My Take: 5 biblical passages for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry
What parts of the Bible do candidates really follow?
August 16th, 2011
10:57 AM ET

My Take: 5 biblical passages for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

The audience booed when columnist Byron York asked U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at the Republican presidential debate last week, if, as president, she would be “submissive to her husband.”

That question would have been out of order if she had excluded her evangelical Protestant faith from her presidential campaign. But she has made her faith as a Bible believer central to that campaign, so voters have a right to know which parts of the Bible she really believes in, and which parts (if any) she ignores.

Unfortunately, we cannot ask God whether He has in fact called Bachmann to be president, but we can ask her to interpret what she affirms to be the Word of God.

The same goes for Texas Governor Rick Perry, who earlier this month led “The Response,” a prayer and fasting event at a Houston football stadium that had the look and feel of an evangelical revival.

So here are my five Bible quotations for the two Republican presidential candidates now vying most vociferously for the evangelical Protestant vote.

1.  “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands” (Colossians 3:18).

Should female presidents submit to their first husbands? As it should be obvious to anyone who saw this portion of the debate, Bachmann did not answer this question. She said she respected her husband. She said he respected her. But the question was about submission, not respect.

When John F. Kennedy was running for president, some voters were worried about whether, as president, he would take his marching orders from someone else. That someone else was not Jacqueline Onassis but the pope.

In a famous speech delivered on September 12, 1960, in Houston, he answered the question clearly and definitely. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President - should he be Catholic - how to act.”

He also drew a sharp distinction between his private religious views and his public political views, pledging that his private faith would have no bearing on his actions as president. “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views - in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates.”

I would like to know whether Bachmann will say the same about her evangelical Protestantism. If her husband tells her to veto a bill, will she submit to him? Is there any separation for her, as there was for Kennedy, between her private religious doctrines (in this case, that wives should be submissive to their husbands) and her public responsibilities (to act as "the decider")?

2. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

When I watched Perry’s performance at “The Response,” this Bible quote came to mind. I would like to know what he thinks of it.

Should Christians make a show of praying in public? This passage at least would seem to say no. In fact, it seems to say that when you pray you should go into your room and shut the door before addressing God. But perhaps I am misreading it. Either way, I would like for Perry to tell me what he makes of this Bible passage. And Bachmann, too, while we are at it.

3.  “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

Part of the Ten Commandments, this passage has been used by many social conservatives to argue against Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. After all, if God said, “Thou shalt not kill” then why are we taking lives inside the womb?  But if God said, “Thou shalt not kill” then why are we allowing capital punishment?

I would like to hear from both Perry and Bachmann about how they read this passage, and how it can simultaneously justify opposition to abortion rights and support for the death penalty. (During his term as Texas governor, Perry has overseen 234 executions. Bachmann's position on the issue is unclear.)

4.  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25).

This famous quotation, which appears in parallel form in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, arises when Jesus is asked a "gotcha" question about paying taxes to the Roman government. It has been read in various ways by various Christians.

Nonetheless, Jesus seems to be drawing a clear distinction here between religious and secular authority - a distinction that neither Perry nor Bachmann appears to see.

Admittedly, neither of these candidates agrees with the famous metaphor of Thomas Jefferson famous metaphor of a “wall of separation between church and state” but does either see a line of demarcation of any sort - a picket fence, perhaps - between “what is Caesar’s” and “what is God’s”?

5.  “Blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). In Luke, he says, more simply, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

This Lukan passage is a key source in the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church for the so-called “preferential option for the poor”—the notion that Christian communities have a particular responsibility to take care of the poor in their midst.

How do Perry and Bachmann read this passage? Did Luke mess up by leaving out "in spirit"? Or did Jesus really say "Blessed are the poor"? And if he did say that, what did he mean by it? Do his words carry any meaning for us today, and to the way we craft our federal budget?

I have more quotations, of course, but these five will do for now.

I presume both candidates will acknowledge that these passages are, in fact, in the Bible. And I take it for granted that, as self-professed Bible-believing Christians, they believe these passages are true. But what truths do they teach? And what import, if any, do those truths have on their public policies?

I understand the impulse to draft Jesus into your political campaign. At least in U.S. politics, Jesus is good for business. But if you are going to call Jesus to your side, you need to let voters know how that affects your politics. Might you change your mind if you saw that a political position of yours was contradicted by the Bible? Or is the Bible a dead letter, useful for invoking divine authority but never for correction or reprove?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Bachmann • Bible • Christianity • Politics • Rick Perry • United States

soundoff (1,020 Responses)
  1. John


    August 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  2. Mike

    "But if God said, 'Thou shalt not kill' then why are we allowing capital punishment?" Because starting in the very next chapter after God said, "Thou shalt not kill," God said, "If someone commits crimes like , execute him." The verb used for "kill" in the commandment is more properly translated "murder" - i.e., killing someone on your own initiative and for your own purposes. "Execution," on the other hand, is acting according to the judgment of God and carrying out God's just retribution for sin. Nutshell: Murder and capital punishment are two different things, and God forbids the former and sanctions the latter.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Brian

      Oh, so that makes it ok then. You all are nuts.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Sean

      What you’ve done here is just prove how contradictive the Bible is. Thank you for saving me the effort.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • J.W

      So I guess that means we can just dismiss what it says in the New Testament then.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  3. Bill the Cat

    1) Submission to the husband is in relation to the husband/wife spiritual relationship, not the wife's personal life or job.
    2) Refers to personal prayer, not corporate prayer
    3) The Hebrew word is best translated "murder", not "kill". Abortion is murder of an innocent. Capital punishment is justice for the guilty.
    4) Refers to paying one's taxes demanded by those who print the money.
    5) Refers to the poor's seemingly easier ability to rely on God instead of wealth for their sustainment. Has nothing to do with Government handouts.

    Do you people even think before you write these articles?...

    August 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Magic

      Bill the Cat,

      These candidates have shown no evidence that they adhere to your interpretations.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Bill the Cat


      I am not surprised. Much of Western Christianity is Biblically illiterate. As is much of Western atheism.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Terre

      Who gives a s h i t! It's not like there are any gods.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm |

      1. Are you sure that evangelicals interpret it that way?
      2. That line is purposefully blurred by politicians pandering to the ignorant.
      3. Do you know the Hebrew word "putz"?
      4. Why don't churchs that do business in this country and own valuable real estate pay taxes?
      5. You must be a republican.

      Close the internet window and go read your bible, d*ckhead.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  4. Sean Russell

    It's fascinating how these right-wingers are now dismissing any notion of a separation of church and state. As this writer pointed out with JFK- he had to convince them back then that he wouldn't be beholden to the pope, and emphasized his commitment to that separation. Now, all of a sudden- they claim there is no separation between church and state. And next, they seem to be on track to declare that slavery wasn't a bad thing. These people lack any idea what America is really all about.

    Vote for these christian jihadists at your own peril.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Slippery Slope fallacy and ad hominem fallacy. Guess that's all you have, huh?

      August 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Sean Russell: I know, right? With all the flip-flopping, it almost seems as if they just change what they believe in to suit what they want.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  5. PeaceOut

    Let's not forgot these people are politicians, which is basically the equivalent of being in a popularity contest. The reason they are bringing up their religious beleifs is to appeal to a certain group of people. They are not ready nor are the spiritually mature enough to answer the tough questions. It is sad what our political system has become...

    August 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm |

    I have read many commentaries on these pages from "christians" wondering why atheists are so vehemently mocking their beliefs. Make no mistake about it, we think you are MORONS!!! So do Bachman, Perry, Palin et.al. They are playing you and your fairy tale religious beliefs for their own agendas and like rubes you take the sucker bait every time. I wipe my butt with your "good book". WAKE UP AND EVOLVE!!!

    August 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • J.W

      So what? We think you are a moron too.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Charlie

      There is a difference between being an Atheist and an Anti-Theist. I fear you may be the latter.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  7. CalBM1

    Look into Perrys eyes , looks like Jim Jones, the Bible thumper who killed all those people in South America. I think maybe he is the antichrist. He fits the criteria of who to look for.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • John the Hippo

      Should check out the video of him being pulled over by police in Texas. If I beleived in the Devil, Perry would definetely be one of his worker bees.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  8. Ed

    Who in the hell give a god damn what the bible says. Nothing but a fairy tale in the first place that is used to brainwash people.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Bill the Cat


      You are an idiot.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Sean

      Prove him wrong Bill or are all you have insults?

      August 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • John the Hippo

      No Bill the Cat....Ed gets it...you on the other hand keep your fairy tales alive for selft comfort. Peace.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • ScienceWorks

      Sorry to say, no he's not an idiot.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Bill the Cat


      You are an idiot.

      Bill if you disagree, perhaps you should prove him wrong?

      August 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Lawful

    Would be nice if authors would study the original text in the original language before assuming that the folks who wrote the Bible (inspired or not) in Hebrew were a bunch of neanderthals. The original Hebrew uses the word "ratsach" which means "murder" or intentional killing with a criminal mens rea. It does not say "lo nakah" which would mean ANY killing. So, no there would not be any contradiction in allowing capital punishment for murder and lesser punishments for negligent death. If you read Deuteronomy, you will find an entire passage dedicated to creating cities of refuge for negligent killers to protect them from vengeance by family of the one killed by negligent homicide (manslaughter), which would be murder. To put it in legal terms, the actus reus itself is not what is forbidden but the act combined with criminal intent (mens rea) that is forbidden. That is why G-d (or Judaic tradition if you insist that it is just the very smart Jews who created the law on their own without G-d's help) was not speaking out of both sides of His mouth here.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Velda

      Amen. Respect the knowledge.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Sean Russell

      Nice, lawyerly response. This is exactly the problem with letting a religion founded 1000's of years ago, in the stone-age, dictate your beliefs. You can go to bible and find justification for murder, genocide, or slavery; if you want. You can also go to the bible and interpret it in such a way to find the opposite position to all these things.
      Why not actually do what your heart tells you is the right thing to do and stop trying to find a reason for it in a book written by some guy in the desert 4,000 years ago. Stop shirking responsibility and stand up for something. Stop blaming the devil for things and stop relying on god- who you can't even prove exists- to make the world the way it should be.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Bill the Cat


      What if my heart tells me to come to your house and rob you blind? Should I just listen to that? Or is your shifting goalpost going to move like frogger through traffic?

      August 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Terre

      If we are supposed to believe in the OT why is it that adultery is not a capital punishment, you can even kill your kids if they curse at you? ROTFL. The universe is 6,000 years old so I guess that makes the stars that are billions of light years away fake then?

      August 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Sean

      Seems your issue should be with the church for rewriting the Bible over and over. How many modern Christians read the original text in the original language? That’s right, they don’t even read the current versions. They sit there and believe whatever skewed view their local church leader tells them to.

      There is a reason they are called the flock.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • John the Hippo

      Bill the Cat, maybe its good you have the bible to guide you as you obviously don't have common sense as to what's right and wrong. Most of us do though and don't need all the hocus pocus to tell us how to live.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  10. Joe

    These are very reasonable questions to ask candidates who flaunt their religious views the way that Bachman and Perry do. I suspect both would try to dance around them and not answer them and reveal either their blatant hypocrisy or their utter ignorance of the Bible's true meaning.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • stephen

      But its ok to Let OBAMA FLOUT and have MUSLIM Gatherings at the White House even though the liar in chief says he is a christian at heart. Guess the next white house BBQ will be a Christian gathering?

      August 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Sean

      I agree

      What does this have to do with Obama or Muslims? You’re going to need a better defense than pointing fingers at someone else like a five year old.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  11. JamesT297

    I am not interested in their responses to these questions in the least little bit. I know enough already to know that I would never consider any candidate who believes the earth to be less than 10,000 years old. If I live to be 13 years old, I will never understand how anyone could hold such a belief. And, otherwise I'm a Teabagger on fiscal stuff. Obama before either of these buffoons.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  12. sgaboy

    just think about this for a miinute.
    over in the arab world those folks have not had a moment of peace since jesus was put on the cross.........

    August 17, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • JamesT297

      Islam was not even conceived when jesus was stapled to the cross.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Nurse Lisa

      earlier diversion is cause for the rift – Abraham's sons – Ismael vs. Isaac

      August 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • PushingBack

      I heard he was glued.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Charlie

      Jesus wasn't crucified on a mystical Tau (or cross as you put it).. it was a Stake as defined in Ezra 6:11. Look it up!

      August 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      Jesus wasn't crucified on a mystical Tau (or cross as you put it).. it was a Stake as defined in Ezra 6:11. Look it up!

      S u ck ed to be him but he did have a nice view. I don't think he was gell'n up there.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  13. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    I'm just a troll who hijacks other posts.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      I'm just a troll who hijacks other posts.

      ah somebody is upset and copying me...this is cute.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Heinz M

    No wonder we are in such deep waters, when those who are supposed to take care of business are beholden to utter fantasy. Reality is a concept they obviously have no idea about. They live in nirvana, which has no connection to what IS. I would rather be with the creepy spaghetti monster in the sky. 😉 Out representatives, what a bunch of morons (except for what they do strictly for themselves, at the expense to every non government employed citizen. CROOKS!)

    August 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  15. SurelyUjest

    I would like to see these questions asked during the debate to show where they stand. My guess is both would fail to explain their actions and words in respect to any of these 5 quotes.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Navy Vet

      The Bible in itself is full of contradictions without trying to bait these clueless politicians into condradicting themselves. They won't do it. While they may not be smart or educated enough in the actual texts of the Bible to communicate effectively on the subject of their individual beliefs, they are absolutely versed in the practice of skirting questions with indirect responses. They would not enjoy a position of power without that ability. Plain and simple.

      Better questions would come from Leviticus which in my opinion, is loaded with barbaric and brutal punishment for specific crimes and behaviors. In the United States, many of those punishments are illegal. I would be curious to hear who truly believe those style punishments should be carried out.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  16. John


    August 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  17. Kim

    I would add, "You cannot serve two masters...you cannot serve both God and wealth." This matches the passage in Luke's "woes."

    August 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  18. conoclast

    Great bumpersticker:

    Instead Of Being Born Again
    Why Not Just Grow Up?

    The last time we had a god-wants-me-to-be-president yokel in office look what happened!

    August 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  19. Mark

    When are people going to realize that there isn't any "god" Please take "god" out of politics. The treaty of Tripoli states" As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" This was signed in 1797 by President John Adams and these born again christians who want to run our government should read it. They should also read what President Kennedy said. Quit wearing religion on your sleeve!

    August 17, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  20. pmbg73

    So Capital Punishment is a Christian principle because it says so in the old testament? Well, the Old Testament also says you can have multiple spouses and concubines. I thought you had to follow the teachings of JESUS CHRIST, who flatly rejected the Old Testament principle of taking equal revenge for a wrong done (Matthew 5:38-41, Luke 9:52-56).
    The Bible is an extensive compilation of books and you can find a phrase somewhere that when taken out of context can be used to justify about anything. But Jesus was very clear and straightforward about love, forgiveness and compassion. Unfortunately, like Jesus warned us, a large number of "Christians" just don’t get it or are misguided by those who just use religion for their own benefit.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Be like jesus......don't marry, sleep and live with a group of the same s e x, hang out with women of the night and attempt to walk on water.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • stephen

      or follow a pedophile! Good post idiot.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      or follow a pedophile! Good post idiot.

      Oops forgot he also liked the company of children

      August 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
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