Politics & Policy

The Ambivalent Theocrat

Obama uses the Bible to “exploit what divides us.”

There are legitimate theological arguments on both sides of our political divide, but they are not equally well received. In America, it seems, one man’s moral teacher is another’s Torquemada — the difference is usually determined by party registration — and the returns on overt religiosity are mixed at best. As president, George W. Bush was repeatedly and pejoratively labeled “theocrat” for acknowledging his faith, and even the slightest intimation that his religious belief informed his political vantage point was perceived by the Left as symptomatic of an almost treasonous disrespect for the separation of church and state.

Throughout his political career, Barack Obama, too, has marshaled religious argument and imagery to his cause when politically expedient, but nary a whisper has followed his proclamations — even when his pastor of 20 years was exposed as an unreconstructed bigot. Obama’s appeals to religion and his claim to be “doing the Lord’s work” are cynical and mercurial enough to have pushed Michael Gerson amusingly to quip that, “even when Obama changes his views, Jesus somehow comes around to agreeing with him.” His varying use of Scripture has been nowhere more striking than with his gay-marriage “evolution.” Announcing his changed position on the issue to ABC News in May, Obama confirmed that he and Michelle are

both practicing Christians. . . . But, you know, when we think about our faith, 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. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president, and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband, and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

In 2004, however, when running for the Senate, Obama explained that he opposed gay marriage because “what I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting.” In 2008, the candidate confirmed his position, defining marriage in similar terms during a debate at the Saddleback Presidential Forum. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” Obama said. “Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

Perhaps God has evolved on the issue. Regardless, Obama elected to impress Him into the defense of higher taxes and redistribution of wealth, too. As the president told an audience at the University of Vermont on March 30 of this year: 

I hear politicians talking about values in an election year. I hear a lot about that. Let me tell you about values. Hard work, personal responsibility — those are values. But looking out for one another. That’s a value. The idea that we’re all in this together. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. That’s a value.

And at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, Obama quoted Luke 12:48 — “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” — before willfully conflating individual obligations with collective social programs administered by the federal government and removing God entirely from the equation. In the same speech, explaining his obligation as an American leader to “help bring His kingdom to Earth,” the president even used his religion to try and sell his unpopular health-care law and explain his support for Dodd-Frank.

And so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

As a matter of practicality, it is impossible for one entirely to separate one’s faith and one’s politics, and there is no great crime in explaining one’s morality in religious terms. However, there is an insidious double standard at play here that sees Republican professions of faith as a threat to secular government while immediately presuming that religious Democrats — almost by definition — are on the side of the angels.

There was no greater example of this than Obama’s 2007 speech at the general synod of the United Church of Christ. After admonishing the Christian Right for talking about religion and warning that faith leaders use the Bible to “exploit what divides us,” Obama proceeded to push for climate-change legislation on the basis that “the Bible tells us that when God created the earth, he entrusted us with the responsibility to take care of that earth.”

While still a senator in 2006, Barack Obama claimed that “not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation — context matters.” Perhaps so. But to judge from his record, it appears to be a context driven solely by political consideration.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate for National Review.


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