My Take: No pressure, Mr. President
Author Eric Metaxas speaks alongside President Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in February.
December 10th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

My Take: No pressure, Mr. President

Editor's Note: Eric Metaxas is the author of "No Pressure, Mr. President! The Power Of True Belief In A Time Of Crisis: The National Prayer Breakfast Speech."

By Eric Metaxas, Special to CNN

(CNN)–Imagine that the president of the United States had to sit and listen to you for 30 minutes in a public setting. Imagine that he couldn't escape and had to endure whatever you said. If you disagreed with him politically, would you try to embarrass him? What would you say?

Well, this actually happened to me. A year ago I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, an event attended by the president, first lady, vice president, and 3,500 other dignitaries. No one was more shocked at the invitation than I. Previous speakers include Mother Teresa, Tony Blair and Bono. No pressure.

By the way, I disagree with the president in some important ways. But as a Christian, God commands me to love those with whom I disagree, to treat them with civility and respect, as creatures made in God's image. That's a command, not a request or a suggestion. Again, no pressure.

In my speech I spoke about my heroes, William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Wilberforce's faith led him to fight for the Africans being enslaved by the British; Bonhoeffer's faith led him to fight for the Jews being persecuted by the Nazis. I used them as examples of people who passionately lived out their faith by standing up for their fellow human beings when most around them merely gave it lip service.

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I also joked around a lot, because as any of my friends will tell you, one of the ways I show love is by joking and teasing people.  Who said prayer breakfasts had to be boring?  At one point I said that George W. Bush had read my Bonhoeffer book, and then I glanced at President Obama and said "No pressure."  I'm glad he laughed!

Later in my speech, I talked specifically about the idea of loving our enemies. I said this was the test of real faith. Speaking to my fellow pro-lifers, I said that those of us who believe the unborn to be human beings must love those on the other side of that issue. I also said that those of us with a traditionally biblical view of sexuality are sometimes demonized as bigots, but we must love even those who call us bigots. I cited Wilberforce and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as two men who took seriously God's command to love their enemies in the midst of the most serious political battles of their day.  They honored God in how they fought, and he honored them.

At the end of the breakfast the president told me he would read my book on Bonhoeffer, and Vice President Biden took my picture with the president. No kidding. It was an extraordinary day and I'm not telling the half of it.

President Barack Obama holds up a book given to him by author Eric Metaxas

But the reason I'm writing now is that during the past election I was disappointed to see the president's campaign utterly abandoning these ideals of treating your opponents as you yourself would wish to be treated. Good people with principled and profound convictions about when life begins were cynically demonized as "enemies of women."  Americans who had worked hard to build businesses, and who had given millions to charity and to the government, were denounced as fat-cats who weren't "paying their fair share" and whose wealth was ill-gotten gain.

These scorched-earth tactics were not presidential, much less Christian, and because the president openly professes a Christian faith, I feel I must speak about this.

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Of course many will dismiss campaign hardball rhetoric as "what works." This is to miss the point. What we say matters deeply, and how we say it matters deeply.  All of it has serious long-term consequences.  For all of us.

For one thing, our children are watching and listening. We tell them it's less important who wins or loses than how we play the game. Is there no truth to this at all? Do we not see that this behavior erodes faith in the very political process and in democracy itself? Do we not see that by doing this we encourage our opponents to do the same - and worse - the next time around?  Shouldn't we care about that?

Any victory won in an ugly way is somehow a tainted victory. In this case, the president has "won" a deeply divided nation, one that he - alas - has had a hand in dividing. Now what?

If he is to succeed in the tremendous challenges that lay ahead, he must repent of these tactics and must make amends with his opponents, if it's not too late.  Or else he will face gridlock and more gridlock.  He also must show the door to those who cynically encouraged this "winning is the only thing" behavior.

His legacy and America's future depend upon it. Many will be praying for him.

No pressure.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eric Metaxas.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (2,208 Responses)
  1. gaucho420

    Is this article for grade school consumption? Where's the apology from the right for all the hate they spew about Obama? Muslim, socialist, not American, Kenyan, beholden to Europeans...get off it. Quite frankly, this is one of the worst pieces of journalism I've ever read on CNN.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  2. t3chsupport

    Pretty sure the bible says a thing or two about hypocrisy...

    December 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  3. ricardo1968

    Nice book plug. It should also be said that nothing was said by the Obama campaign regarding abortion that was so damaging as what was said by certain GOP candidates.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  4. HJA

    "But the reason I'm writing now is that during the past election I was disappointed to see the president's campaign utterly abandoning these ideals of treating your opponents as you yourself would wish to be treated"

    WOW! I guess the GOP were total angels or this guy doesn't have a clue. President Obama never came close to the hate filled BS spread by the Right Wingers. No contest!

    December 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Roger that

      You can't blame the right wingers. Their hate filled BS was the spirit of God at work.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  5. ART

    God please forgive this man for he is a moron. the only one being devisive is you. Just becaus eyou believe something does not make it right.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  6. Tduimstra

    Seems to me another typical Republican stool-pigeon pretending to be a Christian. Mr. Metaxas (is that name a joke?), how about telling this to your Republican buddies who invented the DIRTY POLITICS in the first place. Talk about an entire party in need of repenting! You sir, are not at all credible.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  7. s1

    1) Why did CNN give this hypocrite/corrupt person a web space ?
    2) People like him are IRRELEVANT. It is sad that 50% of the American people (including 2 back-to-back generations) still listen to these AM radio traitors.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  8. t3chsupport

    Typical, call out one side while completely ignoring the plank in the eyes of those on your own side. The president was wrong to do these things... but we'll just ignore everyone else doing the same thing, because they more agree with the rest of your philosophies.

    This is why your organized religions are dieing. Because your hypocrisy is loud and blatant.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  9. Sidprejean

    I have many friends who profess to be – who define themselves primaryly as – "pro-life". Not one in a hundred has ever said a word, or done a deed, or written a page, or prayed a prayer to end capital punishment. Life is life and many believe that it starts at conception. No one can truly believe that it "ends" at conviction.
    When the so-called "pro-life" movement addresses – out loud and at length – the horror of capital punishment, they will get credit for being really pro-life.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Given that life to these folks begins "at conception", I've never heard them explain what horrible thing they think god does with the soul of the 8 celled organism that fails to develop, or why they are happy to eat a hamburger which comes from a cow with a more complex brain than the average aborted fetus. Since millions of embryos and fetuses are lost spontaneously (far more than medically aborted) you’d think god would have some sort of competency for dealing with the situation.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • awood

      Are you trying to equate the value of the life of a convicted murder to that of an innocent harmless fetus? Or do pro-right people put the value of the life of the convicted murder above that of the harmless fetus? I am confused by your comparison.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  10. ThatGuy

    There are fair points to be made here, but for this article to have any credibility, the author would need to at least aknowledge Mr. Romney's "scortched earth" tatics. Both Obama and Romney believe in Jesus Christ and profess to be men of great faith. If the author is going to judge, he needs to judge them the same. Both men ran the same "hard" (positive spin) "nasty" (negative spin) campaign. The only difference between Obama and Romney is that Obama happened to win.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • awood

      I agree that politics in America has gotten nasty. I consider myself to be a moderate and detest the two party system that pits one against another, it always seems to be reduced to mud slinging eventually. However, I noticed that the tone of the mud slinging was different from the two sides in this recent presidential election. Romney seemed to attack the presidents' policies and agenda while the president seemed to be attacking Romney's character more than his policies and agenda. I think Mr. Metaxas has a legitimate point. I too agree that the President now needs to work to unify the nation and be president to everyone not just his party.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  11. ThaGerm

    While I agree with the writer in principal. What I do not agree with is that he is not speaking at the same time to the Christian Right. Rhetoric was CLEARLY amped up by the right and therefore Obama had to turn up the volume to be heard. Now, that doesn't mean Obama was correct in doing so, but it does point to the root of the issue. If Christians not acting very Christian is what your issue is "as near as I could tell that was your core issue" then, perhaps not picking a political side while you judge your fellow Christians would be the, well, Christian thing to do yes?

    December 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Nannalow

      Why is it that all right wingers are necessarily Christian? President Obama has stated he is a Christian. I would gather that many of the "right wing" people that you talk of either do not state they are Christian or if you ask any Christian would say they do not represent them.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  12. Merlin66

    For the last fifty years or so, Christianity has caused a lot more trouble than it is worth. America is going to have to give up Christianity as a bad habit.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Unbelievable

      Wow, are you kidding!!!!!!

      December 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  13. BobFromPA

    Ah, didn't you see the attack ads by the Christian Right or the Ultra Right Wing of the republican party. What sand pile did you have your head stuck in. Gosh guy, haven't you ever heard about a pot calling the kettle black.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  14. BobFromPA

    Ah, didn't you see the attack ads by the Christian Right or the Ultra Right Wing of the republican party. What sand pile did you have your head stuck in. oOsh guy, haven't you ever heard about a pot calling the kettle black.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  15. Stifler

    @Eric Metaxas..."he must repent of these tactics"... and repeal Roe vs. Wade once and for all....firmly establish the Christian faith and the Bible as the Law of the Land...step aside and let the Tea Party take over...abolish all taxes, especially to rich white males...immediately force all immigrants to leave our country (Now who is going to paint our houses and cut our lawns?).
    Eric...this is precisely why a Republican like me, who voted for every Republican since 1980...until the Tea Baggers, Rush, Hannaty, Coulter, etc high-jacked it so far right I can't see them any more. No, you are the one's who can't accept a black President who is what you call a "free thinker", and it is you folks who are dividing our country.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  16. benji

    Funny how this guy ignores the pure racism and hatred from the GOP who claims to be "conservative Christians". He and they are hypocrites.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Curt

      I was thinking the exact same thing. It takes two to tango, and the Romney campaign and its surrogates did as much if not more "scorched earth" campaigning. The entire political environment is a problem. If you're going to call out the president's side, that's fair to do, but only if you call out both sides. No one in their right mind is going to "rise above" such things politically until their opponents do likewise. It's political suicide to just sit there and take it, while running a comparatively pious campaign.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  17. Greg

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    December 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • dudeuloose

      Can you tell me which law respects Christianity more than others?

      December 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Nannalow

      It says "No Law" not that you should not use a religious foundation as your morals when determining what is best for the country. If we all check our morals at the door than what kind of world would we live in? That my morals and your morals different is likely a fact – that doesn't change the fact that I live by my morals and you live by yours. Since Obama has stated he is a Christian man, for a fellow Christian to call him on his moral behavior is what is called – holding your brother accountable. It is a common thing in Christianity – accountability. However, I am guessing your moral code has no accountability requirement.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @dudeuloose, Any policy which references "God" (such as the insertion of "under god" in the pledge or the new "In God we Trust" motto) supports theistic religions (like most forms of Christianity) of non-theistic religons (like most forms of Buddhism or secular humanism).

      December 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  18. buffalo

    And what do you have to say about things that were said about Mr. Obama and his wife and family by the rabid hounds at FOX Spews? Oh, that's allowed?

    December 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Roger that

      Not so fast there Buffalo. They have God on their side so it's ok.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • awood

      The press are free to say whatever they like, it is guaranteed by the first amendment. If you don't like what they say turn it off, that is how we hold the press accountable. Mr Metaxas is speaking of the President specifically, who now has the responsibility of being everyone's president.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  19. MikeMazzla

    How about finally admitting there is no such thing as good and you know right from wrong by just being a human being. Waste of an article.. not to mention acting as though Obama was so dirty and not mentioning the other side.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Justwondering

      If there is no such thing as good, how can there be right and wrong?

      December 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Huebert

      Did you mean no such thing as good, or no such thing as god?

      December 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Justwondering

      I meant no such thing as good, in reply to MikeMazzla comment about accepting that there is not such thing as good.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  20. Gudjieff to the rescue

    "But as a Christian, God commands me to love those with whom I disagree, to treat them with civility and respect, as creatures made in God's image. That's a command, not a request or a suggestion. Again, no pressure." ... You sir are a EXOteric christian, however I an ESOteric Christian will tell you I love you even if I disagree with your thinking... and the true God doesn't need to command me to understand WHY I love and forgive you, especially since you don't have a clue to the universe or how it works.. A God that issues free will then makes a commandment of you is a figment of your imagined SELF < silly human!

    December 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Justwondering

      God tells us that we need to love our enemies. That's the command. However, he doesn't force us to love our enemies. Whether we carry out the command is our decision. That's the free will of which you speak. As a parent, I can command my son not to take his sister's toy when she is playing with it, but that does not mean that he will not take his sister's toy when she is playing with it. He has free will that he can exercise, although there are consequences for his actions. I will allow him to make that decision, and hopefully with practice, he becomes better at making the right decision. If God forced us to love our enemies, that would not really be us loving our enemies, would it? We have a part in it.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • bartbrn

      I don't disagree at all with your critique of Eric Metaxas' blither, but if you're going to invoke Gurdjieff, please spell his name right: George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (Russian: Гео́ргий Ива́нович Гюрджи́ев).

      Thanks, and now back to the Apocalypse...


      Bart Brown

      December 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
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