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. PraiseTheLard

    National Prayer Breakfast? National disgrace!!! Such a display of collective ignorance is unbecoming...

    December 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  2. rlj

    I completely agree with everything that Peter Johngren said – except that they were getting back only a very mild taste of their own medicine. I'm not saying that those tactics are right, just that the president should not be held to a standard miles higher than the other side, and that the alternative would have been to let the worse of the two sides unfairly win control to the detriment of the country.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  3. Furk Yew

    Go both ways, Mister Hypocrite.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  4. Common Sense

    Meanwhile...you teach your children that Santa, the tooth fairy, and all of your other fantasies are real? Are you not also lying. Who is calling you a bigot? You are casting fire and brimstone at those who do not believe in your religion or your faith based ideals. In truth...most rich do indeed get their wealth from ill-gotten gain. When a CEO receives his funds in bonus format in the terms of millions...do you not call that ill-gotten gain? So who was really minding the store while receiving just barely above minimum wage while the CEO was on the golf course. You seem to think that Mr. Romney is some saint...while he was campaigning, how many jobs did he create? Just enought to support the campaign? With his $250 million, why didn't he show us when he really needed to that he could take, invest, create jobs and demonstrate financial gain. I support Pro-Choice while you support Pro-Life...I appreciate your views, but I don't agree with them. Now your God gets involved at your insistence and I don't mind...but really...if this is your arguement, then fundamentally we have no point of discussion. I would agree with some points your side may argue, but you want it in black and white, and then...you also want only in gray when you either think that you might be going to hell or see no alternate route. You sir...are the one that really needs to repent...as you are come across as "greater than thou," and your views are not going to be the views that I sell to my children. Keep your Santa, your tooth fairy, your God, your judgemental biases, your fellow pro-lifers to yourselves. You sir...do nothing more than demonstrate a "hypocrite in motion."

    December 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • More Common Sense

      Why does everyone who is making minimum wage think they deserve to tell the CEO how to spend their time? Its their company. They put in the work. Why dont you keep your mouth shut and do your job. One day you may get into that position, but first you have to EARN it... tough word to swallow.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  5. Rich

    Are you kidding me? He needs to have his head examined!! He missed the whole election, it wasn't Obama and his supporters lobbing all the nasty stuff, it was Romney if not equally even more so!! I can't believe cnn.com would post this nonsense. You are no longer by default internet page for news because you obviously not worthy!!

    December 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • More Common Sense

      Romney is not the President. He is asking the Leader of our Country to step up and work with the other 50% of the country that he degrated. Because nothing is ever going to get done the way things are right now.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Ok

      Sure. You're right. There was tons of "nasty stuff" lobbed from both sides in the campaign. The problem is: you're taking umbrage at points the author never makes and positions I don't think he'd support.

      The author never says that the Obama campaign was the only guilty party. The author never defends what nastiness the Romney campaign used.

      He happens to address this towards Obama because:
      – He had prior interaction with Obama dealing with civility and how it should be promoted in the public square.
      – He views the Obama campaign as being contrary to what Obama had espoused.
      – Obama is in a position to make overtures towards healing and the author believes that it will help the current discourse.

      It's a counter factual, but I believe the author might have written a similar piece if Romney had won.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  6. Anon

    The author is a complete moron. KEEP YOUR !@#%$^&& RELIGION TO YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!

    December 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  7. Sam

    In the face of conservative obstructionism, asking the President to play nice is just silly.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Justwondering

      Absolutely!!! Why would the leader need to set an example?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  8. COfoEVA

    So its not ok for the president to portray Mitt Romney as a vulture capitalist that had the world handed to him, which is true, but it is ok for the GOP to portray everyone who does not make enough money to qualify to pay taxes as lazy idiots just looking for handouts, which could not be further from the truth. I guess it is not surprising a religulous fool setting a double standard that benefits his point of view.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • No....

      He's not saying that. You're not understanding what he wrote.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  9. byron

    SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE ! Stay out of politics Mr Metaxas , as a non believer I find it very annoying from either side of the aisle.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  10. Wildernessyes

    You have got to be kidding me. President Obama demonized his opponents? It was clearly the other way around. But this is what I expect from our religious leaders now, they are political at the base and they use their religious organizations do they dirty political work. This is just on reason why I have nothing to do with religion or religious organizations. Keep it to yourself and within the doors of your religious structures.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  11. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

    The only difference between a Christian and a Muslim is a few hundred years of secularist teaching you what tolerance, civility and love really are.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Humanitee

      Are you referring to the time between Christianity and Islam's inception?

      December 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  12. maine liberal

    Christ teaches us that prayer and forgiveness are to be done in private perhaps Obama has already done this.

    5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  13. ChristoInferno

    Mr. Metaxas, until you urge every other presidential candidate to "repent," you are not someone to take seriously. Either a rule applies to everyone or it's not a rule. You can't remain silent when a dozen people do it and then cry when one does it.

    Your agenda is showing.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  14. Thomas

    Is this guy serious? The GOP has been Demonizing Obama for almost 8 years. He's a Muslim, a radical christian, a socialist, a Marxist, a foreigner. Obama cant be all of those things at the same time. The GOP has eroded this countries unity so badly that there are entire states erroneously considering secession. When you say things like, "as a Christian, God commands me to love [Obama} with whom I disagree, to treat [him] with civility and respect, as creatures made in God's image" and then attack him, completely ignoring the same wrong doings made by his opponent whom you no doubt agree with it makes you a biggot.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  15. Margaret

    If he wants to take people to task, try going after the Republicans for the nasty vitriol they were spewing. Both sides are guilty, but to just go after Obama is ridiculous. I am still getting those stupid emails about Obama being Muslim. More Christians seem to think he is lying when he says he is a Christian. Well I am not too sure they are. The way I see it, the President has been inclusive, and many in the Republican party have been not been welcoming. In fact I heard Republicans say they were not conservative enough and are all for tightening things even more. I suspect that President Obama even read his book. I wonder if Mr. Metaxas has ever read any of the Presidents.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  16. theaeros

    Is this really an opinion piece? He didn't really say anything. I bet his book has much to do about nothing as well.

    What I think this guy needs to realize is that he and other Christians don't have the right to tell two gay men that they can't get married as a Jew has the right to tell a butcher that he can't sell pork. One nation out of many means we need to tolerate the belief systems and not encode our own religious belief into secular law. We don't live in a theocracy.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  17. SlayFalseGod

    Religion is a sham and a farce and should be regulated to a individual's home or church.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      Christianity’s biggest sin is believing they are original. Their god, like all of those before him will fade away with the rest of mythology.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  18. themadzak

    Mr. Metaxas: Saying the President was overly harsh while campaigning is your opinion. I saw the opposite side doing worse. In recent years that has been the Republicans' modus operandi. How else did a war hero like John Kerry get labeled as a traitor in the 2004 election?

    The official strategy of the 2012 campaign for the Republican party is to spread fear into the hearts of Americans be claiming Obama and the Democrats are leading the nation towards socialism. They know this is not true, but it doesn't stop them from making the claim.

    Here is something else to think about. For the greater part of his time in office Bush had a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress. Do you know how many significant anti-abortion laws they passed? None. I know they couldn't overturn Roe v. Wade, but they could have done other things. For example, they could have provided funding for pre-natal care for young, single parents. I too am a Christian, and I too am against abortion. However, I see the Republicans of today as hypocrites. They talk a good talk, but when it comes right down to it, they are all for themselves.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Margaret

      Education is a key, if you really want to limit abortions, people need to get educated about their bodies. Pre-natal services and education on child care would be a good place to start. Handing babies over to children and saying you made em you raise em is a recipe for disaster. We have way too many babies being abused and killed. Too many in foster care.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  19. yogi

    Mr. Metaxas, the power of true belief lies deep within one's self, in a personal relationship with God, and not by endless talking about your belief. When the ego steps in God steps out, when God steps in the ego steps out. The greatest spiritual giants are those who found God and they are the most humble souls. The more people meditate, the less they will talk about religion.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  20. Peter Johngren

    While I agree that this campaigne got ugly, it is interesting to hear a religious concervative complain about anyone maligning someone else, when they regularly do this. The Pope calls young gay adolescents "an abomination to God" as if acne weren't enough – consequently many kill themselves. The right-to-lifers call the people that disagree with them "murderers." Those who support the big oil companies call those who push for a social safety net "freeloaders – lazy, etc." Fox News regularly lies and misrepresents facts – indeed the entire Romney campaign was based on lies, even about their own possitions. So Mr Metaes, I don't feel your pain in this case. I think you were simply getting a taste of your own medicine, when Obama fought back.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
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About this blog

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.