Obama, Jesus, and Paul

Sen. Obama may regret these words (full story here):

“I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other,” he said, referring to unions that grant all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. “I don’t think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans. That’s my view. But we can have a respectful disagreement on that.”

Within the Sermon on the Mount, I assume he is referencing Matt 7:1: “Judge not, lest you be judged…” Many misunderstand this passage. It does not mean we should never judge. If you continue reading, you will notice Jesus talking about helping your ‘brother remove the speck (a metaphor for sin) from his eye.’ Helping someone in this way requires a degree of judgment. Jesus himself judged others, particularly the self-righteous religious leaders. If you read Matt. 7:1 in context, it is obvious that what Jesus is saying is that we need to avoid hypocrisy and an overly-critical attitude. Large sections of the Sermon on the Mount are devoted to loving others, and for Jesus, part of loving others was to help set them free from the bondage to sin (e.g. woman at the well, woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus). It was Jesus’ love for them that led them to confront their sin, and that should be our model as well.  Obama’s suggestion that this passage should apply to the gay marriage debate will place him at odds with most Evangelicals.

I always kind of chuckle when politicians try to apply the Sermon on the Mount to government policy.  First, these are some of the most difficult passages of scripture to understand; and two, Jesus wasn’t teaching about government policy, as clearly demonstrated by his teaching to “turn the other cheek.”  Should our government turn the other cheek to criminals and tyrants?  Obviously not.  The biblical purpose of government is found in Romans 13:4, “For he [the ruler] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  It is the job of the church to bring God’s love to the world.  It is the job of government to protect us.

For Obama, it just gets worse–“an obscure passage in Romans.” Ouch. That will leave a mark. Many regard Romans as the preeminent book of the Bible; the grandest, most complete statement of the gospel. It is a masterpiece of theological writing. It is written by Paul, the primary communicator of the young Christian faith to the Greek and Roman world. Evangelicals, who believe that all of God’s word is inspired, will be offended by Obama’s statement. I might understand someone calling Jude, or Philemon or even possibly James obscure, but Romans!?

Obama should have said something like: “We are a nation of diverse faiths, and we will sometimes respectfully disagree on areas where values from those faiths intersect with public policy choices. As president, I would support civil unions as the government has an obligation to all its citizens to protect their equal rights, but out of respect to the historic faith traditions in our country, it should not be called marriage and I would oppose efforts to do so.” This way he could have communicated his position (which is not my position) without offending Christian believers who take the scriptures seriously. We’ll see if there is any negative fallout for him.

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