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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. Michael

    I've heard some Republicans saying that Obama is the "Anti-Christ" and that we must all do our best to get him out of office. This is the epitome of ignorance. If it were the truth, then how would they propose to STOP the Anti-Christ? You certainly can't change prophecy. Use your heads, people...

    November 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      What I find hilarious about that "prophecy" is that supposedly Lucifer could completely screw all of gods plan just by not creating an anti-christ. Sounds like that would most likely be his plan.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • JM

      I believe the antichrist is more likely to be someone who isn't 'for' the poor and who lies w/ease.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  2. yeano

    all thousands of religions are wrong. all go to heaven. a man made book should never be your crutch. god loves all his children.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  3. High Way

    The bible, whichever religion, is the source of all evil and good. It depends who has the power and control to wield the word of the bible for what purpose and ends. The impact is greater when you have a higher percent of people in a population that ignorant and more like sheeple.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  4. FRANK

    who invited you..you may not live to see a new day...stand thee back satan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • DrewB

      A fool and his choice exerpts from The Exorcist. Funny. GET THEE BEHIND ME FRANK, FOR I NEED TO PASS GAS!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  5. glogg

    Stephen Prothero is spot on! I hope everyone who reads this understands the need for self-reflection. Is your Jesus the one in the Bible, or one that you've created to mirror your personal beliefs, or one that has been created by Faux News/Rush Limbaugh/Pat Robertson/John Hagee, et al? Food for thought. Definitely.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  6. mikithinks

    Does anyone else think that most of the stuff posted on this site reinforces the need to keep church and state separate. The founding fathers had seen the results of the Protestent and Catholic battles for years. Churchs were burned and clerica killed everytime a different ruller took charge. It fostered hate and not love. How wise the founders were.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
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    November 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      667...I'm the neighbor of the beast
      333 ... I'm 1/2 as evil 🙂

      November 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • JD

      Did you have fun acting stupid?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      JD – "It is NOT an ACT!!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  8. FRANK

    Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1 (again, note that God knew him in the womb, he was not just tissue, but a living being) GOD KNEW JEREMIAH IN THE PREMORTAL EXISTENCE OR THE 1ST ESTATE

    November 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • DrewB

      What are we discussing here? Real Estate and property rights?

      November 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Well that clinches it then doesn't it. No one noticed that ever before. OMG Frank will go down in history.
      OK ladies...listen up. Frank just noticed something that's gonna change the world.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • JD

      "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee" That's because he was a spirit first, not an embryo.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  9. SoSad

    Breaking news for Billy Grahman and is followers: Mormanism is a CULT, period. The rest are RACISTS.

    But God loves them anyway, he forgives and loves all people, even those young and old white RACISTS.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • FRANK

      YOU'RE AFOOL

      November 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • sybaris

      All religions are cults.

      It's just a numbers game

      November 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  10. Jaron

    The author claims the Bible is silent on abortion, but what about this passage? It seems to say if the fetus is harmed, the offender shall repay life for life, eye for eye....etc.

    “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." - Exodus 21:22-25

    November 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Guest

      As you gave the translation of the original, it seems to say that if the WOMAN was not harmed (other than giving birth prematurely) the owner of the property - I mean her husband - would get to ask for a blood price; however, if SHE was harmed then a life for a life, an eye for an eye, etc., etc., etc.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Jaron

      Why even mention the fact that the women gave birth prematurely if it's only talking about harm that comes to the woman and not the baby? Why not just say "if 2 men are fighting and they hit a woman but she is not injured, then the offender shall pay what the husband says. but if she is injured, pay life for life...." It seems that the mention of giving birth prematurely means the life and health of the baby is meant to be relevant here.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  11. Rapstar 4 Obama

    Yo, yo, I be bustin rymes for Obama, drinkin 40's in the summer, he be the coolest black prez in the nation, cooler than outerspace and, i get foodstamps to pay my bills, everyone asking how I gots these skills, 24 karat gold on my teeth and Obama has dat love for the streets. Yea bustin now I'm out, double platinum record comin and ya'll heard it here first my homies! OBAMA 2012!

    November 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Swagger

      You gotz that swagger like Obama! Holla at a playa!

      November 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  12. Michael

    Don't be deceived by Romney's angelic white horse. It is clear that this man wants to be CEO in chief, and the Bible specifically warns against the love of money. We all know that you cannot serve God & mammon, yet this man continues to hide the evidence of his financial successes.He tells us that "government does not create jobs", but then in another breath tells us that his "business experience" gives him the credentials to be President.... this is a contradiction, and blatant lie. There are other motives at work here. The man has worshiped money all his life, and puts the well-being of the poor last. Anyone who claims this man represents God may be referring to a false Go, because Jesus certainly didn't think much of the wealthy.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  13. PETE

    All I know is that Romney will bring god back to American Governance. All those anti-christ things that way too left is not what our founding fathers had in mind when they first shaped our countrys laws- Christian Values were central. and with Romney , im sure that no hogeneous families and non christian values will ever prevail. Its the root value of America.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      Romney is about as CHRISTIAN as Ghengis Khan!!! What a hoot!... You WILL get something from Romney, But I GUARANTEE it will NOT BE "CHRISTRIAN"!!!! Good luck with that! You're gonna need some luck.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Christian Values were central."

      Like slavery, and women not being able to vote?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • sam stone

      "hogeneous"?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Io

      unfortunately the country can't take that chance, just to prove to you that "all you know" could be so wrong

      November 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Andy

      That's families with a man and a lof of ho's – come on, keep up sam.

      November 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  14. xirume

    STOP encouraging people to make political choices based on religion. That's the most ignorant approach possible. Teach people critical thinking skills instead. If we are to survive as a nation, we need to evolve into the 21 Century and grow our knowledge instead, we remain stuck with 2000-year old ideas.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  15. Chad

    "The Bible itself is relatively unconcerned with these matters [abortion rights and same-se x marriage]. If you think otherwise, it's not the Bible speaking. It's the political operative at the bottom of the well."

    =>are you sure of that? Or perhaps you want the bible to support your liberal social views 😉

    You can complain about the bible being anti gay marriage, and opposing abortion, but what you CAN NOT claim, is that the bible doesnt comment on it.

    Gay marriage:
    Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable Leviticus 18

    Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural se xual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
    Romans 1

    Unborn children are children, not just "tissue"
    "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 55 (note the "I", he came into existence at conception)

    "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. Psalm 139 (again, note the "me")

    "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1 (again, note that God knew him in the womb, he was not just tissue, but a living being)

    Prothero, I honestly dont know how you figure you are in any position to comment on the contents of the bible, being so completely unfamiliar with it? Or are you being disingenuous?

    November 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      So Chad,
      Do you kill your disobedient children, just like Leviticus says ?

      BUT you sneak. When are you going to accept or reject the Resurrection challenge ?

      November 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • FRANK

      THE BIBLE IS JUST A COMPILATION OF SOME OF THE PROPHETS OF THAT TIME...REPLETE WITH MANY MISTAKES THAT ARE GLARINGLY OBVIOUS AT SOME POINTS

      November 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • sybaris

      Quotig your bible is a futile exercise in circular logic:

      "It's true because it says it is, because it says it is, because it says it is.................."

      November 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Chad
      All you Christian hypocrites quote that crap when it's convenient, and when it's not you say that Jesus freed you from the law. So which is it ? Either you ARE free of the old law, or you are not ? Which is it ? Make up your damn mind.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Talk about ridiculous conclusions from those specific verses Chad. For one, it saya "lie with a man as a woman", which only denotes sexual acts. It says nothing about "If thou marry one of the same sex, then you are an abomination.
      Also, life at conception never has been, and never will be the issue when it comes to abortion rights, so your verses from your book of immorality is even more irrelevant and useless than usual.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      But Chad's in good company. Even St. Paul pulled that sh1t. He said they were free from the old law, but then when discussing women, said that women must obey their husband, "under the law". They're all schizophrenic.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Mikester

      LOL, did you not get the point??? We should be more concerned with peace and the poor. Why are these not top issues?? These issues are so big according to the bible that they should more or less TRUMP ALL OTHERs. ....fool

      November 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Chad

      @realbuckyball "Do you kill your disobedient children, just like Leviticus says"
      @Chad "no, that instruction was part of the "Law" which was in place until Jesus Christ sacrifice on the cross ushered in the new covenant.

      @realbuckyball "BUT you sneak. When are you going to accept or reject the Resurrection challenge ?"
      @Chad "LOL
      A. You need to distinguish between the historicity of the events: (the burial in the tomb, the finding of the empty tomb by some of His women followers, the origin of the belief by the apostles that they had encountered a resurrected Jesus). and the best explanation of the events (the resurrection).
      B. you want me to say that if YOU feel like you have an event with more historical support than the events listed above, I have to accept it? 🙂
      How about this, if I feel that another event has more historical support, then I feel it is accurate 🙂

      ======
      @sybaris "Quotig your bible is a futile exercise in circular logic:"
      @Chad "Not when it comes to refuting a statement by Prothero regarding the content of the bible.
      Right?

      If someone says "the bible says so-and-so" I certainly am not engaging in circular logic to quote the bible to demonstrate that is an untrue statement..

      right?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      How cute, Chad once again fails to address the problem of cherry picking when the law applies and when it doesn't, like when it comes to legislating their moronic evil book of death (AKA The "Holy" Bible).

      November 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Mikester

      Just remember tatoos are evil too!!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • dave

      I think the basic idea of the article is to point out how religion has been used as a tool for political gain. And does point out as a Christian its just not about abortion and gay rights, you cant ignore the rest of it if you are claiming to be a Christian. Talking big about abortion and then saying to a group of people that you dont care about 47% of the population is not very Christian.

      Also something to remember religion is a choice, its not faith if its forced upon others. I can understand a stance on abortion, you are standing up for your belief when life begins and I can respect that, but some of the rest of it is crazy. Telling 2 men or 2 women that they can be married, and married in the eyes of the state not necessarily in the eyes of God, is forcing your views on them. And if I remember correctly the whole free choice thing is talked about in the bible as well...

      November 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  16. FRANK

    19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.

    20 ¶And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. the stick of judah is the bible//the stick of epraim is the BOOK OF MORMON///EZIEKIEL 37/19

    November 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  17. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Suffrage is upon the voters' minds and the flip of the coin is, "Heads Romney wins and tails Obama loses."

    November 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Wally

    Everyone knows Democrats are in league with the devil. A vote for Willard is a vote to make this country Christian again.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Wally,

      Where then would moral conservancies be taken towards if a religious zealot such as Romney wins? Where also would societal conflagrations ignite once more to embellish all mannerisms of the American social orders? Two questions to consider if voting for Romney,,,,

      November 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bridal Party

      I might agree with you if I considered Mitt to be a Christian, which I don't.
      If you want to vote for Romney, go for it. However, our nation has NEVER been a Christian Nation, so....

      November 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      1. This country has NEVER been a "Christian" Nation because we have ALWAYS has the separation of Church and State! 2. If there is a party that embraces Satan, it is quite CLEARLY, the Republicans!!! They admit that they do not believe in helping the poor and only support Selfish, self-serving rich people! That is 180 degrees away from ANYTHING you might consider "Christian"!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  19. Major

    The author concentrates on how often words are mentioned with little focus on the historical context. Of COURSE there was a lot of references to "prison"-related things. They lived under the control of the Roman Empire and were subject to persecution! The closest modern parallel to such highly-centralized governmental control is socialism.

    Note that EVERY TIME Jesus talked about charity and helping the poor, he was telling private people to do so with their own money. He NEVER ONCE demanded the the Roman Empire use its governmental force to aid the poor. Jesus' charity was private, because public charity was inherently oppressive – then AND now.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Mikester

      ....the govt of the time was an occupying force....Jesus was no fool. Our govt actually spends its tax dollar on us. Give these things more though before you say something ignorant.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  20. Stephen Boley

    How about this? In "One Voice " the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, AL (yes backward alabama again) Bishop Robert Baker and his Bully puppet John Martignoni basically write that if you vote for Obama you are "intrinsically evil" and are doomed to Eternity in hell because the President himself is "intrinsically evil". That is all because the president "supports abortion". I have sent the Bishop a scathing letter, and several of us at our church are letting him know that he crossed the line and abused his authority as a bishop. Oh, by the way my church is predominantly African American with some whites, latinos and orientals mixed in. We are talking about having a "Burn Baby Burn" party on election night. God Bless the Prez!

    November 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Bridal Party

      The RCC has crossed the line many times, and weighing in on elections are yet one more example on how churches have no business saying anything at all on how our country is run when they do not contribute one cent into the tax system.
      As a former Catholic myself, the RCC is hypocritical when talking about who is hell-bound when they cannot take care of the pedophile priest problem; take care of the children who are already here instead of pontificating on those who have yet to be born!

      November 5, 2012 at 3:46 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.