Obama: Sermon on the Mount supports gay civil unions
NELSONVILLE, Ohio (BP)--Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama defended his belief in same-sex civil unions March 2 by referencing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and then implicitly criticizing those who view Romans as a binding teaching on homosexuality.
Obama made the comments during a question-and-answer session with voters in Nelsonville, Ohio. A local pastor asked Obama how he plans to win the votes of evangelical voters when they disagree with him on moral issues.
"I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other," he said, referring to unions that grant all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. "I don't think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial, 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. That's my view. But we can have a respectful disagreement on that."
The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5-7, the passage in Romans is found in chapter 1, verses 26-32.
But Obama's quote may open him up to further criticism from evangelicals, because it's a common evangelical belief that all of Scripture is inspired by God and equally authoritative -- that is, the words of Jesus in Matthew are just as inspired as the words of Paul in Romans. Although it is often argued by homosexual activists that Jesus said nothing about same-sex relationships, He in fact defined marriage as between one man and one woman in such passages as Mark 10:6-9.
Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an evangelical seminary in Louisville, Ky., said he is "confused" as to how a "civil libertarian" like Obama can "on the one hand, condemn faith-based arguments when they speak to issues on which he disagrees" but then "embrace just such arguments when they seem to serve issues he is promoting." Obama, Moore said, is "framing the discussion as more than simply a prudential justice question" -- which could be seen as a change in how left-leaning politicians speak.
"Conservative evangelicals and other social conservatives should not see Senator Obama's statements here as necessarily bad news," Moore said in a statement to Baptist Press. "He is acknowledging that his theological presuppositions affect the way he views governmental justice issues. We should be willing to engage that conversation, even when (as will often be the case) we have something very different to say.
"Perhaps Senator Obama's rhetoric is a signal that the cultural Left is moving beyond the idea that even speaking of biblical revelation as it applies to cultural or moral issues is a violation of 'the separation of church and state.' Such a shift may or may not be 'change we can believe in,' but it is a change, one to which we should be ready to speak with civility, charity and conviction."
Denny Burk, professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, said Obama is attempting to "pit Jesus’ message against Paul’s" -- a conflict, Burk said, "that neither Jesus nor Paul would accept."
"The fact is that Jesus appointed Paul to bear his name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), many of whom were living in homosexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)," Burk told BP in an e-mail. "The passage in Romans condemning homosexuality was not obscure to first century readers living in the Roman Empire. It’s only obscure to modern readers when they are looking for biblical grounds to justify that which God condemns. As a matter of public policy, the best way to honor God’s intention for marriage and human sexuality is to keep monogamous, heterosexual marriage privileged in law. Unfortunately, the policies of Senator Obama fall far short of the biblical ideal."
In his answer, Obama insisted he was against "gay marriage" -- a position that some social conservative leaders have questioned because Obama favors repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bans "gay marriage" on the federal level and allows states to ban such unions.
Three states -- Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey -- have enacted civil unions. But despite those laws, there is a significant movement in the Vermont and New Jersey legislatures to legalize "gay marriage."
Obama also defended his backing of abortion rights.
"[W]e should prevent it as much as possible by making sure that young people are engaging in responsible behavior and that we are encouraging the kinds of good decisions that prevent unwanted pregnancies and that we are encouraging adoption as an alternative," he said. "But I think that at the bottom line is that in the end I think women, in consultation with their pastors, and their doctors and their family, are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington.
"That's my view. Again, I respect people who may disagree, but I certainly don't think it makes me less Christian."
Obama's comments came three days after he released a 770-word letter to the homosexual community, pledging to partner with them in passing favorable laws if he is elected.
"As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws," he wrote. "I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples -- whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage.
"... I believe that we can achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country," he said further, referring to the acronym for lesbian, gays, bisexual and transgendered. "To do that, we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership. Together, we will achieve real equality for all Americans, gay and straight alike."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.