Lost in the hubbub over Barack Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage was the president’s offering of a bold new approach to the Gospels.
In the “Audacity of Hope,” Obama writes, “When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must be continually open to new revelations.”
Not surprisingly, this approach almost perfectly mirrors the progressive take on the United States Constitution, which Obama describes as “not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.”
As shall be seen, however, Obama has found much more wiggle room in the Living Word than he has in the not so lively constitutions of the individual states or of these United States.
In 1996, about a decade after finding Jesus chez Rev. Wright, Obama told a gay newspaper, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
By 1998, the ambitious Obama had sobered up. With an eye on higher office, he was now “undecided” on the issue. By 2004, the would-be U.S. senator was telling that same gay newspaper, “I am not a supporter of gay marriage.”
For an ordinary politician these might seem like conventional flip-flops, but for “The One” this was all groundwork for a unique reassessment of the Living Word.
The 2006 “Audacity of Hope” offered a sneak preview of the reassessment. “As a Christian,” Obama explained, he had to “remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided.”
Obama clarified that he “may have been infected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus’ call to love one another might demand a different conclusion.”
As far as I can tell, this is Obama’s first threat to use the “Jesus” gambit – that is an appeal to a personal Jesus willing to override the rest of the Bible, Old Testament and New.
In August 2008, at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, that “different conclusion” was put on hold. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” the traditionalist Obama said to much applause. “Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”
For a Christian, yes, God is very much in the mix. Among the many wondrous things Jesus Christ does not get sufficient credit for is the institution of traditional marriage.
Mark 10:1-10 tells the story of how the Pharisees tested Jesus, asking whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. They pointed out that Moses had allowed for just such a possibility.
“Because of the hardness of your heart [Moses] wrote you that precept,” Jesus replied. Then, citing Genesis, Jesus introduced an essential new understanding of God’s plan for man:
For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
This concept of marriage so perfectly aligned itself with human nature that it enabled Christendom to flourish, not only morally and culturally, but also economically.
In Romans 1, St. Paul makes a sophisticated case that certain “sinful desires,” homosexual and otherwise, are so misaligned with human nature that they cause people to lose sight of God.
“Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones,” Paul wrote. “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
As late as November 2008, the Living Word had yet to persuade Obama to ignore the teaching of Jesus and St. Paul on the subject of marriage.
“I’ve stated my opposition to this. I think [same-sex marriage] is unnecessary,” Obama told an MTV interviewer days before the election. “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.”
Between 2008 and spring 2012, while his position on marriage was said to be “evolving,” Obama used the Jesus gambit in more traditional ways.
“But for me as a Christian,” said Obama at the February 2012 Prayer Breakfast of his plan to hike taxes on the rich, “it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that, ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’”
What Obama did not say is that God does “the requiring,” not the IRS. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus even hint that citizens should cede their good deed doing to Uncle Julius, aka “Rome.”
From 2008 to 2012, Obama stuck to old-school socialist exploitation of Christianity and kept pretty much mum on the marriage question – that is until Vice President Joe Biden announced his support of same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press” a few weeks back.
Newsweek editor Tina Brown – she of the “First Gay President” cover – described Obama’s reaction thusly, “He stumbled into it because of Joe Biden. The hero of the hour is Joe Biden, right?”
Obama had a different take. Asked about his inspiration, he cited not Joe Biden, but the Living Word. “When we think about our faith,” said Obama speaking for himself and Michelle, “the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
For the record, Jesus summed up the Golden Rule thusly, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”
Given this understanding, Jesus implored his disciples to treat the marginalized, like, say, Mary Magdalene, with respect. He did not demand that they legalize prostitution. He certainly did not call them “bigots” if they hesitated.
One last ironic note; while Obama’s biblical understanding was living and breathing its heart out, his constitutional understanding was stuck in time.
At Saddleback, he came out against a constitutional amendment to enshrine traditional marriage. “It’s been a matter of state law,” he explained. “That has been our tradition.”
And yet when states like California and North Carolina attempted to let their constitutions live a little, Obama opposed those efforts as well.
As Proverbs 19 tells us, “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.” This advice hasn’t evolved a whit.