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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. LeRoy

    Did the original 10 Commandments say , "Thow shall not kill?" Or murder. There is a difference. We murder people. We kill every other living thing.

    August 17, 2011 at 5:45 am |
  2. TheyNotHim

    Hello xtians...can you help me out here? I really want to believe, but I just need one quick question to be answered first. I post this question pretty much every day but nobody has answered me yet. So, here goes again...

    Did Jesus (Joshua?) actually exist? If so, please cite one primary source that confirms this. No, the bible is not a primary source seeing that nobody writing in that book actually met Joshua. See, nobody living at the time of his alleged crucifixion had anything to say about him. The Romans, legendary record keepers, had nothing to say about his life, his trial, his death...not a word...not even a record that the town of his birth even existed.

    You see where my confusion may have it's origin.

    Please help, I just need this one little question answered and my faith will blossom!

    August 17, 2011 at 5:42 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      TNH,,,,,

      Your rather blatant issue of angularizing a christians motif via not letting them use their "Book" is a dastardly and/or unbecomming issue that I do find as being but a secularism's rather brutish defensiveness and therefore your questioning parameter is a begrudged moot flagrancy of solemned issue-less mindive's foray. 🙁 & 🙂 = 🙂 + 🙂 = 🙂

      August 17, 2011 at 6:07 am |
  3. Andrew

    I really wish Jesus would show up and tell everyone "Leave me out of this, or I swear to my dad that I will kick your ass"

    August 17, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  4. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    People have certain Libertarian Rights and current day religious freedoms lay beyond such rights. For anyone to enact upon others’ inalienable proposals contrary to one’s own standards of individualized’ religious beliefs is where one should draw their own sovereign prospectives' alignments upon.

    August 17, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      People of amassed and sometimes massive socialistic gatherings within and around harborages upon religiously endorsed sanctimonies are creating and establishing fruitions of ethnicities around redundantly articulated socialisms toward morally persuasive narcissisms keeping in line those who tend to believe unquestionably their fatherly figures; the Pastors of doom and gloom fortuities berating those of lesser mindives in moral weaknesses around socially divided consecrations bemoaning the common secularist’s motifs.

      August 17, 2011 at 5:37 am |
  5. Joe, Louisville, KY

    Let's face it, anyone who believes in omnipotent beings who no one can see or touch but who direct our every waking moment has a mental problem. It's like smoking, the brand doesnt matter, its the fact that you smoke that means you have a problem.

    August 17, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  6. a slozomby

    @craig – directly after giving those 10 commandments. god ordered the israelites to slaughter ever man, woman and child that was residing in the land of canaan.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:36 am |
  7. a slozomby

    you missed the most important one:
    matthew 5:18
    "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

    so ask them how many of the 613 commandments they broke or ignored today.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:28 am |
  8. Sam

    How can you argue for the "seperation of church and state" in the same article that you argue that the government should help the poor because it's the Christian thing to do? Praying in secret was a great point from the author, but the others seem half researched. "Thou shall not kill" translates more directly to "thou shalt not commit murder". If you recall Israel waged war on the nations occupying the promised land after receiving the 10 Commandments. Sheesh.

    August 17, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • Craig

      There are at least two obvious problems with your observations. First, with regard to the question about the poor, the author is suggesting that these candidates make a big deal of their Christian beliefs, yet seem not to care at all about "the poor." So, which is it? Do they follow the teachings of Jesus or don't they? Remember, these candidates regularly raise the issue of their faith and beliefs...this isn't something being raised by others.

      Your question regarding the commandment Thou shalt not kill is similarly flawed. It's clearly in the Bible, and, supposedly, a directive straight from God. If so, and you use it as a basis for saying abortion is bad, why shouldn't that same logic apply to capital punishment? In other words, why is it okay to kill some people, but not others, if the commandment doesn't make any distinction? The the Israelites did thousands of years ago doesn't truly relate, other than an observation that not everyone follows commandments. In this case, again, the candidates raise the issue of their reliance upon their faith, so it's a fair question.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Sam

      Again it's more correctly translated "thou shall not commit murder". As God commanded the Israelites to make war after he gave this commandment, and as he also commanded capital punishment such as stoning for truely wicked crimes, one can obviously see that war and capital punishment are excluded from this commandment. Remember "an eye for an eye"?

      As for your other point; if someone does claim to be a Christian, and is rich, they are indeed commanded to give of their own money. The parable about the camel and the eye of the needle comes to mind. A greedy, rich person simply cannot get into heaven. However, a government FORCING others to give to the poor has several biblical contradictions about it. Firstly, scripture clearly states that when one gives they are to do it in the name of Christ. Therefore a government cannot fulfill the Christian principal of Christian giving unless it does so in the name of Christ. Again the author's emphasis on seperation of church and state forbids this. Secondly, for the government to give to some, it must take from others. No where does the scripture say this is ok, but rather we find passages that make it clear that envy is a terrible sin, and the poor should be happy with being rich in spirit. Nowhere did Jesus advocate taking from the rich to give to the poor, because nowhere does he advocate forcing people to behave like Christians. The wealthy should be free to hoard their wealth and lose their souls.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • a slozomby

      "Unfortunately, it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose actions brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason."
      Pope John Paul II

      August 17, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • Frogist

      Providing social programs is not a violation of the separation of church and state. The only way you can possibly look at it like that is if you think all provisions for the needy can only be done by the religious which is absolutely not true. It is not "forcing people to behave like Christians" by any standard. That whole malarky about envy makes no sense unless your definition of envy includes coveting things vital for survival. Basically what you said is the poor should be happy to be dest!tute and die and not envy those who have the basic necessities for life. Charles Dickens would be proud.
      As for "an eye for an eye", doesn't it make the whole world blind? Surely "turn the other cheek" takes care of the whole revenge/justice issue for Christians.
      I guess this isn't new though. Christians have shown in the past that they will go to any lengths to be murderous, greedy, callous... This is just another one of those times.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  9. Dean

    Well said to reality check's post above, that is.

    August 17, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  10. chris

    The author is a PR religious person. He can only ask questions, because he has rejected any absolutes.

    August 17, 2011 at 2:14 am |
  11. Chad

    I would love a candidate with the audacity to say, "Although there may indeed be a supreme being in one form or another, I do not really place my faith in nor base my actions on what cannot be seen, nor in the bible which is not only implausible in the extreme, but provably false, and morally bankrupt." The bible is full of murder, misogyny, slave ownership, and god's tacit or direct endorsement of all these things. Why anyone would hold it up as a moral compass is far, far beyond me.

    August 17, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • Pierre

      Chad,
      Your ignorance and misquote of the scriptures is shocking even for a layperson, though I suspect almost certainly there is an adgenda.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:10 am |
    • Chad

      Actually, I didn't quote any scripture, so it's impossible to have MISquoted it. And how dare you call me ignorant. I am much more learned in the writings of the bible than most "practicing" Christians. Wanna have a go? Because I'll shred you. Nothing fills me with more glee than using Christianity's own bible to utterly debunk and dismantle the whole religion.

      God is imaginary. Grow up. Step away from the delusion.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:16 am |
  12. The_Mick

    I like the tone of this article, but the English translation of the original Hebrew is wrong: there is no commandment saying “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:12). It says in it's original tongue, "Thou shalt not murder." BIG difference.

    August 17, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • Chad

      Not really.. God commands his people to murder others with total impunity throughout the bible, including children. Or he just does it himself. Very sadistic god you folks worship.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  13. SilentBoy741

    Daniel 12:4 ...
    "And the Lord said, 'O Daniel, shut up'..."

    August 17, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Thomas

      I thought that was the passage that went "Defendeth thou thine domicile and thy kin with thine anti-personnel assault rifle with armor piercing rounds."

      August 17, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • Frogist

      @Thomas. It actually reads: "And then fetch thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. And raising it on high say 'Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in the mercy.'"

      August 17, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  14. calsteve

    And lets not forget Luke 12:48.
    For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • Eli

      "He cut my hand off omg what are you guys waiting for get him!" Book of Eli

      August 17, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • calsteve

      Definitely well thought out intellectual response...
      Fits with a fan of Michell Bachman...

      August 17, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  15. Mike

    Why is CNN pandering to the religious? Religion has NO place in politics ... and CNN seems to be pandering to those who blur the lines just to make headlines.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  16. Faith

    #5 – The Words of Jesus is profound. Read the whole chapters again. Matthew stressed the spiritual realms and Luke stressed the physical sides of the matter. In reality, it's really a blessing to go through life's pain and poverty; we come to understand life richly through those. But any better-off Christians have a holy duty to help the poor and needy in the utmost effort to rescue humanity from the physical ills.

    #4 – Jesus taught us that normal civil odedience must be kept unless it collides with the obedience to God. Abortion and ho-mo-se-xual marriage are against God's will so those must be opposed by all Christians. No distinction of ethics and politics here.

    #3 – Read the whole Pentateuch. Killing fetus willfully, not by accident, is murder because we were all once a fetus. The Bible says personal life starts from conception. Psalm 139. Killing enemy combatants in battles for self-defense and protection of the home country and executing vicious criminals by justice are perfectly acceptable and are commanded by God. Those who refuse to do so are bad citizens(or simply fools) and villains' unjust comrades.

    #2 – Mr. Prothero, read the whole chapter. It's never an exclusive command. Jesus simply prohibited spiritual hypocricy. He Himself prayed in private AND in public – a lot. And all the prophets, kings and disciples in the Bible prayed publicly a lot according to the will of God and the nations got blessed by them. Mr. Perry did right in calling Americans to pray in public. But we must never pray with hypocricy and should pray in private a lot to live as the true people of God.

    #1, yes, wives must submit to husbands. Americans, being the Hollywood sheep, enjoy trapping the conservative candidates too much. The late President Kennedy has been wrong and he lied unconsciously. Conscience can never be separated from one's own religion. Why do Americans still naively believe such childish quotes of a politician who simply wanted more votes?

    August 17, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Dean

      Faith said above : "Jesus taught us that normal civil odedience must be kept unless it collides with the obedience to God"

      Hmmm..the religious right wing generally make a big show of being patriotic. Yet they obviously have conflicting loyalties to country and to god. And the above quote explains that the religious are expected to obey god, not country, if there is a conflict.

      Gee...I wonder what would happen if the US government finally decided that continuing to help Israel rid the area of Palestinians so that god can return as the Bible states is well....stupid and counter – productive to the interests of the US? I guess we know where the loyalty of the religious Americans will lie...as if we didn't already. Religion impairs clear thinking, and should be kept far away from any government decision making.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • Liutgard

      "Killing enemy combatants in battles for self-defense and protection of the home country and executing vicious criminals by justice are perfectly acceptable and are commanded by God."

      And the thousands of non-combatants, including women, children, and even livestock, that God commanded to be slaughtered because they had the misfortune to be on the losing side of the battle?

      August 17, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • a slozomby

      "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

      so how many of the 613 commandments have you broken or ignored today

      August 17, 2011 at 4:25 am |
    • Joe

      Unbelievable coming from someone using the name Faith. Show me a scripture from the NEW TESTAMENT – the one that applies to Christians today under the new law – that supports war and the killing of innocent civilians.

      Jesus said to turn the other cheek. You need to reexamine your views. The wars in the OLD TESTAMENT no longer should not serve as an example for how to live today. That is why Jesus came. To make a new covenant and to teach a new way of living forever after his sacrifice.

      Jesus also refrained from taking part in politics. Seems those running for government should stop grandstanding about their faith. There is one top tier candidate who actually keeps his faith out of the media spotlight. You should do some research and find out who that is.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:32 am |
    • Frogist

      @Faith: I don't believe there is any specific rule in the bible regarding abortion, is there? Even the Psalm you quote says nothing about it. It doesn't even imply something useful about abortion.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  17. calsteve

    Just a thought for you folks,
    "Luke 6:38
    38Give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete, therewith it shall be measured to you again."

    August 17, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Ari

      Go take care of your wife you cuckolded ignoramus...

      August 17, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • calsteve

      Ari, what are you talking about? I take care of my wife, my taxes and give to charity...

      August 17, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • calsteve

      Ari,
      cuckolded?
      Don't project your problems onto me...

      August 17, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  18. mrsdoolittle

    #1 is just part of the entire passage. It was taken out of context. The entire passage talks about love and respect. Here is the full passage: 18. Wives, submit yourselves unto you won husbands as it is fit in the Lord. 19. Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them.
    So if one wants to take it out of context yes wives are to be just submissive. But in context this is about respect for your Husband and his being the one to be responsible in all matters pertaining to God and then for Husbands to love their wives. NOT Cheat. To not get angry at their wives.
    So as usual the media always takes only a portion of the scripture and not the whole thing.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Stevie7

      The full passage doesn't change the context in the least, unless you think that the church should not follow and do what christ said.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • Xen1313

      I would like to point out that it is actually quoted properly, and not taken out of context. That is the whole line of that passage. (Colossians 3:18) (Colossians 3:19) is a whole new line. It's pretty cut and dry. Submit to your husband as you would to god. Cut and dry. Yet, Michelle decided to ignore the question and instead talk about (Colossians 3:19). Hoping the smart wouldn't notice.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  19. James73Bond7

    gays extra right # 300 : getting to shower with me in communal barrack which I dont like.. but if I want women to shower in same room as me, they get to say NO. Where do I say NO? Till military creates bathroom attached room for every private, corporal and general serving, no open gays in military

    August 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Liutgard

      What makes you think that they would even find you attractive? Are you sooooo hot that women can keep their hands off you, so you assume that gays can't either? Get off of your ego trip. Gay guys are in the shower for just that- to shower. They aren't interested in your phobic body.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • Frogist

      @James73Bond7: You know it doesn't matter if they are openly gay or not, right? They are probably showering with you right now anyway. The only difference is you don't have to deal with your feelings of fear or lust because YOU don't know. They already know if they're attracted to you. And they already do exactly the same things they will do whether they are openly gay or not.
      Also as a girl, I'll clue you in to something. It doesn't matter if you're naked or not. If some guy wants to picture you naked and j@ck off to that, you can't stop them. I mean don't tell me you've never done that to some internet pr0n or your Katy Perry fan club pics... This is just the same thing. Only gay! OK?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  20. james bates

    I see no conflict between intellect, logic and compassion and the bible. secular scholars of the bible may threaten you "faith" but I will pray for your narrow little mind when/ if I can ever finish with those of your ilk. If I don't make it in time, bless you anyway, you poor soul...

    August 17, 2011 at 12:36 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.