Saturday, June 14, 2008

Looking into a Candidate's Soul

In their book Blinded by Might, Ed Dobson and Cal Thomas wrote "the marriage of religion and politics almost always compromises the gospel." On another occasion, Ed Dobson wrote:

The authority of the church is the power to change people and culture. By contrast, the authority of the government is the authority to punish wrongdoing and restrain evil. But the government has no power to change the hearts of evildoers; it can only incarcerate or execute them.
Daroid H. Morgan summarized one of the book's basic points in a review of Blinded by Might in the journal Christian Ethics Today:
The strength of this book is the repeated statement that it is only in the power of the Christian gospel, applied to the human heart, that transformation of people can take place. Legislation and manipulation of political position and power cannot change lives. The preeminent task of the Church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Religious Right people have made a fatal mistake in making political power take precedence over the spiritual power latent in the Christian gospel.
Why is it, then, that Cal Thomas is now criticizing presidential candidate Barack Obama for holding non-orthodox theological opinions? Are Obama's personal religious beliefs about eschatology and personal salvation relevant to the office he seeks?

In contrast to his previous opinions on separating theology from politics, this week in his syndicated column, Thomas writes:
Mr. Obama has declared himself a committed Christian. He can call himself anything he likes, but there are certain markers among the evangelicals he is courting that one must meet in order to qualify for that label.

Some insight into Mr. Obama's "Christianity" comes from an interview he gave in 2004 to Chicago Sun-Times religion editor Cathleen Falsani for her book, "The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People."

"I'm rooted in the Christian tradition," said Mr. Obama. He then adds something most Christians will see as universalism: "I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people."

Ms. Falsani correctly brings up John 14:6 (and how many journalists would know such a verse, much less ask a question based on it?) in which Jesus says of Himself, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." That sounds exclusive, but Mr. Obama says it depends on how this verse is heard. According to Ms. Falsani, Mr. Obama thinks that "all people of faith - Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, everyone - know the same God." (Her words.)

Evangelicals and serious Catholics might ask if this is so, why did Jesus waste His time coming to Earth, suffering pain, rejection and crucifixion? If there are many ways to God, He might have sent down a spiritual version of table manners and avoided the rest.

Here's Mr. Obama telling Ms. Falsani, "The difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that if people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they're going to hell." Ms. Falsani adds, "Obama doesn't believe he, or anyone else, will go to hell. But he's not sure he'll be going to heaven, either." Again, that is contrary to what evangelicals and most Catholics believe.

Here's Mr. Obama again: "I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven."

Any first-year seminary student could deconstruct such "works salvation" and wishful thinking. Mr. Obama either hasn't read the Bible, or if he has, doesn't believe it if he embraces such thin theological wisps.

Mr. Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Mr. Obama doesn't meet that requirement.
If Senator Obama were running for president of the United Church of Christ (the denomination to which he has belonged for the last two decades) rather than of the United States of America, scrutiny of his theological views would be both relevant and appropriate.

Similarly, it would not be appropriate -- nor would it matter -- what the views of the president of the UCC are with regard to the Hatch Act or who should be appointed as administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

If the church should avoid being entangled in power politics, so should it avoid enquiries about what presidential candidates think about christology, missiology, and ecclesiology.

And, if Mr. Thomas is insistent on probing Obama's views on these subjects, he should direct his scrutiny equally to John McCain, Bob Barr, and the other presidential candidates. If Christian orthodoxy is a requirement for sitting in the Oval Office, the demand applies to all candidates for that seat, not just the one who has previously laid his heart bare on these topics.


James Atticus Bowden said...

Well done. We may disagree a bit.

The pollution of the faith by politics is one of the reasons I opposed Huckabee so much as the "Evangelical" candidate. Evangelicals don't need a political face who will always fail us and the Gospel.

The valid reason for Cal Thomas's poking is to discern if a candidate is running as an orthodox Christian to get votes based on that profession and affiliation, when in fact they are Liberal Human Secularists.

The great divide in our Culture War is between the Judeo-Christian worldview that is the culture under Conservatives and the Liberal/Socialist Human Secularist worldview that is the culture under Liberals.

It is essentially the conflict of ideas between the American Revolution (Conservatives) and the French Revolution (Liberals).

That distinction should be illuminated. False Christians or Christian lackeys to Human Secularism should be shown as who they are - and their dangerous, deadly ideas.

Rick Sincere said...

You make a valid point about the American vs. French revolution dichotomy.

I can't help but think, however, that if Cal Thomas' implied prescription for Christian orthodoxy had been imposed in the past, we might have been deprived of the talents of Lincoln, Jefferson, and even Reagan in the presidency.

James Atticus Bowden said...

Thanks, Rick, but no way on LJR.

Lincoln didn't belong to a denomination but he attended a Baptist church regularly on the frontier, had intimate knowledge of the Bible and had as Biblical a world view as any President - see his 2nd Inaugural.

Jefferson was a Deist, but he was not Human Secularist. TJ attended orthodox Protestant services in the Congress building every Sunday. He had the legislature pay for 8000 Bibles and funds for Jesuit missionaries to go convert Indians in the Louisiana Purchase.

Reagan was raised by his Sunday School teaching orthodox, evangelical Protestant Mother. HE absorbed her teachings. He, like Lincoln, had a Biblical worldview even if he wasn't a Sunday go to meeting kind of guy.

Rick Sincere said...

Let's take Jefferson as the exemplar non-pareil.

He denied the divinity of Christ and the miracles in the New Testament. He was accused of being an atheist and did not do much to disabuse people of that notion.

He, like others of the Founders, was somewhere along the Unitarian-Deist continuum.

No way was he an orthodox Christian.

Whether Obama is an orthodox Christian -- by Cal Thomas' evaluation or by someone else's -- is not relevant to his ability to do the job. The same is true for John McCain, who (so far as I know) has not been quizzed on the doctrine of the Trinity or his friendliness towards Albigensianism.

James Atticus Bowden said...

Rick: TJ wasn't orthodox Christian. But he supported orthodox Christianity. Will Barack Hussein Obama support the political agenda of a jumbled Black Liberation Theology or the Black Muslims who have supported him?

Worldview matters - although I don't think it is at the level of theological discourse you suggest with the Trinity.

And specific issues pushed by religious groups matter.

Rick Sincere said...

It's not the business of government to support orthodox Christianity or any other form of Christianity -- or any other religion, for that matter.

McCain and Obama's views on salvation are entirely irrelevant to their qualifications for office.

Rather than scrutinizing the marginal notes in their prayerbooks, we should ask them about taxes, regulation, the war in Iraq, and trade policy.

Their views on transubstantiation or consubstantiation don't matter.

James Atticus Bowden said...

Rick: You're right. The government which is built on orthodox Judeo-Christian culture has no responsibility to support any church or sect.

The People can vote for any reason they like - and do. The best one I remember was a lady who looks for the space between the front teeth of candidates... more space = more evil.

If the voters care about the worldview of a candidate, then it matters. If the voters care about any lower level details of theology that is their right.

McCain and Obamas view of the Bible and other questions speaks to where they will go if there is time of critical decision-making, many options and grave consequences.

Their theology - and their adherrence or ignorance or avoidance of it speaks to their character.

For example a professing Catholic who violates the teachings of the Roman Church on crucial issues of life, marriage, etc. indicates a willingness to say one thing and do another in pride. That same professing Liberal may say they support the Constitution as it is written when they don't and won't.

McCain and Obama's religion or lack of it has a direct connection to how they understand, decide and act on the issues of the day.