October 23, 2008
by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama has written in The Audacity of Hope—a book that perhaps should have been entitled The Audacity of Portraying Myself Messianically as the Herald of Audacious Hope—that he is not “willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans [about homosexual practice] to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount.” He repeated this line in a campaign appearance in Ohio this past March. He stated that if people find controversial his views on granting the full benefits of marriage to homosexual unions, minus only the name, “then 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.” These remarks by Obama represent a gross distortion of the witness of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
On Romans 1First, they misrepresent the text in Romans 1:24-27 against all homosexual practice, a text that belongs to one of the two or three most important books in Scripture, a catalyst for frequent spiritual revivals for the past two millennia. Romans 1:24-27 depicts all homosexual practice as an “indecency” and moral “impurity” that does three things. First, it violates God’s male-female standard for valid sexual relations given in Genesis 1:27 (the text contains strong echoes to Genesis 1:26-27). Second, it violates the obvious evidence in the material structures of creation that male and female, not persons of the same sex, are each other’s sexual counterparts or complements (a particularly obvious example on the plane of human interrelationships of suppressing the truth about God and ourselves accessible in creation and nature). Third, it “dishonors” the sexual integrity of the participants who engage in such activity by imaging themselves as only half their own sex in their attempt to merge with an alleged complement of the same sex. The passage is no more “obscure” than Paul’s comments on idolatry in the preceding passage in Romans 1:19-23 or his comments regarding a case of adult-consensual man-stepmother incest at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5—another instance of prohibited sexual intercourse between persons who are too much alike (here on a familial level, already of the same “flesh”).
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Obama claims that his advocacy for homosexual unions receiving full marriage benefits is in keeping with Jesus’ own views in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. As an assertion about the Jesus of history or even about the living Christ (assuming significant continuity between the two), this claim is preposterous. It is nothing but a fantasy, a figment of Obama’s imagination imposed on the text of the Sermon. The Sermon does speak about loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and about not judging others over relatively minor matters while ignoring larger problems in one’s own life (7:1-6). However, these themes provide no more support for homosexual unions than they do for loving, committed polyamorous or polygamous unions or for adult-consensual incestuous unions, both of which Jesus obviously opposed. If in the Sermon Jesus warned against men marrying divorced women, even women divorced by their husbands on invalid grounds (i.e., on grounds other than adultery), the idea that Jesus would have opposed “hurting the feelings of gays and lesbians” by not treating such unions as the functional equivalents of a valid marriage represents revisionist history at its worse. Obama’s argument, carried to its logical but absurd conclusion, would force Americans to provide full marital benefits for adult-committed polygamous unions and incestuous unions, since such persons too deserve to have hospital-visitation privileges, health insurance coverage, and all the other benefits of marriage every bit as much (and more so) than homosexual unions.
Obama’s image of Jesus is that of a person who, rather than lovingly calling sinners to repentance so that they might be reclaimed for the kingdom of God that he proclaimed, tells others to stop judging them. This is not the picture of Jesus’ mission to “sinners and tax collectors” in the Gospels. Instead, we find a picture of a Jesus who aggressively reaches out in love to the biggest violators of his ethical demands while simultaneously maintaining that demand; a Jesus who encourages offenders to “go and no longer be sinning” lest something worse happen to them, namely, exclusion from the kingdom of God. Obama does not love more or better than Jesus. That would be carrying a messianic complex a bit too far.