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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. Jennifer

    Don't know I hear Jesus, and quickly turn the other way.... Nothing good as ever come out of religion, especially the zealot ones....

    August 17, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  2. DD

    This government will never require a religious test.

    August 17, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  3. Jake R

    In the 21st century, isn't it about time we stopped taking moral guidance from a collection of thousands-of-years-old stories that weren't very good guidance to begin with?

    August 17, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Velda

      When you have faith in the unseen God, He reveals Himself through His word (which is divinely inspired), through His Holy Spirit and amazingly by the order of things. We live on a planet that rotates on its axes while rotating around the sun and neither are support by anything we can see. You walk outside and wind blows, but you can't see it. Some places are plains while others are mountains. Those "stories" you speak of are there to teach us, but you have to have the faith to believe they are true. And when you get to that point, look out, your eyes will be WIDE OPEN. Have a blessed day.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  4. theron

    i agree with the points...to a point. so i have a question, i'm a democrat, and a Christian. did this company or author have the same style of questions for the current President who also professes to be a Christian? same standards?
    and we need to remember that they ALL are politicians. blue or red, right or left.
    i also have a hard time with religious politicians supporting death penalty AND pro-life (right), or supporting abortion and not death penalty (left). hard to justify one without the other. CNN scares me any time they talk about Christianity!

    August 17, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • George

      This current president doesn't use his religion as a litmus test for patriotism. He hasn't hugged John Haggee and claimed that unless you believe in Jesus you won't be saved. He hasn't claimed we are in the end times.
      Perry and Bachmann are using their religion as a political tool. This makes their belief systems fair game for aggressive questioning.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  5. George

    I am far more concerned with their take on the Book of Revelations and the End Times. What will they do to assist this to ccome to pass ? If they believed that it was very near, would they commit US forces to help the remaining Jews return, would they spend funds to rebuild the temple mount? Sound like crazy questions for rational people, but these folks aren't rational.

    August 17, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Bernie

      That's just brilliant. I'm concerned how are we going to shoot down the 4 horsemen or kill the beast w/ 7 heads. OMG really??

      August 17, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  6. John

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_6PxnvaySw
    :

    August 17, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  7. Bernie

    I find it funny that JFK had reassure the nation, and more specifically the hypocrite evangelicals, that catholicism would have no influence in his polictics, but it's expected that the evangelical candidates push forth the evangelical agenda.

    August 17, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • birdgirl249

      I find it utterly disturbing . . .

      August 17, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • alpg49

      The distinction is that the Roman Catholics have a central authority figure – the Pope – while protestant denominations do not.
      The real "gotcha" question would be "Do you believe in biblical creation, and what impact would your beliefs have on public education?" My personal position is that "render unto Caesar..." matches the first amendment perfectly. The separation should be absolute.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Frogist

      @alpg49: The Pope issue isn't really that much of a distinction. The issue remains the same which is "would our president give over his authority to someone else because of his religion?" In Bachmann's case it's clear that she would do so due to her religious beliefs. Kennedy specifically stated he would not.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Bernie

      I don't believe in answering to any invisible spirits or a book that was written 2000 years ago by sheep herders

      August 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  8. bird

    All religions should be abolished. If people want to worship / commune with "God", they should do so privately.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Demetrius

      Unfortunately, there's this little thing called the First Amendment.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  9. Dr Bill Toth

    JFK said it the best; – 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.” Live with Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    August 17, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  10. LetsBeCivil

    If you want to destroy both the church and state, then combine the two.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • AGuest9

      Like trying to combine doesn't-exist with doesn't-matter?

      August 17, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  11. J Elkins

    "And further, you will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21

    August 17, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • AGuest9

      "Every influence of matter on the electromagnetic field, and conversely, every influence of the electromagnetic field on matter is based on the fact that matter contains movable electrical masses that interact with the electromagnetic field." A. Einstein. "Special Theory of Relativity".

      There, that actually exists...

      August 17, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  12. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It shouldn't be "Thou shall not kill." It should be "Thou shall not murder." There is a difference. If we weren't supposed to kill anything, then how would we eat? How would we dress ourselves? Don't we kill plants and animals to eat? Aren't we killing plants to make clothes and when there are weeds on our yard? Christians have a bad habit of not translating the Bible well. Please go back to the orginal Hebrew.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      S.B. Stein E.B. NJ stated in his aboveness word, "Christians have a bad habit of not translating the Bible well. Please go back to the orginal Hebrew."

      We of who does speak and write and read based upon the KING's English have many variants of the Hebrewic doctines yet it is not in our edifying of such doctrines but like you stated above did write, "Christians have a bad habit of not translating the Bible well" is an exact truth! We of Christendom's Lamentives do declare this is so and that is this in a never ending circle of morbidity. undjulating all the meanwhile as the world does embark without a hush!

      August 17, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • jackie o

      Mr. Stein,
      You are an idiot

      August 17, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  13. TJeff1776

    Conservatives are truly guilty of upholding a financial system that causes the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Buffett
    ONLY touched upon the tip of the iceberg when he said, "I , as a billionaire, pay 17 percent- my office staff pays 31. A
    very good conser friend recently commented " its all legal isn't it". Well yes, BUT does that explain away the discrepency.
    Also, conser's BOGUS defense that taxing the wealthy eliminates job is a joke BUT often heard. Listening to them- if ALL taxation was removed from the rich....the job market would be inundated....slots would go unfilled.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  14. chris

    Its the prophecy questions that we need to ask them. Do you beleive we are living in the end times? Would you risk the United States to defend Israel? Does your beleif in Jesus justify nuclear war if nescessary? We need to find out if they are the "love your neighbor" Christians or the "Christian warrior" Christian. and no you cant be both.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      American Nationalism "chris" should not be entangled upon Bible inserrectioned and/or publicied occupancies for Nationalized Laws should not be reflected upon any of "Gospel-talities" whatsoever. For to so do, is a flagrent violation of our Nationalism's Laws. The 'absolutists' separationizing of 'church and state' may well be but a state proclamation and if so then our nation's Federalistic Republicanism might just supercede our wantonness to mix Christendom with Federalist Policies. (I am soooo confused!)

      August 17, 2011 at 7:02 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      American Nationalism "chris" should not be entangled upon Bible inserrectioned and/or publicied occupancies for Nationalized Laws should not be reflected upon any of "Gospel-talities" whatsoever. For to so do, is a flagrent violation of our Nationalism's Laws. The 'absolutists' separationizing of 'church and state' may well be but a state proclamation and if so then our nation's Federalistic Republicanism might just supercede our wantonness to (NOT)mix Christendom with Federalist Policies. (I am soooo confused!)

      August 17, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      American Nationalism "chris" should not be entangled upon Bible inserrectioned and/or publicied occupancies for Nationalized Laws should not be reflected upon any of "Gospel-talities" whatsoever. For to so do, is a flagrent violation of our Nationalism's Laws. The 'absolutists' separationizing of 'church and state' may well be but a state proclamation and if so then our nation's Federalistic Republicanism might just supercede our wantonness to (NOT)mix Christendom with Federalist (REPUBLIC) Policies. (I am soooo confused!) SORRY about my triple type for I am in error of edifying myself before posting!

      August 17, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  15. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    The Blog-O-Spherists edified stating, "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)."

    The "calling out" toward people in and/or running for political offices should not be publically oralized to make even one statement about the religious mindives. The secularizations regarding editorializing such scripted wantoness should be as a moot agendaship.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      I did so state in the aboveness script due in part to my belief that there are more important issues to elevate/elaborate upon then angularizing upon religious this and religious that modalities of consecrativeness concerns/arguementatives.

      August 17, 2011 at 6:52 am |
    • The fishly fish of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doth wiggle

      Thesaurus fail

      August 17, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      The fishly fish of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doth wiggle did tiggle stating, "Thesaurus fail"

      Hey there fishy wishy, is this "Thesaurus" a God of,,,,,,,,,,,,,? Jus curious as to what you God, Thesaurus does stand upon! 🙂

      August 17, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Dean

      Lionly lamb,

      You attempts to impress with convoluted sentences and phrases (separationizing??) is hilarious. More please.

      August 18, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  16. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    The issues revolving around "submissveness" in the lethargeous arteries toward biblified bibliographies' mainframe should not be an issued essay of which one needs to ov.ulate upon.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:30 am |
  17. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    The issues revolving around "submissveness" in the lethargeous arteries foward biblified bibliographies' mainframe should not be an issued essay of which one needs to ov.ulate upon.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  18. Lance

    As a scholar of religion, Mr. Prothero, surely you are not really so obtuse as to pit Moses against Moses?

    I have mixed feelings on the death penalty issue, but one thing is clear: The same law that tells us "thou shalt not kill" prescribes the death penalty for those who take human life (as well as certain other offenses under Mosaic Law). There's no contradiction between saying that the unborn ought to be protected and that those guilty of certain offenses forfeit their lives.

    Unless, of course, your purpose in this piece is not to enlighten readers but to obscure the text for your own political purposes? But as a scholar, I'm sure you're above such things.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • CT

      The old testament set down many laws. Some were harsh and recommended death to the offender. But when Christ came HE fullfilled the law and replaced all law with one. LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. Please stop using my Savior to justify your greed and hatred. I hope you find the peace and love he offers one day.

      August 17, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • LivingInVA

      CT: That's great. I just hope that you extend that to issues like gay marriage.

      August 17, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  19. marky mark

    As a pastor, I observe the various candidates' actions a little more closely than their words. If they profess to truly love Jesus, then why have so many of them supported drastically cutting all social programs? I do not question their faith! But I question how they live it. Perry has a terrible record on social programs – things have gotten much worse here in Texas in that regard since he has been governor. And today our state sits on an enormous "rainy day" fund that could be spent on childhood immunizations and breakfast/lunch programs. Funding for our schools has NEVER been solved...I guess they all expect the churches to pick up all the slack?

    August 17, 2011 at 6:09 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      M+Mark stated, "If they profess to truly love Jesus, then why have so many of them supported drastically cutting all social programs?"

      Have you mm not ever heard of Wolves(Secularists) in sheepish (Christendoms) clothes?

      August 17, 2011 at 6:14 am |
  20. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    TEST TEST

    August 17, 2011 at 5:56 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.