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. Jason Stiehler

    I love it when one of the most liberal news outlets try to comment on Republicans hypocrisy of defying the bible.

    CNN -YOU are the hypocrites. You mock and scorn the bible when it contradicts YOUR beliefs, but use the bible when it is convenient. How dare you use Gods word to push your agenda.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • J.W

      Explain how.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • CW

      You can be liberal and Christian. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, Jesus was a liberal.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      You can also be a Tea Party member and a Christian, so what's your point?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • HamsterDancer

      How many thousands of leaders and politicians since Christianity started HAVEN'T used, distorted, and re-interpreted "God's Word" to push their agenda?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      This article is a prime example of how any idiot can use the bible to push their own agenda. And yes, Conservatives are guilty of this as well. However, CNN doesn't hesitate to mock and scorn the bible to push forward their liberal and gay agendas.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • J.W

      How is this mocking and scorning the Bible? Arent you being a hypocrite here Jason? You are using the Bible to say that being liberal is wrong without even explaining how, then accusing liberals of mocking and scorning the Bible.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      CW – We are all hypocrites, including myself.

      However, this example of hypocrisy is as clear as day.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • I-AM-THAT-I-AM

      Sayeth what?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      Sorry, I posted to the wrong article and site

      August 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      Anyhow, I'm not going to get into a debate over hypocrisy and the bible. I know that I don't know all the answers and it is an argument that nobody will win. I trust in God over mankind and believe in His word, that is all the knowledge I will ever need.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Jason Stiehler

      Sorry, I posted to the wrong article and site

      DO NOT let it happen again

      August 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jason Stiehler

      Jway – ifway itway aisespray ishay amenay, enthay yesway iway ouldway. Anywaysway, i'mway otnay oinggay otay etgay intoway anway ethical/biblicalway argumentway ithway youway. Iway on'tday aimclay otay avehay allway ethay answersway, ornay ouldshay youway. Iway ustjay owknay otay usttray inway imhay overway ankindmay. Atthay isway allway ethay owledgeknay iway illway everway eednay.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Jason Stiehler

      wow, lol...that is hilarious

      August 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Jason Stiehler

      It looks like Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics is posting garbage under my name. Truly is sad that people cannot have a intelligent conversations anymore...

      August 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  2. Tim

    The article above is no more balanced than the candidates it speaks about. I have often noted the irony that pro-life folks tend to be pro-death-penalty. But I've ALSO noted that anti-death-penalty folks tend to be pro-abortion. That is, conservatives would rather execute criminals than the innocent, and liberals would rather execute the innocent than criminals. BOTH positions are ironic, at first. But if one values human life as infinite, then the penalty for TAKING a life should be correspondingly great; and in fact the same Old Testament that says not to murder also lists death as a penalty for murder. Also, about wives submitting to their husbands. The writer neglects to quote the same passage as saying "submit yourselves ONE TO ANOTHER"; and then proceeds to list how husbands and wives practice that mutual submission. As for praying in public, Jesus also prayed in public. He merely said that this should not be the purpose of prayer. If the writer does intend to quote scripture to candidates (as we should to those candidates who appeal to scripture), he should at least avoid misquoting it so badly.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      This writer has probably never been to a church service in his life. You cannot quote sections of the bible without the rest of the passage, otherwise ANY idiot can use it to push forward their beliefs.

      CNN obviously has a problem with religion.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • J.W

      Why are we so focused on the laws of the Old Testament? Christians are supposed to follow Christ. When Jesus spoke of prayer I am sure he would not like using prayer as a political rally.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      "I'm sure He wouldn't want us to use prayer as a political rally"

      FALSE. God WANTS us to pray non-stop. If that means praising His word during a rally, then that is for good.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • J.W

      So you are saying God would want us to use him to further a political agenda? That would be called using the Lords name in vain. It only breaks one of the Ten Commandments. I guess there is nothing wrong with that.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Jason Stiehler

      JW – If it praises His name, then yes I would. Anyways, I'm not going to get into an ethical/biblical argument with you. I don't claim to have all the answers, nor should you. I just know to trust in Him over mankind. That is all the knowledge I will ever need.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • HamsterDancer

      @Jason Stiehler
      Good for you in your comments. I may not agree with you in particular on trusting God's Word, but I am all for a person organizing their worldview in whatever way makes them feel good. I only ask of people that they don't forcibly impose THEIR worldview on anyone else.
      Unfortunately, that has pretty much been the case throughout human history.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Frogist

      We must look at the reasoning behind why people hold their poitions on abortion/capital punishment.

      Just to clarify, I don't think anyone is "pro-abortion". No one is promoting getting an abortion. It is a medical procedure that is either elective or necessary and legal. Pro-choicers want the option of abortion care to remain legal. The idea that abortions are being pushed on women by some insidious left-wing force is total paranoid BS put forward by unscrupulous anti-choice elements.

      If someone says, abortion is wrong because life is sacred," they cannot then turn around and support the death penalty. It's either all life is sacred or it's not. Pro-life conservative Christians are hypocrites if this is their position.

      I am pro-choice and anti-death penalty. And for the same reason... I think the gov't should respect the individual's right to their own body and life. This is where libertarianism rubber meets the road. The gov't killing someone else for some kind of warped sense of criminal justice and the gov't dictating what happens to my body are both gross personal violations that are as extreme as you can get. And that is why the debate over "personhood" regarding a fetus is so potentially devastating to the individual rights of women everywhere.

      There are of course further issues with capital punishment, like the number of innocent people who have been executed by our gov't. I would think anyone on the "sanct!ty of life" bandwagon would necessarily be against the death penalty for that reason alone.

      Also the "submission" scripture is pretty clear. It's not a mutual submission but one specifically aimed at women who must treat their husbands' word like that of their God. There is no equality in that.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Jason You have yet to put up any detailed rebuttal to the article beyond the equivalent of "nuh uh". Which leads me to believe that your bias is showing.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  3. BriSoFla


    August 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • J.W

      Read a different book? But the Bible is the best book in the world. Why would anyone read anything different?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  4. Joe Blow

    Once upon a time, in a land far, far away..........................

    and I hope that's where these two knuckleheads move to!

    August 17, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. Robert

    Are you asking Obama the same questions? Isn't he a christian or a chirstian when it is convenient for him.? If you want to know about how to interpret scripture read the bible.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • jason bergman

      Robert, no we are not asking the same questions of President Obama, as he does not run around quoting the bible to bolster his arguments. Governor Good Hair-that's we call him in Texas-and Michele Bachman do run around quoting the bible and telling everyone how 'christian' they are and how the 'lord guides them in everything they do', so when President Obama starts talking crazy talk like Perry and Bachman we will start asking him the same types of questions.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Jason Stiehler

      Obama is a luke warm Christian/Muslim depending on what day it is and how it affects his re-election chances.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Capt. Nemo

      Non sequitur – Obama isn't making a great public chow of his faith as a centerpiece of his campaign and political message.

      But go ahead, ask him, too, but only if you ask all the other candidates. Do you now begin to se the genius of the nation's founders in keeping religion and politics separate? If you don't yet see it, go read up on the English Civil Wars where the powerful vied for control based on religion: the Protestants tortured the Catholics (and vice versa) for generations...

      August 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • J.W

      Jason what makes you think that Obama is remotely Muslim?

      August 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  6. There is nothing new under the sun -- Ecc 1:9

    Mr. Prothero – This is not a new issue. All US Presidents have held themselves out as Christians (most authntically, and some,as you note, because it is good for business). Did you ask these questions of President Obama when he ran? He is a Christian. Did you ask these to Sec. of State Clinton (particulalry #1) when she ran for the Democratic nomination? She is a Christian too.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Frogist

      Neither Clinton, nor Obama made the statement that Bachmann did. She admits deferring her decision-making to her husband. That's dangerous. She needs to be asked that question. Both Parry and Bachmann have said their religion and God is guiding their hand to be president. Certainly not a claim made by either Clinton or Obama or even Mitt Romney. The questions to these two Repub candidates are fair. No equivalent prodding need be made of the Dems you mentioned. And I find it ironic that the president who has to refute claims by others that he is not a Christian therefore not fit to be president, now has to defend his refuting those claims from those who now want to claim he is using his religion as propaganda. Either he is or he isn't, people. Pick a side and stay there or the rest of us will have to call you on your flip-flopping.
      On a personal note, I would prefer we keep this whole vetting by God business out of our politics. It muddies the water and makes it harder to see who is better qualified for the job.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  7. UncleM

    It's a sad commentary on America that were discussing the leader of the world's largest economy in the contect of a 4000 year book of myths.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  8. jh

    She should submit to him at home, but he should submit to her gift to be in politics if God raises her up to be such. Big difference.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  9. D

    So G, isn't that what the politicians are doing? Using the scripture for their own unrighteous agenda's. Separation of Church and State, religion has no place in politics.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  10. greg

    Context is everything... Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    I guess, before we reflect, whether a politician can behave according to Christ's commands at all, we should reflect, how we personally can live as faithful Christians in a modern (very secular) world.

    This question Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked in his book "The Cost of Discipleship".

    August 17, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. J.W

    Why do people keep using the argument that Protero is taking the scriptures out of context? He is doing that on purpose to prove a point. Many conservatives take scripture out of context so that it will fit their own beliefs. That is what he is trying to show here.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • tallulah13

      It's because it shines a light on the fact that a lot of christians use the bible out of context to support their positions or to degrade the positions of others, and rather than using that lesson to make themselves better people, they get defensive.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • J.W

      But alot of the people on here making that argument are defending the republicans. But when they say that Prothero is taking the verses out of context, aren't they basically confirming his argument?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Frogist

      @JW: Is Prothero taking those bits of scripture that he quoted out of context? I don't think that he is. And I doubt many casual Christians (which is the majority of this country) would disagree with how he has interpreted the scripture to take on these issues. He seems spot on which is why it highlights their hypocrisy. Although you might notice he's only asking questions and not really making statements. But these are questions I would ask of Bachmann and Parry myself because their actions seem to contradict what they are saying.
      BTW People keep saying the quotes are out of context because sadly enough it is the fall back position of most Christians when confronted not only by the ugliness in the Bible, but also the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow it.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  13. tallulah13

    I love how so many christians can read the mind of god and how many of them can tell us what he really meant.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • J.W

      I dont know what God thinks all the time. I think we are pretty good friends though.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • jimtanker

      Imaginary friends dont count. Try to get real ones.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • J.W

      oh jim you really hurt my feelings there. That completely ruined my day

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

      LOL@JW: I'll be your friend. At least you're nice. And you complimented my uterus...

      August 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  14. Chris

    If you want true responses, quit taking scripture out of context...your interpretation of each passage shows that you have little understanding of true biblical directives. Iif you would look at ALL scripture on each topic and who was being spoken to and who was speaking, you may begin to understand the true meanings. Your worldview is also against true christianity , and so your interpretation is always going to be judged thru your worldview instead of a Christian worldview.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • MA from Houston

      Well, the comment is made that this author shouldn't take things "out of context." That a person must read the whole bible. Well, I would take that a step further and say to these evangelicals that until they can read it in Hebrew and Greek, that they shouldn't be too quick to interpret. They, too, are reading out of context, for sure!

      August 17, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  15. DCEJes

    While I initially took offense to the portrayal of these passages (being out of context or being used to ask a question they don't address), I then realized that Prothero would be giving the candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the Bible and their faith in it (of which I cannot judge and their answers may just be a canned response or actual beliefs).

    I am a youth minister and occasionally I ask students similar questions that often leave out a portion of the context or would seem to lead away from what is actually being asked so that they have to think about their response. If the candidates where to respond to these questions with scriptural references, they could point out a few flaws in the questioning while stating their beliefs and thereby come away looking better than before.

    Of course whether or not Mr. Prothero was using his questions in this way is something he would have to answer.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  16. MiketheElectrician

    My 4 year old asked me about a sermon regarding the gospel story about the apostles in the boat become afraid when the storm appears and Christ walks on water to the boat. She asked me, Daddy, if they were fisherman, why were they afraid of being in a boat.. haha, the things kids think of.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • M.T.

      See, even a 4 year old has a better understanding of the allegorical nature of the bible than way too many others out there. Good for you, you have a smart girl on your hands.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  17. geraldh

    What is the point of the "wives submit to your husbands" passage? It applies to home life. When one is out in the work force there is a different authority to submit to. All authority comes from God and is to be submitted to.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Frogist

      @geraldh: Not according to Bachmann. Unless you count her becoming a lawyer part of "home life."

      August 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  18. USN Ret

    " Pray for your leaders ..... "
    " Let he who is without Sin cast the first stone " MY faith is the Rock upon which I stand. NOT OTHERS faith. 🙂


    August 17, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  19. G

    Rember when Satan tried to temp Jesus after he had fasted for 40 days. Satan did the same thing that you are doing now. Using scripture for your own unrighteous agenda. Try using scripture in the context that it was wriiten. I

    August 17, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • KAS

      If it's acceptable for the candidates to tout their Christian homage, it is perfectly acceptable for the author to ask these questions.

      The candidates have brought this on themselves by pandering to the religious right. They're the ones who go and on about how God told them this, how God speaks to them, how God guides their lives. If the Bible is the supposed word of God, then do or do not these candidates follow what the Bible says?

      It's a valid question and only one who doesn't believe what they say would not give a clear and concise answer such as Kennedy did.

      It has nothing to do with an agenda, it's about finding the truth. Something severely lacking in most political candidates.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Damian

      Kas is right G..........perfectly acceptable to inquire about these.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Frogist

      @G: How is asking for clarification part of an "unrighteous agenda"? Because it's being asked of Republicans perhaps?

      August 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • J.W

      What is the unrighteous agenda that you are referring to?

      August 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  20. Damian

    Very interesting article........some intereesting questions are raised. Would love to hear their answers!

    August 17, 2011 at 11:06 am |
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