From the time that Barack Obama burst upon our collective consciousness he has demonstrated more than a passing interest in biblical theology. On the one hand I’ve been taken by his eloquence and his willingness to speak forthrightly about his personal religious convictions. In fact he well said that “the majority of great reformers in American history were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their causes. So to say that men and women should not inject their personal morality into public policy debates is a practical absurdity.” And I think that’s well said. It’s correct.
On the other hand, I am very troubled by Obama’s twisting of the biblical text. It’s one thing to openly take issue with the Bible. It’s quite another to overtly mischaracterize the message of the Bible. In his “Call to Renewal,” a keynote address to religious leaders, he made at least three such mischaracterizations. He said:
“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith.”
Well, to begin with, in that clip Obama said that Leviticus suggests slavery is okay. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. Far from extolling the virtues of slavery, the Bible clearly and categorically denounces slavery as sin. I’ve written about that in detail in Bible Answer Book, Volume 1.
His second mischaracterization is far more subtle. While he’s right in suggesting that Leviticus characterizes the eating of shellfish as an abomination, he is wrong in isolating this injunction from its biblical context. If he had an adequate appreciation of the rich tradition of biblical Judaism I think he would have been far more restrained in his characterization and I dealt with that subject in principle in an article that appeared in the Christian Research Journal called “President Bartlett’s Fallacious Diatribe.” It was an article I wrote on the television show West Wing.
His third mischaracterization is perhaps the most egregious and easy to dismiss because nowhere does Deuteronomy suggest stoning your child if he strays from the faith. You will not find that anywhere in Scripture. It is a clear mischaracterization of what the biblical text actually says.
To begin with the son in question is not an adolescent guilty of nothing more than slamming doors. The son described by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy is old enough to be morally culpable of extravagantly wicked behavior. It’s the kind of behavior that threatens the health and safety of the entire community.
The parents’ desire in the context of this passage to spare their own son serves as a built-in buffer against an unwarranted or frivolous enforcement of the law. Likewise, ratification by the elders precludes a precipitous judgment on the part of the parents. Thus, the standard of evidence prescribed by the Mosaic Law exceeds that of modern jurisprudence. For Obama to claim the moral high ground over the Scriptures is the height of hypocrisy. For over three decades Western society has sanctioned the systematic slaughter of children, guilty of nothing more than being unwanted. Worse still, Obama did not have the moral conviction to vote for the civil rights of the partially born child.
Mischaracterization serves a purpose, though. it reminds us that we should learn to read the Bible for all it’s worth. If we genuinely believe that God has spoken the attendant question for all of us should be “What has God said?” I think in our society if we can counter these kinds of objections we can use them as springboards or opportunities to lead people to Christ. If we can’t, these kinds of objections which are circulated on popular television shows and on the internet are leading people away from the faith. If you heard me the other day, a man called up and asked me questions like this because his son was now walking away from the faith because he didn’t think there were credible answers to questions like this. It is incumbent upon Christians to always be ready to give an answer, to do it with gentleness and with respect, but to do it. Don’t let the question remain unanswered as though the historic Christian faith doesn’t have a credible answer. It’s why I answer questions on the Bible Answer Man broadcast and why I wrote the Bible Answer Books. We want people to be able to counter these kinds of mischaracterizations, whether they come from the highest realms of political leadership or a person in a grocery store. We need to know that the Christian faith is not for obscurantists who lost their brain somewhere in the narthex of the church. The Christian faith stands the test of time. It’s credible, it’s reliable, it’s defensible and ultimately it is the way to have a relationship with the living Lord of the universe.