Opinion: GOP Pushes the Ten Commandments but Ignores Jesus’ Actual Teachings

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Thanks to a new law, Louisiana classrooms are slated to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom in the state. As a father who sends his children to Christian schools, you might not be surprised to learn that I endorse this message.

To be sure, there are reasonable concerns about blurring the separation of church and state, and there will no doubt be court challenges. Likewise, I have no doubt that the same people applauding this decision would be up in arms if, say, a Dearborn, Michigan, school district decided to post some comparable verse from the Koran.

But it’s hard to see how posting this text (which has both a moral and historical component) constitutes some major affront to the sensibilities of Louisiana families, much less the Constitution. And if it does, then we should acknowledge that this revelation is a relatively new development, and that our past leaders (including liberal Democrats) would be shocked by this secular interpretation.

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“The most important business in this Nation–or any other nation, for that matter—is raising and training children,” declared televangelist Pat Robertson*, adding: “The fundamental basis of this Nation’s law was given to Moses on the Mount.” (*Just kidding. Harry Truman said that!)

Aside from imparting values like “Thou shalt not kill,” supporters of the law argue that the Ten Commandments also have “historical significance.”

It’s hard to argue that they are wrong.

As President Franklin Roosevelt said in a 1935 statement, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic.”

Conservatives who argue that the secular left has radically changed America could do worse than citing these quotes. To modern secular ears, the words of liberal heroes like FDR and Truman might be mistaken for something coming from, I don’t know, Mike Huckabee.

But while I am fine with posting the Ten Commandments in school classrooms, it’s also hard to ignore the blatant hypocrisy exhibited by so many on the right (this Louisiana law was pushed by Republicans) when it comes to Donald Trump—a man who publicly flouts many of these same commandments.

Along those lines, I also think it’s telling that many Christian conservatives these days seem very interested in the Old Testament, but not so interested in Jesus’ teachings, including the new commandment he gave us.

As Kurt Vonnegut observed in 2005’s A Man Without a Country, “For some reason, the most vocal Christians… demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.”

The modern right, it seems, are much more at home with a more judgemental God who smites His enemies than they are with the God who tells them to turn the other cheek, welcome the stranger, and care for the widow, the poor, and the hungry.

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Now, truth be told, some of this criticism is overblown. A common narrative suggests, for example, that pro-life conservatives don’t much care for life post-birth. While there is certainly some truth to this lament, the Ethics and Public Policy Center recently went through and documented the “Support for Moms, Babies, and Families” that various states have implemented in the wake of overturning Roe v. Wade. More work (such as support to aid moms) has been done than you might think.

Still, anyone paying attention to the rhetoric and actions of many of today’s right-leaning activists and pols knows that the teachings of Jesus are largely at odds with the zeitgeist we see on Fox News, on the floor of Congress, and even in some of our pews. So it’s no surprise that the front section of the Good Book gets more love from the political right.

Last year, for example, Russell Moore, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, recalled several pastors telling him that their preaching on the topic of turning the other cheek resulted in having congregants ask, “Where did you get those liberal talking points?” When the pastor would say, “I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,” Moore recalled, “The response would be, ‘Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.’”

Anyone paying attention to modern politics knows that it rings true.

As I wrote way back in 2018, “We all fall short, but Christians aspire to bring about the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). These virtues aren’t just out of step in today’s society—they are utterly countercultural in Trump’s Republican Party.”

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So yes, I’m concerned that too many of our school children lack a grounding in the moral lessons that can be found in the Ten Commandments. But I’m likewise concerned that so many of our leaders—people who ostensibly are fighting to restore traditional values—are so unfamiliar with the new covenant delivered by Jesus.

Perhaps we could mandate that the Sermon on the Mount be posted at the Republican National Committee, Mar-a-Lago, and the Fox News green room.

What could it hurt?

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