In the news today, there is an article on line (which you can view here) where conservative Christian leader and founder of Focus on the Family, James C. Dobson, accuses the 2008 Presidential Candidate Barack Obama of distorting the Bible with an egregious interpretation of the Bible. What Dobson is referring too is to some comments Obama made regarding the Bible and the role people give to it in the public sphere (how should the Bible shape public policy?) in his June 2006 “Call to Renewal” speech (which you can read in its entirety here).
One of the more interesting comments that Obama made during this speech was the recognition that not even the government could survive a correct interpretation of Jesus’ teaching in his famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Here is the comment from Obama:
…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? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.
Whether you are a Obama supporter or not, I think he is very correct in what he points out. First, the teaching of Jesus is a radical challenge to us all. Second, we fail to understand this because we are becoming more and more biblically illiterate.
Let me make it clear at this point: from what I know about Obama regarding his application of the Christian faith, we do have some major disagreements. But in the Christian fellowship circle that I run in, which is more conservative, there seems to be little difficulty in recognizing the inconsistency between some of Obama’s views and the Bible as understood in a historic orthodox Christian faith. However, there still seem to be plenty of people that have trouble recognizing the inconsitencies of those on the politically right (e.g., James C. Dobson).
I shared the quote from Obama’s speech because of what he alludes too regarding the teaching of Jesus. That is, the teaching of Jesus is radical and it will challenge the views of both the right and left. Jesus is above, or beyond conservative and liberal politics. The Sermon on the Mount is pro-life, it therefore neither endorses abotion nor killing/war (regardless of what justification we come up with). The Sermon on the Mount is a champion of the underpriviledged and poor while simultaniously challenging our desire to store up our wealth and riches (does that not challenge us all?). The Sermon on the Mount is very much a proponent of justice for those who have been discriminated on the basis of race, nationality, and ethnic origin. Yet, as our nation seeks to embrace more and more sexual liberation, let’s not forget that the Sermon on the Mount not only upholds a strong sexual/marital ethic but also refuses to segregate such issues to a private, individualized matter.
If we take Jesus seriously, not just his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount but his entire teaching, we all fall far short in one or more ways (most likely in “more” ways). It is not just Barack Obama who distorts scripture. So does James Dobson. In fact, we all do. We all do so in order to justify our behaviors, choices, and views rather than accepting what Jesus said as he said it and changing because Jesus is right and we are wrong. As an example, one of us will rightfully condemn abortion as the killing of unborn human life but support the killing of an enemy under the guise that such killing is approved by the state in a declaration of war. One the other hand, one will rightfully oppose such killing/warfare as immoral while tolerating the killing of unborn human life because the state has given mothers the right to do so. We are all wrong on some point or another.
So here is what I hope to get at. As people become more and more polarized politically and religiously, lambasting one person or group for being wrong while pretending ourselves to be at least morally superior to those we accuse will not resolve anything. The solution (and especially for confessing Christian who by their confession make a claim to follow Jesus) first is for us all, including myself, to humbly acknowledge that we all fall woefully short of living out the teaching of Jesus. Second, if we are going to welcome the Bible to the table of influence over public life then we all must read it afresh and let Jesus teach us rather than deciding what teachings of Jesus we will accept and which we will reject. I realize that for non-Christians, their is no expectation for accepting the teachings of Jesus. However, for us Christians, who increasingly look less and less like Jesus, we must learn to be disciples again of Jesus rather than the right and left politics.
May we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, understand with our hearts, and turn to Jesus!