EDITORIAL: Obama lacks trust in the whole Word of God
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--"... 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...."
It's only a partial statement given by Barack Obama as a pithy defense of his support of civil unions for homosexual couples.
However, even if it's only a short take from a Q&A during a campaign event in Nelsonville, Ohio, this statement gives a fairly full view -- at least biblically -- of how he could come to such wrong conclusions about marriage (he supports civil unions, granting legal recognition of homosexual couples without the name "marriage") as well as abortion (he opposed legislation protecting the lives of newborns delivered after an unsuccessful abortion) and other spiritual issues.
Never mind the Sermon on the Mount does not contradict biblical teaching about marriage. In fact, in this passage of Scripture, Jesus actually strengthens His instructions regarding marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
You see, the real problem with Obama's statement is he shows he does not believe every word of the Bible is true.
I've tried to look at it from a number of perspectives and it's the only conclusion to draw. If he truly reverences all Scripture as God-breathed, how could he dismiss a single word as obscure?
It's a common trap that snares many -- to view the "red letters" with more value than what's printed in black.
For others, it's an actual tactic used to try to justify emotions and beliefs that run counter to clearly espoused instruction from God. It's how homosexuals and those who support a homosexual agenda make the contorted claim that Jesus never condemned homosexuality.
The reality is Jesus spoke every word in the Bible from "In the beginning" in Genesis 1:1 to "Amen" in Revelation 22:21 -- and not a single word is obscure.
His words include Romans 1:24-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 -- each condemns homosexuality, and the latter declares that change from homosexuality is possible. His words also include John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 John 2:1-6 -- which offer hope to anyone, regardless of the sin, who repents and submits to the will of God.
Unfortunately, Obama's troubling answer in Ohio is not an isolated offense. He made a similar refrain in 2006 before a Washington, D.C. gathering of liberals and moderates for the "Call to Renewal" conference organized by Jim Wallis' Sojourner organization: "Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount -- a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?"
It's hard not to see a troubling pattern.
Like his statement in Ohio, his rhetorical questions about Leviticus and Deuteronomy simply are strawman claims which misappropriate passages of the Bible to create doubts about the sufficiency of Scripture.
Without doubt, the Old Testament is relevant today and teaches us moral truths and principles God used to shape Israel to be His nation.
However, it is disingenuous at best for Obama to hint the dietary laws God delivered specifically to Israel somehow are in play today; nor is it right to imply there is serious discussion on any scale that such laws apply to the New Testament church (see Acts 10:9-16 to put any such concern to rest).
The same is true about his suggestions regarding the stoning of a child and slavery. For the record:
-- 1 Timothy 1:8-11 condemns slave traders, and the book of Philemon is Paul's passionate appeal to secure the freedom of the runaway slave, Onesimus.
-- The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) gives insights about the New Testament teaching about how to deal with children who stray from the faith.
I imagine some upon just reading the headline for this column will cry "politics" and follow with a wrongheaded "connecting of dots" to try to make a case about political bias by me, Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Convention. Others will read my setting the record straight as the "Bible thumping" of a "fundamentalist." Neither of these conclusions would be true.
For me, the issue simply is about setting the record straight.
For too long, and in too many venues, such concocted exegesis has ruined the public's understanding not about public policy and social issues but about the authenticity of the Word of God. Political and religious wonks throw out strawman sound bites like Obama's knowing they can't be attacked without a thoughtful reply, something not fostered in debate forums or the sound bite framework of most network and cable news.
In the end, it's not about politics or economics or social policy, but it is about the authority of the Word of God.
During his message at "Call to Renewal," Obama counseled the crowd, "So before we get carried away, let's read our Bibles. Folks haven't been reading their Bibles."
I accept his challenge, and offer one in return: Let's read our Bibles ... and trust every word.
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.