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. FRANK

    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.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • r2d2

      Thou fool, that shall say: A StarWars book, we have got a DeathStar, and we need no more DeathStar. Have ye obtained a Proton torpedo save it were by the Rebellion?

      Quoting fiction doesn't prove a thing

      November 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm |

      where does this hinduism, absurdity exist in book of hinduism, racism, bible.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Palpatine

      Now witness the firepower of the fully armed and operational battle station

      November 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  2. gkerrister

    shame on cnn for pandering to the religious nutcase dim population segment. Why not educate them instead?

    jesus is dead. the bible you read is the translation of a translation of a translation.

    what is wrong with you people?

    November 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |

      hinduism, ignorance.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  3. Chuck

    I dont understand the purpose of this article.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • FRANK

      the purpose of this article is to degrade mormons right before election but it will not work..we have mormon prez

      November 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It is largely a response to criticisms of two recent articles here that challenge the religiosity of the American Taliban as not being very "Christian" and factually demonstrates that their religious viewpoint changes.

      This one by Stephen Prothero:

      and this one by Jonathan Dudley:

      Both of these articles demonstrate that Evangelical Protestants have changed their positions based on the political climate – which hardly illustrates an immutable "absolute" biblical morality.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Xenu

      Go back to kolob FRANK, i have dc9's waiting to take you!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      neither of these articles were about Mormonism. They were both about how the GOP and Evangelical Protestants have an unholy political and religious symbiosis.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • nostrildamus

      I don't either. Prothero is as fond of parsing as anyone he criticizes. Here, we see him engaging in the fallacy that number of references is meaningful in anyway. If a parent tells their child once not to hit their sister, but five times to wipe their feet when they enter the house, does that make wiping feet more important than not hitting their sister?

      I'll agree that too many causeheads run around in Christian clothing and the wrong questions get too much emphasis (gossiping is condemned as often and as severely as almost anything else in the NT), but I've never seen Prothero make an argument that is compelling about anything.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  4. Tim

    Here is my challenge to the relgious political right. Read through the New Testament, take note of Jesus's harshest words, then take note of who they are directed at. What you will find that they are not directed at "sinners" or the "political left" of his day (The Saducees), his harshest words were directed at the conservative, political right, who took the scripture literally. It is not that they were always wrong, the problem was they were most often wrong when they were right. Lesson, those on the right need to remember that we are sometimes never so wrong as when we are right.(Same lesson for the left). How strange we never see the pharisee in ourselves.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

      No, his word's were directed at hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, secular s, deniers of truth absolute, Pharisees etc,

      November 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Meidy

      Ah, but what you fail to understand is that the Pharisees were not "the rich". The priests and such were "the rich". The Pharisees were the middle class of that time period. Thinking of the Pharisees as middle class rather than rich will certainly change your view as to who Jesus was talking about. Jesus was a protector of the poor...no question. But the poor of Jesus' time looks far different than the broader so-called poor we have today. The average poor today has multiple televisions, cell phones, a computer, internet access and a roof over their head. Jesus would have kicked the butt of those "poor" and told them to get to work!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  5. netanyahu

    a devout cult mormon prez in the white house spells end of gods blessing on our nation.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • FRANK

      it will be the only people as a group that are left intact

      November 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Tim620

      Did God ever bless this nation (USA)? I'm guessing many Native Americans didn't think so.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  6. JM


    I love Christ's teaching and am thankful that it in no way represents the hypocritical, self-centered judgmentalism of the far right who talk and act exactly like the Pharisees who Jesus condemned.

    He 'hung out' with the people they then/now would consider 'sinners'.

    Thank God He did. => It wouldn't be good news if the kingdom of God was made up of self-righteous jerks.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm |

      The one never existed but part of a drama script.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  7. GAW

    Of course the social world of the Bible new nothing of GOP values. You had a monarchy an exile and numerous years under various nations. Plus Jesus said very little about the establishment of a physical government.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • FRANK

      wrong ..jesus sets up a "physical" kingdom and reigns 1000 years

      November 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • GAW

      .....And not all Christians are agreed to what that number 1000 is supposed to mean. But the thrust of his message was NOT the establishment of a government.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  8. FRANK

    jesus is here defending ..you think he died

    November 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • ironman59

      NO and the reason is that none of it happened & those people never existed. Again, you are trying to push your religious values into my SECULAR ELECTION.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • niknak

      Jeebus never existed. Other than the babble, there is no record of him.
      The Romans, who were pretty record conscious, have nothing about him.
      Face it bro, you have wasted your time believing in a fairy tale and a mythical person.
      The sooner you free yourself from religion, the sooner you will be free.
      A mind is a terrible thing to lose, to religion...........

      November 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • generbeener

      Niknak, let us look at your statement. I believe you point is that Christ (and the resurrection of Christ) do not exist. If this is not your point ignore this comment. if it is your point I would like for you to think about a statement I once heard.

      This is a paraphrase: "What are we risking if the Christians are wrong? Nothing really. If God does not exist then once we die we end. But what if the Christians are right? What do we risk? our very souls."

      It's just a thought to contemplate. Do with it what you will.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  9. MKinSoCal

    Along the lines of the article, I would like to remind readers, especially those who consider themselves good Christians and who haven't voted yet, that the National Council of Catholic Bishops called the 2011 Paul Ryan budget 'immoral'. Non-Catholic Christians may not accept their authority, but you would be hard pressed to challenge them on matters of theology.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • FRANK

      hard pressed to challenge on theology..give me a break

      November 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • FRANK

      stickin it to the little ones is immoral..better that a millstone slung around their neck and cast them to the sea

      November 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  10. Steve

    What does it matter, religious people are crazy and will make all kinds of bizarre assertions...

    November 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  11. scott

    "Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus" ......No but it does yield a weak and diluted mind that you still have to love because it could be one of your Grandparents.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  12. Atheism is healthy for everyone. Pets too!
    November 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • emory gayle

      I agree. I have a personal relationship with reality, and it's wonderful.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  13. FRANK

    3 ¶Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people adraw near me with their bmouth, and with their lips do chonour me, but have dremoved their eheart far from me, and their ffear toward me is taught by the gprecept of men:

    14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a amarvellous bwork among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the cwisdom of their wise men shall dperish, and the eunderstanding of their fprudent men shall be hid.

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

      isaiah 29/13

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

      a marvelous work–the book of mormon

      November 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Use spell check much?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • FRANK

      Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Use spell check much? those are letters of index

      November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  14. Bemused about the desperate

    "But the more intelligent responses have taken two tacks..... they are voting for Romney ... because Romney is the lesser of two evils. Some in this camp, convinced (wrongly) that President Barack Obama is a Muslim".

    You CALL THAT the "intelligent responses"????????
    I shudder what the really stupid racist narrow minded responses would sound like....

    November 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • ME II

      "more intelligent"
      Yo, s'all relative.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      November 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • oldleftcoastdude

      Nor is American Talibanism, in the form of modern day Evangelicals, among others

      November 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Huebert

      @Prayer bot

      Would you like me to help you test this claim?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • emory gayle

      Nothing fails quite like prayer.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  16. vidal808

    A lot of morons here giving their opinion....too bad Jesus is not here to defend himself.....and distant himself from the Republicans and Romney clan....

    November 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  17. Don Warren

    ...when men call good, evil and evil, good...trying to make a point with a few verses is a misuse of the Bible. My suggestion is to read the whole thing then use the spirit of the Bible to enhance passages. I know that as a Christian I have a duty to spread the word. Well folks, they have heard the word and rejected it. Shake the dust off your feet and leave them.

    Who you vote for is not as important as what you vote for.

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

      Vote for improvement in the economy. Vote for social justice. Vote for solid foreign policy and sensible military spending. Vote for marriage and family.

      Vote Democrat!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  18. sinofracism

    As a born again believer, I am repulsed by the GOP manipulation of Christian through this abortion issue to vote for people who don't have an ounce of Christ-like compassion for the poor. And if they are so concerned about "shedding innocent blood" then what about the 25 million African captives whose bones are scattered across the bottom of the ocean from the Slave Trade?

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

      How in the world do we do anything about the slave trade that was going on about 150 years ago? Don't you want to stand up for the lives of unborn children? Aren't their lives of value?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      yes, it is good to remind people that the slave trade directly resulted in huge numbers of excess deaths, all performed by religionists.

      Given the time period, and total world population at the time, these numbers are truly staggering.

      18th Century Atlantic slave trade .... 8,100,000
      18th century Islamic slave trade ...... 2,000,000
      19th century Atlantic slave trade...... 2,500,000
      19th century Islamic slave trade ...... 3,000,000


      Even though these numbers are slightly less than your 25m estimate the magnitude is comparable.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer


      Keep in remembrances, John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world" for in Luke 17:21 it is written, "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."

      November 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  19. MagicPanties

    My invisible pink unicorn agrees with this article, but is upset that no unicorns are in the bible.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • numbnut


      November 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  20. 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 3:57 pm |
    • FRANK

      you cannot understand the doctrine of jesus christ without the book of mormon..

      November 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      And my invisible pink unicorn says unto you, "you know where you can stick it".

      November 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • oldleftcoastdude


      November 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • ironman59

      That's where you don't get it. We have no desire to understand your books, bibles or other fairytales. This is an election of a SECULAR GOVERNMENT, not your church leadership. Keep your religion out of my government.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • numbnut

      We need to introduce Frank to the "Atheism is unhealthy..." lady.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Don't Believe in Fairy tales

      Sure you can. The doctrine of Christ has been around for over 2000 years. People have had understanding of the things of the Bible for centuries. The book of mormon only 200 years. That the book of mormon was based on a false prophets dream should tell you something.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • phoenix86

      Ironman59. Agree if you will keep your government out of my religion.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer


      Not only are you blind but dumb as well! One cannot stand there and idly refute the Word denying it and its' Truths just cause you don't want to read it fully! Your saying, "Keep your religion out of my government" is lunacy! Governments are the peoples and not the "my" your dumbness!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • bob

      Frank you cannot understand the doctrine of common sense with the book of mormon ( or any bible )

      November 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Don't Believe in Fairy tales

      @ Ironman59
      You need to go back through history. This country was founded on and through Christianity.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Harrison

      Frank, this is garbage. Please stop it. There is no way rational Americans let alone Christians will humour you and this stuff. Why not convert to Protestant? Our message is clear as day with no Planets.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Mikelup

      Blasphemy! Mormon is not mentioned in God's Word; The Holy Bible.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • niknak

      That's right Frankenonsense, I don't understand the book of moron.
      Like all magic books, it is meaningless to someone who critically thinks for himself.
      You should try it sometimes, and stop being a follower-sheep.
      Get off your knees.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      " Mormon is not mentioned in God's Word; The Holy Bible."

      - Neither are Lutheran, or Methodist, or Anglican, or 3rd Congregationalist, etc. etc.
      - What makes you thing the The Bible is "God's Word" anyway?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
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