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. a person of the Name

    Sorry, yes that was Sodom. My mistake.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Stevie7

      The reply link is the one to the right of the Report abuse link. You might want to try it sometime.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  2. Chasgn1

    Hey Stephen, for being a theology professor your understanding of scripture is horribly limited, or you intentionally mislead people. As a professor, you should dispelling common myths and misinterpretations of the Bible. One of the most basic, which I can't believe you made it through grad school not knowing, is that the word "kill" is not used, but rather, "murder" is within the commandments. God knows very well the difference and the Hebrews distinguished this as well. Kill took over as the phrase and we've been too lazy to correct ourselves. Quick Note. I'm done.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Careful, there are people who major in biology from these bible colleges, too. Darwin isn't taught there. Immunology must be interesting.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Dave in Dallas

      ... good to know. Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bachman, ... How do you interpret the commandment "thou shalt not commit murder"? Better? Doesn't change the relevance or perspective in the case of capital punishment.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  3. AGuest9

    Can we pick 5 lines from Animal Farm, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, or some other work of fiction that has meaning?

    August 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  4. charles

    In this day and age, the biggest questions for the potential future leader of the USA regard a 2000 year old book....

    August 16, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  5. Heather

    I am a Christian and I feel these verses are taken way out of context. There are more things that you could poke at evangelicals that do not agree with Christian views. This is obviously not an expert in theology writing this article. I do agree however that these candidates use some but not all of Christian beiefs. It is however anti Christian for me to be making all these judgments.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Dave in Dallas

      Well, he's a religious scholar at Boston University. ... but by your account not an expert. What expertise do you bring to the table to claim that the "context" is misleading? Regardless of your personal expertise, what is the missed context? (anxiously awaiting a tortured response)

      August 16, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  6. bam

    do not question rick perry the Christian Taliban high Mullah, if he issues edicts to murder prisoners u DO IT BLINDLY not question it. u r either with us or u r against us

    August 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  7. arthurrrrr

    STEVEN PROTHERO_ let help you out a little.. THOU SHALT NOT KILL did not refer to every single kind of killing! Then we couldn't even eat vegetables. It referred to KILLNG NOT AUTHORIZED BY GOD> as translated from the original Hebrew. The commandment to pray IN YOUR PRAYER CLOSET, referred to not making an INSINCERE SHOW of praying. Public prayer is actually commanded by Jesus since He told His followers to go out and heal the sick and raise the dead. You think they went into some CLOSET TO DO THAT??> get real! Even Jesus prayed publicaly. your other quotes are just nitpicking and not worth commenting on. I find it amazing that people who dont even care about the Bible will whip out quotes that they dont even understand to beat Christians up with. Unbelievable!!!!

    August 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • ArcFire213

      I think your comment illustrates beautifully one of the biggest problems with the Bible: that it is interpreted and emphasized differently depending who you ask. Do you really think that the majority of people who know their ten commandments have honestly researched the original Hebrew script? And even if they have, how would they truly be able to justify which killings are authorized by God? In the end, people who turn to the Bible, or any religious text for that matter, simply end up saying that their opponents don't understand it truly, when really they just interpret it differently.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • loner

      The commandment 'thou shall not kill' refers to humans. This goes both ways abortion can rightly seen as a violation of this commandment as well as capital punishment. The one saying from Jesus that people never mention is 'it is easier for camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God' . There is either a real big needle or a very small camel or rich people cant go to heaven. The implications are troubling. Oprah' Donald Trump, Barak Obama, Peyton Manning, George Bush, Bill Gates, Ice-T and others could not enter into heaven according to Jesus. I have a hard time believing this. Then again how many children die every day of starvation while some are spending $200 on a meal. The truth is that if Jesus were to return we would crucify again in a second. There is no us or them we all are inherently sinners.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • ThatOneDude

      Hell is as fictional as all the other supernatural claptrap, including the dogmatic slavery that is the concept of a fallen mankind.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  8. a person of the Name

    @ martin t Lotks daughters got him in a drunken stupper then saduced him. As far as him offering up his daughters, should read that closely. Lot was trying to save Gmorrah from destruction. When they said they wanted the men that came to Lots house, which was angels sent by God, so that they might "know" them. (That ment to sleep with them)

    August 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  9. Kebos

    Really? Has it come to this? A bunch of hypothetical questions from a book that at best is a poor work of fiction. When the US is falling apart, this is an article worth posting and pondering? No in the least.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • ArcFire213

      It is indeed a scary time to be a rational human being.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Perhaps the more important question is why do so many think this is important? That should scare us most as the electorate.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  10. lg447

    Prothero, where did you study "religion"?
    This sounded like you just popped open the Bible and grabbed whatever fit your fight the best.
    Yet, I will pray that you and all who believe that Jesus Christ to be a farce to see the Truth and the Way...that you will ask God to forgive you and receive his FREE gift of salvation.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Kebos

      Hardly free and it isn't a gift!

      August 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • ThatOneDude

      The Christian Bible is a bad joke on humanity. The god of the bible is a vile monster who delights in mayhem and genocide, with a history of murder and degradation of the human person leading up to a human sacrifice. It would be a nightmarish scenario if it were not a complete work of ancient fiction. Your god is a figment of your own imagination. Grow the hell up and quit your infantile prattling.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  11. a person of the Name

    It will all work in the end. We who pray, will pray about it, those who don't can complain about it. I'm sitting down this year and giving politics some thought, never been one to vote. Going to this next year.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      Then look to qualifications for the office of President,at this point I would not consider either Bachmann or Perry qualified to run this country.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  12. Mike

    All good questions. Regarding #3, there is a difference between killing that is murder and killing that is for justice.
    Killing an innocent baby for your own convenience is murder. Killing someone because of an argument over property is murder. Killing someone because of a difference over religious beliefs is murder.
    The state has the right to enforce justice. Capital punishment is the logical extension to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus said to obey the authorities because they were put in charge. Individuals have the right to self-defense.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Daniel

      Please refer to Matt. 5: 38-39. And you have heard an eye for an eye... I tell you no.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • James R. Hunt

      God ordered all who breathed to be killed by some of his followers. That included innocent children, mothers and even live stock. If that is your god's justice then I will have no part of it.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • tony

      "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." J.C. your lord and savior said this. I think the words spoken directly by God, take precedent in these matters. Or at least they should to any christian that has read the bible.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  13. Anthony

    I have another passage for you and those making comments Matthew 7:1-5.
    1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24
    3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
    5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye

    August 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  14. Mooska

    Excellent article and food for thought. Personally, I don't want to see the U.S. under another theocratic president as we were with Bush. I know that some in the U.S. didn't see it that way, but the rest of the world did.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  15. tony

    Anyone who invokes the name of some supernatural force as having any bearing on our political/social lives should ipso facto be declared insane, thus ineligible for public office.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Kebos

      Wholeheartedly agree

      August 16, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • ArcFire213

      Yes, yes, and yes.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Desperately Seeking Objectivity

      Unless that "supernatural force" actually exists.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Which can't be proven, so we revert back to tony.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  16. Yoda

    Perry believes that God asks him for advice; due to the fact that he is a Texan, Republican and Governor who wants to be President of the USA. Maybe God will be on the ticket as Vice President?

    August 16, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Cielo

    Rick Perry doesn't care if he prays in public: his reward IS the show itself. As for the poor, he doesn't care about them, either, as evidenced by how he cut nearly every program designed to aid the poor in surviving: health care, education, mental health services and many other social services. Perry is a "show christian": all cross but no sacrifice.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      You have defined him exactly, thank you

      August 16, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  18. achmed rahemihb

    may allah damn you!

    August 16, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • AmericanSam

      Chill man we're all good people here.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Friend of JC

      The dambed can not damb anyone

      August 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Damned? You mean being sent to an imaginary place by an imaginary being for all of eternity?

      August 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  19. realist88

    Politicians will use their religious beliefs for political gain and conveniently interpret what is not so convenient in a way that will still benefit them. Similarly, people like the author of this article will pick apart single verses in the Bible as a political weapon – it goes both ways.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  20. dvdmc16

    This is what's being debated, and we have the nerve to critisize middle eastern theocracies.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Isn't that amazing? 21st Century First World, and we're debating things from a book that, most of which, never really happened.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
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