Bible’s values take a beating in GOP debate

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 16, 2015.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 16, 2015.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 16, 2015.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 16, 2015.

In Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas, Chris Christie was given a chance to answer a recorded question from a young lady who wanted to know how biblical teaching about caring for orphans aligned with GOP talk about banning all Syrian refugees.

It was a fascinating test for the American political party that so often makes explicit references to Christian faith and values — especially in a debate in which much of the conversation centered on religion, in this case radicalized versions of Islam.

The question applied equally well to the subject of the entire debate: national security and counterterrorism strategy. Would Christian values in any form be considered in the development of such policies? Would it be appropriate for them to be considered by a president of the United States?

The answer appeared to be a flat “No.” Gov. Christie simply said that the first responsibility of the president is to protect Americans. Until security officials can develop a vetting process for refugees that is 100% foolproof in preventing even a single terrorist from slipping in under that cover, we cannot welcome them. And as if to demonstrate his biblical chops, he said that the Bible calls for looking after widows, too, but that we saw in San Bernadino that women can be terrorists. So national security trumps biblical demands for compassion to widows and orphans.


READ: 5 faith facts about Chris Christie: Cradle Catholic and member of the Church of Bruce


Senator Rand Paul later took up the issue with a different, more libertarian answer. He said that compassion is perfectly appropriate in private and charitable affairs; e.g., giving money to church programs that help people. But the government is not a charitable organization. It is inappropriate to tax people in order to offer charity.

These answers point to an underlying theory about the role of government, the role of faith in public life, and the integration of faith in the particular life of a Christian government official. To wit: the role of government is to secure the people from serious threat or harm. The role of faith in public life does not include shaping government policy. The moral demands of Christian faith, such as charity and compassion, do not apply to government officials in their public responsibilities, but only in their private lives.

This means that the Christian politician must be a religious and ethical dualist, a bifurcated soul. In public life, the Christian politician sets aside biblical teachings. In private life, however, she or he tries to practice them. They apply only to the inner, spiritual, charitable, or religious dimension of life. They do not apply to what the government official does all day, which is to make and execute policy.

The GOP candidates could have cited the Bible and Christian tradition to support this view. It has been derived from Romans 13:1-7, which teaches that the power of the state to punish wrongdoers with the sword is God-given and must be respected. That text has often been used to justify state violence, and therefore the use of violence even by Christian state officials. Jesus’ demand for forgiveness and turning the other cheek has been rendered secondary, private, or as a mere ideal — and this would also hold true for the Bible’s many other demands that might cut against the responsibility of a government official.


READ: Five faith facts about Rand Paul: ‘My faith has never been easy for me’


There are at least three reasons why no Christian GOP candidate would have answered the faith question in a way that outlined the actual theory underlying the approach most of them were articulating.

First, they might not have known that’s the theory they were operating from.

Second, they would not have wanted to admit to themselves or their voters that their belief in Jesus does not extend to applying most of his teachings in public life.

Third, they would not have wanted to explain why their bracketing off of biblical teachings from a government’s public responsibility does not apply to other policy matters, such as abortion, marriage, and family law.

My own view is that any airtight ethical dualism is ruled out by a robust belief in the sovereignty of God over all of life. For Christians it is also ruled out by our belief in Christ as Lord over every aspect of our lives. This means that a Christian government official who takes her faith seriously will constantly be struggling with the tensions between the demands of Jesus and the demands of their office.

  • Thank you for the very insightful duality to the Republican candidates. I grew up conservative and really didn’t see the foolishness of my beliefs until I lived overseas for 10 years and returned to the US.

  • Tom Downs

    To say nothing of the Christian citizen’s participation in warfare. Augustine and Aquinus set conditions on a Christian’s participation; for instance, if the welfare of the non-combantants (i.e. widows and orphans) aren’t provided for, we are forbidden to serve as soldiers. I would assume the same would apply to any Christian President or Congress person who declares war or orders soldiers to fight. Acceptance of the Just War Doctrine is what separates the bulk of Christians from adopting the position of the Quakers.

  • Larry

    Frankly, I have zero problem with presidential candidates dropping pseudo-religious/theocratic rhetoric at the first sign of inconvenience. It had no business in electoral politics anyway. Candidates for public office should not be catering to narrow personal sectarian interests. Many of which are at odds with civil liberties and democratic government. They owe a duty to uphold the Constitution, period.

    The “explicit references to Christian faith and values” done by Republicans was always crass, exploitative, bigoted and self-serving. The idea of one’s religion is also a political party has more to do with Iran or ISIS than anyone who values democracy. Of course they are hypocrites when it comes to religious beliefs and doctrines. Religion is used here as a tool of excusing behavior, not as a genuine system of belief.

  • David Scott

    You can call these candidates many things, but “Christian” ain’t one of them.

  • Theophilus

    I haven’t liked Mr Gushee’s previous posts, but this one was good.

  • Jesus couldn’t follow Christianity. Why should anyone else?

    Jesus didn’t forgive his enemies – he sent them to Hell! (Mark 16:16)
    Jesus cursed his enemies– “Thou Fools!”(Matt. 23:17)
    Jesus stole things– “untie them” ..”bring them to me” (Matt. 21:2-3)
    Jesus destroyed his enemies– “Execute them in front of me”(Luke 19:27)
    Jesus didn’t love most of his neighbors – They are ‘Dogs’!(Matthew 15:26)
    Jesus told people to judge others– “Remove your blessings”!(Matt 10:14)
    Jesus was bigoted – “They are swine” (Matthew 7:6)
    Jesus violently whipped people – attack on the temple (John 2:5)
    Jesus didn’t want peace– “I do not bring peace.”(Matt 10:34)
    Jesus Lied – “He went in secret” (John 7:8-13)
    Jesus prepared for war – “if you have money, buy a sword” (Luke 22:36-37)

    Any public official who invokes this nonsense deserves our contempt.

  • David,

    I think “Christian” means exactly what these candidates said it means:

    “If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed!” – (1 Corinthians 16:22)
    “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:13)
    A ‘Good’ Christian shall, “Avoid Them” (Romans 16:17)

    That is Christianity: Divisive, Angry at humanity and contemptuous of honest inquiry.

    I say this as a former devout Christian.

  • David Gushee,

    Thanks for your commentary. But I completely reject your assertion and implication that Christianity would be a good influence on politicians AT ALL.
    How much evidence over 50 years do you need to see?

    “So national security trumps biblical demands for compassion to widows and orphans.”

    Biblical ‘demands’? Says who? “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion…” – US Constitution. MAY WE NEVER consult the Bible as a matter of national policy:

    “…. the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us …But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”
    – (1 Thessalonians 2:15)

    Such ‘demands’ are nothing but depravity
    and should be disowned and berated by governments everywhere.

  • Pingback: Last night’s GOP debate: Live by the Bible, but don’t govern by it | Episcopal Cafe()

  • Stephen Kent Gray

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_libertarianism
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Christianity

    I’d also add the non aggression prinicple to the above links, but that’s enough to explain the beliefs of Christian Libertarians. Only individuals and private organizations are under the mandates to offer up their own time, money, and resources to help others because only they can. The state by contrast doesn’t really have time, money, resources of its own but rather takes those of others for its own ends. By not taxing as much since taxation is slavery and theft, the GOP follows the thou shalt not steal commandment.

  • pc

    Wait, wait… faith-based values don’t apply to government when the question is orphans or the needy… but when it comes to, say, abortion…

    Just wanted to make sure I’ve got this straight.

  • Larry

    So you have a government which serves no function and is incapable of actually governing. That is unless you want the power to attack the civil liberties of others in the name of your religious faith.

    Libertarianism was always a couple of cards short of a full deck. Nobody takes out the trash in Galt’s Gulch.

    Time and again we see that governments are far more effective at meeting the needs of people than individuals and private organizations. Private organizations and individuals are dependent on voluntary contributions of time and resources or subject to internal limits as to whom they will bother to help. Libertarian society only functions to the extent the most powerful or wealthy chose to allow it to be.

    Taxation being contribution to the system which one is deriving benefits and protection from. Those most benefiting from the system contributing towards its function. The price of wealth and power being responsibility beyond one’s interests.

  • Jack

    This is sick. Max keeps deliberately reposting a notorious anti-Semitic mistranslation of a Bible verse, knowing fully well what he’s doing and why, and RNS allows it, but not any rebuttal, to be posted.

  • Jack

    In repeating a notorious anti-Semitic mistranslation of I Thes. 1:15, Max omits a preceding verse that provides the context for an accurate translation through its mention of Judea. That’s exactly what hate sites — from neo-Nazi to radical Islamist — do.

    The key is the mistranslation of the Greek word, “ioudaioi” as “Jews,” meaning all Jews, as opposed to “Judeans,” meaning Jews in Judea as opposed to Galilee, or, in the parlance of the apostles and their disciples, a handful of corrupt, pro-Roman chief priests in Judea who not only mistreated their fellow Jews, including Jesus’ followers in Judea, but tried to stop them from talking to non-Jews. The writer, Paul, is citing them in response to the Thessalonian Christians’ problems with their own pagan Thessalonian political leaders.

    The King James Version is the source of the original mistranslation. The New KJV gets it right.

  • Jack

    And Max is without excuse, because I keep pointing this out every time he does it and then he does it again. This is no better than someone trotting out the Protocols of the Elders of Zion repeatedly, even after posters point out that it’s an infamous anti-Semitic forgery. And again, the same people who trot out the Protocols also trot out the mistranslation of I Thes. 1:15, along with the deliberate omission of preceding verses which provide the proper context.

  • Jack

    Sorry, I meant I Thes. 2:15, not 1:15.

    Max along with other anti-Semites, not only puts forth an anti-Semitic mistranslation, but deliberately leaves out the preceding verse, which specifically mentions Judea, as opposed to all of Israel, and thus to Judeans, not all Jews, and not even all Judeans, but the tiny handful of Judeans who were in leadership — ie the chief priests who were despised by most Jews throughout first-century Israel, Judea and Galilee alike, as collaborators with Rome.

    And again, in the verse he cites, verse 15, the key Greek word, “ioudaioi,” is mistranslated “Jews” rather than “Judeans” in most early translations. Tellingly, Max cites such a mistranslation.

  • Jack

    David Gushee makes at least two mistakes. First, his is a cafeteria type of Christianity. He insists that politicians accept a biblical view of social morality, while in other columns watering down the biblical view of personal morality.

    Second, Gushee approaches social ethics or morality purely from a liberal Democratic standpoint, and goes on to sell this as the sole approach. The problem is that it isn’t. The problem is that rational and honest Christians can and do offer a number of approaches. There is no one approach that can be called the only Christian or biblical one.

  • LARRY

    All Christians are “cafeteria type” Christians. Its just a matter of what sections they chose to emphasize or which ones work well for their personal views. The article accidentally points out that nobody really feels compelled to follow all the teachings of Jesus even when they call themselves Christian.

    Fundamentalists like to pretend they follow the entire bible as written, but that is really nothing more than phony boasting. A way to feel superior to those of the same faith. They are more than reticent as everyone else in the faith to accept and follow those areas which appeal the most to them.

    This is why when someone tries to excuse bad behavior to others by saying, “its not me, its God’s will which says so”, one simply has to call it out as self-serving nonsense. One chooses which sect/beliefs appeal to them and follow them. One who chooses to follow teachings which extols humanitarian efforts or ones which attempt to excuse prejudice and violence.

  • @Jack,

    You are fooling nobody. From your King James Bible:

    “the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” PAUL (1 Thessalonians 2:14)

    I call this out as incendiary anti-semitic hatred and I condemn it.

    Why won’t Christians condemn it?
    Such anti-semitism disqualifies Paul entirely.

  • sg

    This anti-religious protest rhetoric is pathetic and disturbing and quoting out of context. It may have a germ of truth but slamming Jesus (and Apostle Paul) as anti-Christian reminds me of Mr. Potter’s selfishness, theivery and greed: “Sick in the mind, body, and soul.”

  • Gary R Urban

    I believe I like the term ““cafeteria type” Christians”. It describes the application that most of us use for our religious beliefs. However it is not just Christians. Almost all humans do this. We are raised in different cultures, diferent parents, diferent places. It is a shame that all of us don’t realize it, and allow others to live the way they want. Maybe someday, but I doubt it.

  • Carolyn Caffrey

    Both of those are from the writings of Paul…not the words ascribed to Jesus. Though a contemporary of the disciples, he was not one of them (nor invited to join them) nor did he ever hear or travel with Jesus. In fact, his letters are written to small Christian start-up “communes” of people of different cultures and locales…not to the Jewish people. Over and over I have heard conservatives make their “moral” argument for not providing food stamps to the unemployed by bellowing “Let they who not work, not eat.” Those are Paul’s words (NOT Jesus’ who fed…everybody). Paul was writing to a community where there were some slackers, stirring up dissent, who wouldn’t do their share of chores. A community squabble. THAT is the problem with cut-and-paste theology pieced together out of context. That peeve noted, our Constitution WAS framed using moral and ethical values, and ones shared by different societies and faiths. Jefferson admired the ethics of Jesus, though not a…

  • Carolyn Caffrey

    (Not sure if that got cut off). Jefferson was an admirer of Jesus’ ethics…but could not ascribe to the miracles nor supernatural aspects of Christianity. Hence he did his own cut-and-paste of the teachings of Jesus to aid his work on the Constitution. See the Jefferson Bible.

  • Carolyn Caffrey

    Talk about Scripture taken out of context and a cut-and-paste job. The last one in particular is a real doozy.

  • MarkV

    I’m curious, as a professor I am guessing that you know the difference between an orphan (one who lost parents are dead) and a refugee (one who is fleeing war). Thus to equate “one with dead parents” to “one who is leaving land” is a bit crass for a person of a profession known for clarity and expertise.

    But presuming the best, in your opinion does the Bible tell Christians that they are not allowed to verify if someone is being honest before taking them in? In a sense are they required to be “innocently ignorant,” or may they verify a claim of “refugee” to be sure it is not “murderer” or “rapist”? Is a Christian required by the Bible to sacrifice intellect and safety for charity? (Because your post seems to suggest this, so clarification is important.)

    Lastly does the Bible tell Christians that all evils and/or all goods must be equated as morally equivalent? If so, can you provide examples so one does not come to the conclusion that such an article was…