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My Take: Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus
How many times do hot-button issues come up in the Bible?
November 5th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

My Take: Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Over the last few days I have fielded hundreds of angry e-mails from pro-Mitt Romney evangelicals about a recent Belief Blog post in which I took Billy Graham and other white evangelicals to task for turning Jesus into a water boy for the Republican Party.

A disturbing number of these complaints about my alleged "evangelical bashing" have been hateful, ill-informed and explicitly racist. But the more intelligent responses have taken two tacks.

First, readers have told me that they are voting for Romney not because Mormonism is proper Christianity but because Romney is the lesser of two evils. Some in this camp, convinced (wrongly) that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, say they would rather vote for a Mormon than a Muslim.

Second, readers have argued that Romney's political views are more biblical. And repeatedly they have referred me to two central issues: abortion and same-sex marriage.

One pastor who reports he is working on a doctorate in theology says he believes “that the Bible is the literal word of God.” Because of this belief, he will vote for Romney: “ If you claim Christ as your king, how on earth can you justify the murder of God given life through abortion or any other means?" he writes. "If you accept Christ as your king, how on earth can you accept the moral deviancy of homosexuality as normal?”

In my book "American Jesus," I demonstrated how American views of Jesus, rather than adhering strictly to the unchanging biblical witness, have shifted with the cultural and political winds. Over the course of U.S. history Jesus has been a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior.

In other words, he has been used, by both the left and the right. Or, as I put it, “The American Jesus is more a pawn than a king, pushed around in a complex game of cultural (and countercultural) chess, sacrificed here for this cause and there for another.”

This problem of mistaking your God for the God - the problem, that is, of idolatry - was captured beautifully by Albert Schweitzer, who suggested that scholars on a quest for the “historical Jesus” were looking down into a deep well and seeing not the real Jesus but reflections of themselves.

This is what is happening, in my view, to my angry evangelical readers. In this case, however, they are looking down the well and seeing some mashup of Ronald Reagan and Romney. Instead of the biblical Christ, they are seeing the Republican Jesus.

There are many ways to support my argument that the preoccupations of the Christian Right today are not the preoccupations of the Bible.

One is to point out that abortion is never even mentioned in the Bible. (Yes, Jeremiah 1:5 reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” but when did that formation happen? At conception? At quickening? At birth?)

Another is to point out that American evangelicals didn’t care about the abortion question until the GOP taught them to care.

As Jonathan Dudley observes in a recent Belief Blog post, U.S. Catholic leaders began to take on abortion right after Roe v. Wade legalized it in 1973, but American evangelical leaders continued to teach that life begins at birth until the late 1970s and early 1980s. If the Bible clearly teaches us that our politics should center on the abortion question, why did it take nearly 2,000 years for Bible believers to figure this out?

Here is my basic proposition: Bible-believing Christians who want to base their politics on the Bible ought to get the Bible straight, which is to say (a) correct and (b) directly from the page, rather than filtered through the spin of the GOP.

To this end, I would like to challenge them to look at an amazing website, part of “The Official King James Bible Online,” which lists each and every word in that translation of the Bible in order of popularity.

Not surprisingly, “and” and “the” are the top two.  But how do more meaningful words rank?

Abortion, of course, is not on the list. Neither is homosexuality, though there are, I will admit, perhaps a couple dozen references to what we now call male homosexuality (and either one or zero to lesbianism, depending on how you read Romans 1:26).

So these issues are not central. But which issues are? Well, faith, grace and salvation, for starters. (They appear 231, 159 and 158 times, respectively.)

But if you turn to the political questions that beset us today, what does this quantitative approach to the Bible yield? First and foremost, a preoccupation with "war” (280 times) and “peace” (470). Second, a preoccupation with economics, and especially with the rich (109) and the poor (233).

The Bible also seems far more concerned with “prison” and “prisoners” (109) than we are in U.S. politics today. And, I might add, with famine (101).

Finally, the Bible mentions Israel a lot (2,509 times) - even more than heaven (644). So that seems to be something that both candidates got right in the third debate.

To conclude, I have no problem with evangelical Christians voting for Romney. My complaint arises when they say they are doing so because the Bible commands them to vote for the candidate who is opposed to abortion rights and opposes same-sex marriage.

The Bible itself is relatively unconcerned with these matters. It is far more concerned with questions of poverty and wealth, war and peace, and (need I add?) theology.

If you think otherwise, it's not the Bible speaking. It's the political operative at the bottom of the well.

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

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Bible • Economy • Jesus • Mitt Romney • Opinion • Politics • United States

soundoff (1,060 Responses)
  1. joshua

    Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    If the bible is the literal word of god why does it contain so much ignorance, immorality and contradiction, that would make your god ignorant, immoral and a contradiction. ITS ALL BEFORE YOU CHEESEBRAIN

    November 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • joshua

      THE BIBLES BEEN CHANGED FOOL

      November 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  2. joshua

    ISAIH 29 10-14--– For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.

    11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:

    12 And the book is delivered to ahim that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.

    13 ¶Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

    14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. DOES THIS SOUND LIKE GOD SPEAKING?? A MARVELOUS WORK AND WONDER HMMM

    November 6, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • joshua

      i should of wrote this blog..but im here to welcome our new mormon prezident-get used to it mormon haters that attack because they are full of satan..one here is greater than thee

      November 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  3. joshua

    Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

    11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

    12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

    13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews. WHO CAN DISPUTE THE WORDS OF GOD..LETS HOPE SOME HERE CAN WRAP THEIR MINDS AROUND THE FACT THAT THE BIBLE IS FULL OF ERRORS..SOME ON PURPOSE...THE BIBLE NEEDS TO BE INTERPRETED CORRECTLY..HARD TO DO IF YOU CANT LEARN THE BASICS FIRST

    November 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  4. Joshua

    I'm off this stupid site to go gargle with bleach and cut off every other toe.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • joshua

      AYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

      November 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  5. joshua

    Moby Schtick

    Ignorance is bliss. I envy you. WOW

    November 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Yep. Your comments show you to be ignorant of atheism and you end with a sentence that proclaims your bliss. You're ignorant and blissful; its fairly rare and you should feel honored.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  6. joshua

    THIS IS TO ALL THE MORMON BASHERS OUT THERE INCLUDING YOURSELF...HELLOW PREZIDENT MITTER ROMNEY

    November 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • MCR

      Please come back after the results are in, to...uh...gloat or whatever.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  7. joshua

    Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

    11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

    12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

    13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews. TWEET THIS ACROSS THE WORLD

    November 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  8. joshuasdad

    It’s easy to be atheist. I don’t have to believe anything. I don’t have to follow anything. I can claim to be better than chris tians because I have no sin. Having no sin is a consequence of having no beliefs. I don’t even have to prove that I’m a moral person. I don’t believe in God because I don’t see him. But I expect people to believe me even if they don’t see me, I use a false name, and have not shown any shred of goodness. It’s an easy life.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Ignorance is bliss. I envy you.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • sam stone

      "I use a false name, and have not shown any shred of goodness."

      Yeah, you know us so well

      November 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  9. joshua

    CNN NOW UNDER CONTROL OF A POWER GREATER THAN LITTLE TEDDY TURNER

    November 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  10. joshua

    Athy

    How could anyone with an IQ above his shoe size possibly believe that? YOU TELL ME!!!!!

    November 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • midwest rail

      How could anyone with an IQ above their shoe size not know how to use the reply button ?

      November 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  11. joshua

    JAY ZEE LITTLE PUNK AS MF

    November 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  12. joshua

    JZ LITTLE PIECE OF CRAP ARTIST//THIS WORLD IS MOST DEFINATELY MESSED UP WHEN HE CAN BE IDOLIZED–BY OUR OWN MUZLIM PREZ!!!!!!!!

    November 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  13. joshua

    HELLOW PREZIDENT RPMNEY...CAN WE STILL PARTY IN WHITE HOUSE..SINCERELY JZ

    November 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  14. joshua

    But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel;

    2 And also, that I may remember the promises which I have made unto thee, Nephi, and also unto thy father, that I would remember your seed; and that the words of your seed should proceed forth out of my mouth unto your seed; and my words shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel;

    3 And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

    4 But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

    5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.

    6 Thou fool, that shall say: A
    Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

    7 Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

    8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

    9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

    10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written....THIS IS IT ALL IN A NUTSHELL..KEEP SEEKING YOUR TRUTHS FROM FOOLS-FOOLS

    November 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  15. joshua

    Athy

    Read the word of a bunch of anonymous humans from the bronze age and edited and translated numerous times since then. YOU JUDGE FOR YOURSELF AT YOUR OWN PERIL..DONT WORRY YOU ARE AMONG A LARGE GROUP OF IGNORANT BEINGS SO YOU WON'T BE LONELY

    November 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Athy

      I'm shaking in my boots. And why can't you learn to use the reply function?

      November 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      Joshua: Your god is a petty, vindictive pr!ck. Now, bi7ch, get back on your knees

      November 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  16. joshua

    bruce springsteen?0 did someone hit him with a baseball bat? what happened to him hes a strange lookin dude..perfect exit for for a former muslim lover prez

    November 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  17. skolar

    What good is it to be a religious scholar if you are not known to be a moral person ?

    The Bible describes the pharisees who "knew" every rule there was in their religion. Those people even went thru the motions of praying and giving charity, making sure that there were witnesses. In other words, to show off.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • joshua

      YEAH THEY WERE REAL BRAIN SURGEONS

      November 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  18. asunder

    The bible states that what God has put together, no man should put asunder. Yet divorce is practiced by alleged "chris tians". If you can ignore your own God, then so can other people.

    Romans one, verses 18 thru 32 addresses both chris tians who do not practice their faith and non-chris tians who don't care. The surprising thing is that the description in these verses is a perfect description of our current world.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • joshua

      ADDAAAA

      November 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  19. joshua

    1 But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel;

    2 And also, that I may remember the promises which I have made unto thee, Nephi, and also unto thy father, that I would remember your seed; and that the words of your seed should proceed forth out of my mouth unto your seed; and my words shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel;

    3 And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

    4 But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

    5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.

    6 Thou fool, that shall say: A
    Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

    7 Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

    8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

    9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

    10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • joshua

      READ THE WORD OF THE LORD

      November 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Athy

      Read the word of a bunch of anonymous humans from the bronze age and edited and translated numerous times since then.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  20. Mark

    This is my first time to read your column. Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, led a sinless life, died for our sins, and rose again?
    Thank you.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • joshua

      OK

      November 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Athy

      How could anyone with an IQ above his shoe size possibly believe that?

      November 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
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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.