.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:42 am |
    • Jim

      Robert Douglass,

      Actually you have it backwards. People who reject God reject the only source of good (every other good thing is an extention of God in one way, shape or form) so when they tell God that they don't want to be around Him, they are obliged. God honors their rejection and provides a place for them where there is no good (because they have rejected the source of good itself) which most of us call Hell.

      Sort of like when you tell the owner of the house you don't like him and reject his house rules, you are removed from the premises to the outside world. In this case there is nothing good outside the house. Like humans always do, we complain when we don't get to be the boss and when we get the desire to be free from the owner of the house (Yahweh), we complain because He didn't give us a comfortable existence (like He owes us something).

      I would recommend getting to know and love the owner of the house my friend....

      Grace and Peace,
      Jim

      July 13, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  9. Mark from Middle River

    The persons who brought up Rev. Wright and Al Sharpton.... I think either Mr Hughes left those liberal conservatives out on purpose just to take aim at Republican Christians.

    ... or if he is reading these responses, Evale and Rich I think you just made a professor wet his pants.

    How can you Mr Hughes? I thought we were supposed to have moved past partisan. I started to come back to CNN because I felt it was moving more towards the center but articles like your Mr Hughes smacks of the old CNN. Next time honored elder, try to be more unbiased. Even Chris Rock points out the failings of these guys as a bunch of pretenders and wannabes since MLK was shot. I think we expect more out of CNN.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  10. elvistuna

    wow. some of these responses (such as the one from PT in particular) are exactly what this author of the article is talking about. his basic thesis is that Christianity is about compassion, tolerance and acceptance- something that people like PT, Glen Beck, Ann Coulter, Newt G etc have strayed far from. PT who are you to say that the author doenst understand the bible? he is a professor of religion! his simple and absolutely correct point is that the far right has completely abandoned and forgotten what it means to be a good Christian- as it seems you have as well. it doesnt take a religious scholar to know that the basic tenants of any organized religion are all the same- whether it be the christian, jewish, muslim or any other faith- it is about love, compassion, honesty, acceptance- it is people like you, like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck who are the extremists who loose their way and forget what true religion is about. the point of this article is to illustrate how many have lost the true meaning and the way of religion. before you go about criticizing this article, you should look at yourself- is this how true christians should behave? any answer than "no" shows that you too have truely lost your way...

    July 13, 2010 at 9:24 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      As long as you have Rev Wright spouting out hatred of white America for years and the rantings of Al Sharpton answer, is that how true Christians are supposed to behave. Just using those two I won't even have to go into our Pro Choice + Catholic Vice president. How can this author claim only that Republicans Christians are not acting like true holders of Jesus's values and miss the second in command in our country.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  11. Priscella Klock

    ahhhh...the ol' Christians act like Christians debate.
    (sigh)
    its been going on for centuries and probably will only continue to go on for centuries.
    and the author is correct about many different aspects of my faith-this, I cannot deny him!
    Jesus, in a baby nutshell, can be summed up as teaching those core messages...and I love him because of them and I believe them to be the passage to all truth and understanding, but there is much, much, much more that comes with Jesus and the New Testament and the Bible-all of which is at least worth giving recognition to.
    America is full of fake people, lets get that straight first and foremost.
    And I wish more Christians acted like Christians too, but I also wish more atheists acted like atheists, mormons acted like mormons, jews acted like jews, and muslims acted like muslims, etc.
    The truth is, we're all a bunch of hypocrites-not just Christians. Christians can be heard more because they yell the loudest (which is NOT holy or righteous), but they're no different than anyone else reading this article or writing it or referencing it etc. Christians are rude and they act rude and they are disrespectful and SHOULD read their Bibles (no, not what their pastors say-their BIBLES), but guess what?? So should each of you.
    You all should read the Bible as well. You all should know what you're talking about before you place blame upon it.
    All of us should. We all should strive to learn and grow in order to understand each other and ourselves.

    Christians are hypocritical and so is everyone else...but the only thing that will separate any of us and make any of us different is if we actually CHOOSE to not view ourselves as better than anyone else.
    And we have the option to do so-God gives it to us each and everyday.

    We can freely choose that...each of us...

    and my prayer is that I do, and that my sins are forgiven and that I acknowledge them before I focus on the sins of others, and that my life is an offering of love and hope to those around me whether or not they care or offer anything to me in return, so that I can live like Jesus and be like He is and He was to each of those who were in contact with Him. . . . as a Christian, it is my greatest desire-I hope as a human it is yours as well.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  12. Gumby

    FINALLY!!!!

    July 13, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  13. Gumby

    Since Christianity is based on a purely allegorical book, the problem of Christians selectively picking chapter and verse in order to justify just about any conceivable agenda (no matter how contrary to the teachings of Jesus) will continue. It's that simple.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Joseph

      Well said!

      July 13, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • JPT

      Yes and no. While the old and new testaments make broad use of allegories, so too do many philosophers (e.g., Plato's cave). The purpose of allegory in the bible vaires, sometimes it is mere propaganda, e.g., how the rival Edomite and Moabite nations came to be, in other cases something more transcendant is at issue– the Book of Job, for example. Regardless, even if we take the new testament as pious fraud committed by Jews in response to Hellenization, there are still some basic truths to the parables Christ presents. Notions of charity, man's relation to man and God, and even *gulp* social justice are abundant, even if somewhat veiled.

      July 13, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  14. Lorie

    Amen brother! I couldn't have said it better.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  15. Bird T. Word

    Yeah, the master plan is working in it's purist form. Go against the only thing that can save, while we retreat from an enemy that we will probably never see from the faceless war. With the only religion left is mystic and false. Pre-WW2 all over again. "Every New Beginning Comes from some other Beginning's End."

    July 13, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  16. u2canfail

    Someone finally said it out loud!

    July 13, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  17. Amanda

    Oneindependent you have said it all, this artical is the best and most sane thing I have read in a long time. I am a christian and it make me so sad to hear our politicians and people in general speak so badly about everything and everyone and put every thing under the sun before God. Yet these same people will stand and shout from the roof tops how much they love and have faith in God. I wonder why is it so hard for people to just love and be willing to help each other. The world would be so much better if we did.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:16 am |
    • Frogist

      Amanda, the answer is that "Christians" and the fanatical religious love God more than anything or anyone. So they feel they don't have to consider their fellow man. What would it matter if you bash anyone who isn't the same as you if God is the only one who matters? I've seen so many people on this site talk about how they have allegiance only to their god which somehow relieves them of the responsibilities they have for the world around them now. They shouldn't have to pay taxes or care for the poor or show respect for those who think differently because that's part of the worldly realm. But unless they are proclaiming themselves god, they still have to live in the world of humans, and interact with humans because they are human. They have missed the point.

      July 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  18. Patrick

    I very much agree with this article. However, I do not believe in any government following any religion. Especially since faith is a good thing, while religion is just control. Countries should have respect for all manners of faith, as should all citizens. Fanaticism is what gives faith such a horrible view. Islam fanatics reign destruction and it's called murder; yet Christian's and Jews do it and it's called rightousness.....Denial is a wonderful thing.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  19. ed

    Our country is lost, and this article just barely touches on the reason why. We have lost sight of Christ, and the abundant Grace which the Heavenly Father has lavished upon us these many years. God is calling us all to humble ourselves, pray, turn from our wicked ways, and seek His Face.

    Then, and only then, will He heal our land.

    July 13, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  20. Original Gene

    To Peace2all:
    Regarding: Your comparison of “The Book of the Dead”, to the Ten Commandments:

    The Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani) = 42, of a list of 99 wrongs, which expressed each individual concept of “Ma’at” (truth), “as well as working as a magical absolution” (to wipe out the misdeeds or mistakes made by the tomb owner in life). (Romans 1:19-20). The Ten Commandments = 10 wrongs, including “You shall have no other Gods before me”, which was not included in The Book of the Dead and obviously these 10 are the most important to God.

    Out of all of those wrongs, it’s easy to have about 7 in common. God intended the Ten Commandments to be for the living, not for the dead – so, what’s the big deal?

    July 13, 2010 at 9:09 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.