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. lol??

    "Sorry! The word "Prothero" doesn't occur in the KJV."

    December 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  2. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    November 23, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. Don

    Who care about this crap. Reason rules. Welcome to the new and improved America!!!!!!!! Once you let religion rules your life, you loose objectivity. That is the reason the state and the church should remain separated.

    November 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • lol??

      Do you always whistle when walking by graveyards?

      November 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  4. centeredpiece

    Jesus would be neither Republican nor Democrat and, for the record, both parties tried to claim him as one of their own; it wasn't only the Republicans. Jesus told his followers to feed the hungry; he didn't tell them to go out and vote for a party that would raise taxes on other people and use a tiny fraction of that money to set up programs that purported to help feed the hungry but really didn't do a very good job of it. He said FEED THEM YOURSELVES. But so many good Christian Democrats believe that they are morally superior because they voted for Obama meanwhile they personally do nothing to help the needy,.

    November 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  5. ninure

    Reblogged this on Ninure da Hippie's Blog and commented:
    Excellent article. I just pray that the people who really need to read it will find, and "ear" what you are sayimh.

    November 10, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  6. 4HIM

    Jesus never got involved in politics. Even when the Zealots triied to recruit him. He did not comcern himse4lf with the terrorist of His time (The Roman Centurians). He did not comment on the political stains between King Herod and Pontious Pilot. Or King Herod's sellout out to Rome. If Obama is a Muslim or Romney's Mormon theology is in error, H would still love them as He did the screwed up Samaritan woman at the well. He was concerned with the hurgry, the naked the sick, and the spritual matters of men. Yet we Americans pull him like taffy to attempt to make him fit our doctrines. Any student of the Gospels soon realizes that Jesus was not leaning to the right. He was a concerned compassionate giver.

    November 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • perryman69

      Very eloquently stated. I believe that Jesus was concerned with people than with politics. "Give unto Ceasar.....

      November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • lol??

      Perry, in americult the Masters are supposed to be the Caesars. The gubmint workers are the Servants. The Socialists pulled a flip flop and call it progress. Welcome to poverty in more ways than one.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  7. Jerry Lemieux

    I don't believe in Jesus and I don't believe in Barack H. Obama. The former is a historical fraud and the latter is a real life fraud.

    As for Romney, I simply don't like him However, I do find him far less disdainful then that racist ex-crackhead Marxist who was reelected.

    November 9, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • midwest rail

      You wouldn't know a Marxist if one slapped you.

      November 9, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Jerry Lemieux

      @Mid West Rail: Your are a special person who will travel through life on the short bus. And yes, Obama is a Marxist and I do understand what Marxism is. I also recognize an ignorant troll and you fit the description.

      November 9, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • midwest rail

      All false, Jerry – but you already knew that. And really, the short bus is the best you can do ? If it is, you've already lost.

      November 9, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • WASP

      @jerry: then please review obama's record and compare it to the marxist party. i'm not talking about lennon-marxism or any other form, strictly marxism.
      i hate how ignorance can foul up the air.
      do go educate yourself, then return to the discussion.

      November 9, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  8. Milo Whitaker

    Jesus is a Democratic Jew so you Repubs need to get over it. Also, Jesus was gay. During Jesus' day a man of 33 should have already been married and with children and even close to being a grandfather, unless he was gay. Parents, throughout history have steered their gay boys into the clergy because they felt they would be protected there. So Jesus is a Gay Democratic Jew, so Repubs get over it.

    November 9, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • Jerry Lemieux

      And you are typical of the ignorant liberal that the media is trying to convince us is better educated.

      November 9, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Andy

      I find it odd that you assume a lack of mention of the wife indicates that he didn't have one. The bible also doesn't mention Jesus' hair style, but no one assumes he's bald. . .

      November 13, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • nixliberals

      Not just ignorant, purely stupid. Ignorant is for people that don't intend to harm or offend, stupid fits this person much, much better. Probably gay, assuming everyone else is, lonely miserable person.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  9. Jerusha

    I lost a lot of respect for Billy Grahm after his support of either candidate. I forgot in that moment, that he was elderly, sick, and most of all, human, which by definition, makes a person prone to mistakes. Every opinion written here is subject to the same error. So is every thought that masquerades as logic. No matter how strong a passion we have about a matter, we do not have infinite insight. In fact, our passions make us blind. The dispassionate truth is, that we are all in this together, so, it would make some sense to quit trying to ferret out and inflame the differences between us, and try and focus on where we are similar, embrace that, and try to keep a check on our innate zenophobia. That seemed to be a great deal of Jesus' message. He was the ultimate inclusive kind of guy.

    November 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Etnabob

      I agree basically...as long as our country or any country is characterized by divisiveness and bitterness that produces gridlock and enemies instead of friends, we should not and cannot expect God to bless us...and certainly not prefer us over another. His kingdom is characterized by humility, gentleness, acceptance, joy, kindness, unselfishness, love, mercy, grace, and the likes of these. When this characterizes our nation...and therefor its peoples...then the joy and peace and liberties characterize our nation.

      November 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  10. James

    Many of the comments and the author of this article have no clue what the bible says. God holds "life" at the top of the echelon in the Bible. If Jeremiah 1:5 states He saw us formed before we were concieved, what does that tell you of how precious each of us as humans are to God? He (God) loved us so, that He sent His son as a sacrifce for our sins so we can see God the Father who is HOLY and without sin someday when we die. ONLY through the blood of Jesus can we even consider seeing or being with God one day in heaven! God is not about politics or about Democrats or Republicans; it is about loving one another and being at peace within ourselves through Christ! Without the confession and turning away of our sins, and without asking Christ into our hearts, the Bible says clearly we will never be in heaven with God because of His holiness. John 3:16 & 17 says it all...........the question is, will you choose Christ and "life," or will you not choose and spend eternity seperated from God? The CHOICE is yours to make while you still have the breath of life in your being!!

    November 8, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      Many of the comments have no clue what God says, so they parrot the bible.

      November 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • MIttens

      Jesus did not die to forgive us for all of our sins. If that were the case, there would be no hell. If we run around and 'sin' our lives away and we aren't forgiven, makes for a pretty hypocritical statement, wouldn't you say?

      November 9, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • TC

      The ancient Jews who wrote the old testament believed that life started at birth. Throughout the entire history of the Christian church, they thought the same way, until the 1970's.

      Are you denying the entire history of your own religiion?

      Funny how even dogma changes.

      November 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      From the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church:

      2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

      November 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      What does your post have to do with anything? The Vatican is a criminal organization anyway. Fleecing money out of gullible people, and shuffling and hiding pedophile priests to all corners of the globe. Not to mention spreading misinformation, and many times outright lies.

      November 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • I wonder

      Bill Deacon,

      So it would be a 'sin' to pray to "God" to 'cause' a miscarriage or to thwart implantation, as is so often his wont?

      November 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      My post is to show that the dogma of the Catholic church has remained unchanged concerning the right to life. You are free to reject it even if you are Catholic but you cannot claim that it has changed. I suppose it is never a sin to pray about anything and I am certain many people have taken petiitions to God which he has answered in ways they did not expect

      November 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  11. John

    American Christians have molded God in their own image instead of the other way around. They worship the American god they created.

    November 8, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  12. John

    American christians have molded God in their own image instead of the other way around. They do not worship the God of the Bible, they worship the god they created.

    November 8, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  13. Jeff Moore

    Jeffrey Moore Mr. Prothero Billy Graham is a General in Gods Victorious Army, that doesn't mean he is perfect it only means that when he makes a mistake we who are not Generals must ask the Father to minister to him by some of his other Generals, not lay hands on the Lords anointed. Respectfully Jeff Moore
    5 minutes ago · Like

    November 8, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • sam stone

      "a general in god's victorious army"?

      you are delusional. seek psychological help

      November 8, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  14. Jeff Moore

    Jeffrey Moore Mr. Prothero Billy Graham is a General in Gods Victorious Army, that doesn't mean he is perfect it only means that when he makes a mistake we who are not Generals must ask the Father to minister to him by some of his other Generals, not lay hands on the Lords anointed. Respectfully Jeff Moore
    a few seconds ago · Like

    Jeffrey Moore Mr. Stephen Prothero: Matthew 7:1
    Chapter 7
    1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    8 minutes ago · Like

    November 8, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • The Bible is Simple, Man is Complex

      Billy Graham is no general in God's army. All followers of God are privates. All privates have different roles. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the only generals.

      November 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Hayden

      Yeah, and I'm Boba Fet, Barack Obama is Gandalf, and Mitt Romney is the Candlestick from Beauty and the Beast. Your view of religion is a fairytale. Strong faith and good will don't have to be coupled with delusions of generals, victorious armies, or a guy rising from the dead, for that matter. You can exercise the tenets of your religion by living a peaceful and fulfilled life without the "christ warrior" mindset. I encourage you to search for reality, drop the child-like vision of some bearded prophet that has literally no effect on your life (the effect you feel is self-generated in your mind and Billy Graham's wallet thanks you), and use the principles of your faith to better the world. Don't waste your life trying to turn water into wine while the guy next to you is dying for a drink.

      November 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  15. Amsdorf

    If BU had to hire a white male "religion scholar" to meet its quota, it obviously picked one with all the theological depth of Oprah.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  16. American

    Since when does a book's word count singularly indicate the context, importance or clarity of a subject? This is not a good argument.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  17. The Bible is Simple, Man is Complex

    Oh wow. I feel sorry that this guy is a religion scholar and does not know much, if anything, about the Bible. No telling what he teaches people about God's Word based on just the errors I only saw in this article. And I am not talking about about a Republication Jesus either..

    November 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • All Thumbs

      Evangelical Rule of Thumb:

      If a Bible verse furthers the cause, it is to be taken literally.

      If a Bible verse is detrimental to the cause, it is either: taken out of context; is allegorical or metaphorical; refers to another verse somewhere else; is an ancient cultural anomaly; is a translation or copyist's error; means something other than what it actually says; is a mystery of god or not discernible by humans; or is just plain magic.

      November 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  18. duffey

    I always find these articals entertaining,but definitly promoting their own agends, just as those who the author is writing about. Everybody should give the Bible a break and quit the references to it for the promotion of their own agendas. If your gut tells you something is wrong then follow your gut. My gut tells me its time for lunch, so bye 🙂

    November 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  19. Joao

    I think your interpretation of the Jeremiah verse is nonsensical. By its very nature, formation means the process from beginning to end, so your question as to when it happens is irrelevant. It obviously means from conception, which is when the new parson's formation (development) begins.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Killane

      Really? Our Lord was a carpenter. When he cut down a tree and brought it back to his workshop to make a table, was it a table the moment it came into the workshop door? How about when he took the Bark off, or cut it into 2×4's, or whittled the legs? Was it a table the moment the legs were attached, or when he put the stain and finish on and set it out ready for his customer to pick it up? Clearly, the answer is somewhere in between. It was certainly a table by the time it left the shop, and it certainly was not a table when it came in as raw wood.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  20. Tim

    What I find ridiculous is there are people, many people, in this country that believe the bible is the direct word of God. We know very well from history that the bible as we know it was conceived at an editing session by the Council of Nicaea. This council decided what to keep and what to discard, like the Gnostic Gospels. Now, this was more than 300 years after Christ AND was put together from letters (gospels) from 4 main people that never actually interacted with Christ personally! How on earth can that be construed as the word of God?

    November 7, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Rick W.

      You may be right, many people probably do belive that the Bible is the direct word of God. In fact, it is the inspired word of God. Just because man put the books together does not change that.

      November 7, 2012 at 2:19 pm |

      the canon of scripture was formed by cons ensus during the time of roman per secution. Nicea ad dressed the question raised by the ari ans about the nature of the Go dhead. Over 99.5% of the delegates (bishops, patriarchs, archdeacons, etc) voted to confirm the belief in the Trinity as we have it today. Nicea had nothing to do with selection of the canon in spite of what Dan Brown said in his bas eless novel. He said he had doc umentary evidence of his findings, but still has not produced any evidence other than his bas eless speculations.

      The new testament we use today was the one used in the patriarchate of constantinople where constantine set up his capitol. There were other books in use at that time in the roman and alex andrian patriarchates (such as first clement). Their use discontinued after constantine popularized the N.T. as used in constantinople. There was nothing that said that the other bishops and patriarchs could not use other "scriptural" books. To this day, the ethiopian orthodox church and serbian orthodox church use what the rest of christianity considers non-canonical books (such as first enoch).

      you need to do your research somewhere other than reading dan brown's fiction.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Amsdorf

      Tim, what you don't know is that the 27 books that make up the New Testament were already being used by virtually every orthodox church within a century of Christ's Resurrection (and in the case of Paul's letters within decades). The Gnostic gospels and other Gnostic writings were only used by a few aberrant sects. The Council merely affirmed the books that had already proved themsleves to be the Word of God by their universal acceptance among God's people. The authority of the canon was determined by the Holy Spirit, not a human vote. The Gnostic writings are obvious fictions; the authentic Christian canon bears all the marks of eyewitness accounts.

      November 7, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Lovely responses. Thank you each

      November 8, 2012 at 8:34 am |
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