3/10/2008

Barack Obama - On His Christianity, Same-Sex Unions, and Abortion

In Ohio last week, Barack Obama answered a question concerning his faith and how it pertains to certain faith-related issues. (See the video of the Q&A section of his Rally in Nelsonville, Ohio here - click on "Sen. Barack Obama Q & A" )

Here are his words:

In terms of my faith, you know, there's been so much confusion that has been deliberately perpetrated through e-mails and so forth, so just here are the simple facts.

I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian. I have been a member of the same church for 20 years. Pray to Jesus every night and try to go to church as much as I can when they're not working me. Used to go quite often. These days, you know, we haven't been to the home church, I haven't been home on Sunday for several months now.

So my faith is important to me.

It's not something that I try to push on other people. But it's something that helps to guide my life and my values.

My pastor is actually retiring this Sunday, Jeremiah Wright is retiring, and Otis Moss III, the son of Otis Moss of Cleveland, is the new pastor, and he's a wonderful pastor. I don't think my church is particularly controversial. It's a member of the United Church of Christ. It's got a choir. We read scriptures. You would feel at home if you were there. Jeremiah Wright has said some controversial things, calling for divestment of South Africa and things like that and he thinks it's important for to us focus on what's happening in Africa, and I agree with him on that.

I think what you may be referring to probably has to do with two issues, which is abortion and gay marriage.

Which has become, I think, how people measure faith in the evangelical community, and, you know, I think that there are genuine differences of opinion in this area.

I will tell you that I don't believe in gay marriage.

But I do think that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and that the state should not discriminate against them. I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in the hospital or transfer property to each other. I don't think that 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 refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think, you know, 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.

And on the issue of abortion, that's always a tragic and painful issue, and I think that if the past, we've made some mistakes, I think, people who are pro-choice, in not focusing on the fact that there's a real moral element to that. I think that's how it's experienced by women. It's never an easy decision. And I don't think women make those decisions casually.

I think it's always tragic and we should prevent it as much as possible, by making sure that young people are engaging in responsible behavior and we are encouraging the kind of good decisions that prevent unwanted pregnancy, that we are encouraging adoption as an alternative.

But in the end, I think women in consultation with their pastors and their doctors and their families are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington.

That's my view.

Again, I respect people who may disagree, but I certainly don't think it makes me less Christian.


What do you think?

1. Is Obama an authentic Christian? On what grounds would you deny the confession that he is making? I know of many evangelicals that simply deny it based on the fact that he is a democrat. What is the real test of whether one is really in the family of Christ?

2. Since Obama's pastor is controversial in his advocacy of a Black Liberation theology, should we therefore question Obama's theology as well? How will his theology affect his ability to be President?

3. Should Christians seek to stop homosexual unions as well as homosexual "marriage?" Or should we allow for the state to recognize same-sex unions as a gesture of mercy without condoning these unions by calling them "marriage?

4. Is Romans 1 an "obscure passage?" What does the Sermon on the Mount have to say about gay unions?

5. Do you applaud Obama's admission that abortion is "always a tragic and painful issue," that the pro-choice side of the debate has "made some mistakes...in not focusing on the fact that there's a real moral element to that" and that "we should prevent it as much as possible"? Or do you find that this is not worthy of notice since he says that "in the end, I think women in consultation with their pastors and their doctors and their families are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington"?

6. Have you read Barack Obama's very impressive keynote address at "Call to Renewal"? It was perhaps the most important address on faith and politics by a candidate since John F. Kennedy (and came over a year before Mitt Romney's speech on the issue). What did you think of it?


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bob, Thanks for starting such an interesting discussion. The issue for me is less about whether Obama is an "authentic Christian", and more about who gets to decide of he is authentic or not. While Scripture certainly addresses discipleship, the interpretation of Scripture is highly influenced by the person doing the reading. I think I am more interested in why someone would feel qualified to pass judgment on the authenticity of anyone's faith.

phil mollenkof said...

Bob, great stuff. Thanks for putting that up. It confirms a lot of how I feel about Barack- I think he's incredibly thoughtful and genuine.

Bob Robinson said...

Phil,
Well, I think that his statement condoning same-sex unions needs more exegetical proof than just saying, "If people find that controversial, then I would refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think, you know, is in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans." That is rather pitiful as a biblical proof for one's policy stand. Give me more meat on that, Barack!!

BoseKnows said...

Is Obama an authentic Christian?... What is the real test of whether one is really in the family of Christ?

The second question is the one that really needs to be answered first. Many things come into play, but I think that the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) would be a good start. The Nicene Creed wouldn't be a bad measuring stick either. At first glance at least, Obama seems to fit the bill in these regards.

From what I've seen from Barack Obama, he seems to have a genuine desire to live according to Christ's teachings and, based on his speech at "Call to Renewal," he seems to have a well-balanced understanding about how his faith relates to his capacity as a public servant. I appreciate how open he is about the way his understanding of Christianity guides his political stances.

2. ... How will his theology affect his ability to be President?

I think the better question is; "How will his understanding of the role between faith and politics affect his priorities as President?" I think Barack Obama is well aware of the fact that, as President, he would be serving both Christians and non-Christians. He correctly understands that it is not good for the government to impose laws based solely on Biblical rules for Christian living. Obama understands that what he personally believes does not necessarily translate into what's best from a political standpoint. In short, he realizes that the best way to be a "Christian" President is not to impose Christianity or Christian values, but rather to serve people in the best way he can to meet their needs.

3. Should Christians seek to stop homosexual unions...?

If the answer is "yes," then how? People are going to act within their God-given free will regardless of what the government considers to be lawful. Though the Bible clearly presents homosexuality as a sin, there is nothing in the Bible even remotely inferring that Christians should coerce non-Christians out of homosexual behavior. What Christians are called to do (in 1 Corinthians 5) is to avoid associating with people who openly lead a life of sin.

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'"
1 Corinthians 5:12,13

Should we allow the state to facilitate such unions? Certainly not any less than we allow the state to facilitate divorce or even grant marriage licenses. Too many "marriages" these days are essentially just civil unions; contractual agreements that come with certain benefits granted by the government. Allowing same-sex couples to have the same benefits would not be corrupting the sacrament of marriage any more than our system of government already has.

As Christians, we should accept that how the government chooses to recognize marriage is entirely a political issue and has nothing to do with the Church. If people are so concerned about the "sanctity of marriage," they should first take a look at divorce and adultery, both of which are much more prevalent in our culture than homosexuality.

4. Is Romans 1 an "obscure passage?" What does the Sermon on the Mount have to say about gay unions?

Romans 1 is only obscure if you try to eisegize coercion and hate into it. When taken in context (with the beginning of Romans 2) it takes on the message of what I think Obama is referring to when he speaks of the Sermon on the Mount.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (Matthew 5:7)

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1,2)

Taken with 1 Cor 5, it's not hard to recognize how Obama would come to the conclusion that it is more important to show mercy to sinners than it is to simply condemn them.

Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount doesn't have anything to say about homosexual unions specifically, but it does call for us as Christians to show love and mercy even to those who we think least deserve it. To Barack Obama, this means granting homosexual couples the same opportunities for rights and privileges as heterosexual couples.

How's that for exegetical proof, Bob?

5. Do you applaud Obama's admission that abortion is "always a tragic and painful issue," ...?

To me, it's reassuring to hear that Barack Obama recognizes that Abortion is not pretty in God's eyes. It's a tough issue in terms of government regulation, though. For instance, would a law banning abortions really significantly decrease the number that occur in this country? Is the public ready to deal with a sudden and drastic increase of unwanted children. What kind of dangerous situations would be created for women desperate to have an abortion? In situations where the mother's health is at risk, which life is more valuable? These are all difficult questions that need to be properly attended to before we can demand such a law. Of all the people speaking out so strongly against the right of a woman to have an abortion, how many of them do you think would be willing to adopt an unwanted child? Only recently are people beginning to realize that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by first ministering to people instead of using the government to impose rules on them. Still, I think that people in positions of political leadership who claim to be Christian should work towards trying to reduce the prevalence of abortions and the situations that lead to them in whatever way is most feasible and responsible. After all, the government sees fit to prevent murder. Why can't the government show the same regard for life in its prenatal state?

Abortion is wrong, but so is divorce, yet the government sees fit to condone both. Why? Probably because the government knows it could not effectively enforce a ban on either. These are issues that should not be addressed with the "power of the sword" as Gregory Boyd would say.

6. Barack Obama's very impressive keynote address at "Call to Renewal"... What did you think of it?

In a word: Prophetic. Obama has summarized a healthy understanding of the relationship between religion and the American political system. It's language like this that sets Barack Obama apart from so many other politicians in my eyes.

Bob Robinson said...

Bose,
Thanks for taking the time and thoroughly working through these questions.

It is never an easy thing to try to apply a Christian worldview to politics. There are many more nuances that can be discussed (like how, if abortion is murder, we condone a statement like "I think women in consultation with their pastors and their doctors and their families are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington," and how we seek to have some sort of civil morality for the good of the society - like having laws for marriage and divorce for the sake of caring for families and especially children).

The debate that occurs when we step back from the heat of argument and discuss this like you're doing here is the way to go.

Byron Harvey said...

Wish my computer hadn't been on the fritz and I hadn't been on vacation (actually, I don't wish THAT), for I'd have joined this discussion earlier. Obviously now, with the events of the past week, the discussion takes on a different tenor, but I'll try to confine myself to the questions you raise.

I doubt I'll have time to handle more than one or two at a time, but here goes:

1. "Is Obama an authentic Christian?" In one sense, of course, Anonymous has a point: ultimately, we don't get to decide, because it's God Who'll be his judge. To that extent, I can agree. That said, the idea that Obama's party affiliation would determine the reality of his commitment to Christ is wrong, much as I can't for the life of me reconcile much of the Democrat platform with Christian faith. What is more disconcerting is that he belongs to Trinity UCC. Trinity, as we've found out, is a Black Liberation Theology-preaching place.

Further, the UCC in general is effectively the most liberal denomination going that still calls itself "Christian". Let's call a spade a spade: theological liberals tell lies about God. Theirs is a false gospel based upon falsities, because they do not accept (I speak in generalities; forgive me in advance) the cardinal doctrines of Scripture. Just as "everybody talkin' 'bout Heaven ain't goin' there", so "everybody talkin' 'bout Jesus ain't talkin' 'bout the same Jesus", and the words (rhetoric?) that Obama uses, nice as they are, say little ("devout Christian"; "pray"; "home church"; "faith is important"). All of those things may be true, and yet irrelevant, if indeed the "gospel" that he has believed is something far removed from the "faith once delivered".

Fact is that many evangelicals, myself included, do not accept the UCC as a valid expression of the church of Jesus Christ. That's not to say that they aren't some believers in UCC churches--I'm sure there are--nor is it to say that some UCC churches don't preach the gospel--though likely few and far between, I'm sure that such exist. But the UCC is an apostate church, taken as a whole; in addition, Trinity is a racist church as well. Put those things together, and the picture that is painted is not one which inspires my confidence in Obama's statement "I am a devout Christian", and it strikes me as naivete at best for any evangelical, who stands on the cardinal truths of the Bible, to blindly accept Obama's assertion just because he uses some of the right words.

So Anonymous, I'm not qualified to "pass judgment" on Obama's faith in one sense, but we are being foolish if we do not pass judgment upon the lies of liberal (and Black Liberation) theology, and raise the question as to the end result of believing such lies.