President Obama's Theology: Is It Phony?
President Obama frequently professes his Christian faith and argues confidently that his policies are rooted in biblical truths. So when his administration issued a mandate requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraception and abortion-inducing pills to their employees, conservatives demanded an explanation. Why would someone who professes faith in God try to force Catholics to obey government over God (as they believe God to have spoken on the issue)?
Former Senator Rick Santorum, while not challenging Obama's profession of personal faith in Christ, has branded Obama's public-policy-theology as unbiblical and even "phony." Is this a cynical effort by Santorum to stoke anger among his conservative Christian base? Or is Obama indeed using Christian language improperly to justify liberal government policies?
Love Thy Neighbor
Fortunately, we do not have to guess at Obama's theological views. At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 1, Obama explained in detail his theology of God and government. Using the Bible as his authority, he expressed his devotion to God's command to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Much of his speech was premised on the idea that this command should apply not only to individuals, but also to governments.
The implication was hard to miss. President Obama believes that God's command to "love thy neighbor as thyself" provides the moral underpinning for his policies of centralized government power, increased taxation, and extravagant government spending. Presumably, it also justifies his attempts to redefine personhood, marriage, and our First-Amendment freedoms.
But God's command to "love thy neighbor as thyself" cannot properly be used to justify Obama's policies. This command was given by God to individuals, not to governments. This fact should be fairly obvious because governments cannot exercise biblical love -- only individuals can. You, as an individual person made in the image of God, have the God-given capacity to love your neighbor. You might express that love by sharing a portion of your personal income when your neighbor needs an expensive operation. You might sacrifice your time by helping him fix his roof. Or you might share your dinner table with him when he falls on hard times. Such displays of love from one person to another, welling up from a heart that sincerely desires to serve God, may well fulfill the command.
When the command to love others is "socialized" and applied to government, however, it actually forms the basis for tyranny. A government bureaucracy is not a person, and so it cannot love. It cannot express love toward a neighbor, nor can it cause one citizen to truly love another. Government bureaucracies can regulate among neighbors, but they cannot love them. By threat of force or punishment, a government can take resources from one person and give them to another -- but this has nothing to do with the biblical command to "love they neighbor."
Under a traditional biblical theology, government power should be exercised within boundaries prescribed by God. In America, we have articulated our shared view of those boundaries in the Constitution and its amendments. But a "socialized" biblical theology reverses the roles. It places government's authority over God's. Government assumes the authority to dictate which neighbors will do the loving and which neighbors will receive that love. Usurping the role of God Himself, government thus purports to define the meaning of neighborly love, and the amount of love that will satisfy God's command. Instead of governing within its God-given boundaries, the government, in its sovereignty, places boundaries around God. This leaves government with the power to define all of the rights of its citizens. Government, in effect, sits on God's throne.
And it gets worse. Because government is not actually God, it does not have the ability to act in a personal way toward each individual citizen. So its godlike power takes on a distinctly impersonal quality. Citizens are grouped into impersonal classifications (rich, poor, middle-class, black, white, brown) and treated not as individuals, but as mere integers in a larger societal equation. They become a means to the end of achieving the societal vision held by those in power. Eventually, they become pawns in the class warfare waged by those jostling for the throne.
My Brother's Keeper
Also at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama reiterated his belief that, as president, he is under a biblical burden to be his "brother's keeper." Of course, there is no Bible verse that encourages anyone to assume the role of his "brother's keeper." This phrase is found only in Genesis, chapter 4. Just after Cain murdered his brother, Abel, God asked Cain the whereabouts of his brother. Cain was terrified of God's looming wrath and evaded the question with sarcasm: "Am I my brother's keeper?" A careful biblical theology would not use this phrase to imply that every person is "his brother's keeper," much less to justify big government. But under President Obama's theology, Cain's irreverent response provides the moral justification for centralizing government power, and for polices that require massive spending and unsustainable debt levels.
President Obama's use of isolated Bible verses out of context is not new in politics. As misapplied by liberal politicians, biblical truths always seem to support government-designed utopia, which is a decidedly unbiblical endeavor (see Genesis Chapter 3, The Fall of Man). But liberal politicians rarely cite Bible verses that teach that poverty can be the fault of the individual, that governments are often arrogant and ungodly, that government's power should be limited, that God created marriage for one man and one woman, or that God rejects abortion and homosexuality. You will rarely hear a liberal politician invoke a Bible passage when speaking of the personal morality required of a free people. Instead, their interpretation of the Bible always seems to require the government to assume more power -- godlike power.
When God's commands to individuals are wrongly applied to governments, a new type of theology is created that is decidedly unbiblical. It even has a few names you might recognize. Liberal Protestants proudly call it the "Social Gospel." Catholic Marxists incorporated their class struggle and called it "Liberation Theology." Yet by whatever name, it is not biblical. Rick Santorum is right to question it.
Adam G. Mersereau is the author of Uncivil Society: Government's War Against God and the Plight of the Christian Citizen, available at Amazon.com and elsewhere. A frequent cultural commentator and former Marine officer, Mr. Mersereau now practices law in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.