Obama, ethics and the Christian Right

Barack Obama

So Obama has won, more convincingly than many expected. Many christians will be worried by this, yet there seems to be a number of christians taking a different line.

The US christian right

It is a truism that, in general, the US evangelical church supports the Republican party. The main foundation of their support seems to be opposition to abortion and gay marriage, plus patriotism, national security, and suspicion about giving any government any more power than is minimally necessary. This seems to lead to opposition to new taxes, gun control and government funded medical care, and, apparently, a greater willingness for America to go to war.

So Barack Obama pressed a few of their buttons, with his support for abortion and gay marriage, his universal healthcare scheme and the crazy rumours he was a Muslim not even eligible to be President. Accordingly, the evangelical church was strong it its support for Mitt Romney – for example, both Billy Graham and son Franklin went public urging christians to vote for candidates who supported Biblical morality, which meant Romney over Obama.

This support was widespread – see Why Evangelicals Are Supporting Romney (on the basis that “abortion is the supreme moral issue of our time”), Evangelical support grows for Romney and Evangelicals for Mitt.

Dissenting views

But I have found several christian blogs that are not following this line:

Micael Greenholm quotes author Ken Boyd arguing that the US has never been a christian nation, despite the high number of christians, because “it’s impossible for any version of the kingdom of the world to be Christlike for the simple reason that they participate in a system of dominion that necessarily places its trust in the power of the sword.”

Micael suggests that Americans are “bireligious”: “Conservative patriotism is exercised as a religion parallel with their Christian beliefs.”

Brooke Collier is concerned that too many christians isolate abortion as the main moral issue and don’t seem concerned about “economic justice, earth care, human rights, etc”.

She very tentatively suggests that the best way to reduce the number of abortions may be to create the social conditions and care for families so abortion doesn’t so often become the “solution” to their problems. She challenges christians to “take on personal responsibility and commitment to the welfare of their neighbors”.

“Sacred Struggler” grew up in a Republican-favouring christian environment, but turned away from the Republican party after President Bush led the US into two wars. She was “pro-life”, but decided that must mean she was pro-life after birth as well as before it, and hence not pro-war.

She came to see that “pro-life” includes providing for people who are struggling. Healthcare should not depend on being able to afford it, and unemployed people need to be given help in life also (her parents benefited from Obama’s social security).

Bible scholar Ben Witherington suggested that “pro-life” should include being pro “the things that make for a good and healthy and moral life, not just any sort of life”, and hence opposed to unhealthy pollution.

Is this a trend?

Confining christian morality to issues like abortion and gay marriage doesn’t do justice to the New Testament. Jesus said more about money than anything else, he taught non-violence, and the Bible says a lot about caring for the poor. It is ironical that the christian right seems to take different views to Jesus on these matters.

The younger generation is more likely to be opposed to war, committed to environmental action and care for the under-privileged, and not so concerned about gay marriage. This includes many younger christians.

I think change is coming. I would like to think that the christian right reconsiders some of its priorities and broadens its understanding of morality.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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24 thoughts on “Obama, ethics and the Christian Right

  1. sacredstruggler says:

    Wonderful post. Thanks for all the sources.
    I think it is a trend with the younger demographic. I don’t see the Christian right changing for a long time though. They, like my in-laws and parents, seem convinced that those two social issues overall all the rest of Jesus’ message. in fact, they often don’t consider the other things moral issues or at least say they are not the government’s right to provide. It’s weird when you pull back and think- wait, the government has a responsibility to tell people who they can marry but not to provide it’s citizens with basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare. It’s like the last generation has flipped the christian right on it’s ear.

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  2. unklee says:

    Thanks. Yes, it seems strange, but nevertheless the case, that morality is sometimes confined to sexual morality, and ignores issues of justice and caring for the powerless.

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  3. EmilyClare says:

    Great post unkleE! Its true – I especially like the comment by Ken Boyd that “it’s impossible for any version of the kingdom of the world to be Christlike for the simple reason that they participate in a system of dominion that necessarily places its trust in the power of the sword.” And yet, even in Australia there are these polarising statements by Christians about which political party you should/must support based on a couple of issues – when others like land-care, social justice/human rights are casually overlooked.

    I struggle most with the Republican/Extreme Right view that people must all “make it on their own” – when its so clear that different racial, social, economic divides exist from birth! Where is the “love thy neighbourhood”, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”? And also the necessity for their leaders to be staunchly religious “Christian” in a public way (even if they are Mormon I might add or hold different views privately) – and yet they so attack and criticise other countries religious leaders/Islamic theocracies and call for secularism!

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  4. unklee says:

    Hi, Em, and thanks. Yes, there are a lot of contradictions out there. Many christians seem to be grieving and coming to terms with how they and the US will survive another 4 years of Obama (when the country economically did far worse under Bush) without seeming to be aware that their own views might be reconsidered, but we can hope more and more will do the required thinking …. and praying.

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  5. ignorantianescia says:

    This association of Evangelical Christianity with right-wing politics in the US originated with the Moral Majority in the seventies. What I find interesting is that in the same seventies, there was also an American Evangelical undercurrent with quite opposite political views. A book on it (haven’t read it yet) came out recently, it was reviewed positively by Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/october-web-only/rise-expansion-and-fall-of-evangelical-left.html?paging=off

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  6. arkenaten says:

    Those Christians that prayed for Obama will likely have cried, “Thank God” or something similar.
    Those Christians that voted for Romney would likely have cried, “God help us.” or similar.

    So far, God is keeping ‘Mum’ on the whole issue. Like he does every issue, funnily enough.

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  7. ignorantianescia says:

    Hmm, should God then give his detached opinion on every political issue, like a slightly meandering ceremonial head of state, with a voice from the sky? That doesn’t sound like a knock-down argument against theism.

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  8. unklee says:

    Not sure if God is keeping “mum” at all. I see signs of him teaching people all sorts of things. Those who “have eyes to see” may see this, others may not.

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  9. Dave Burke says:

    It’s worth noting that Santorum was the Christian Right’s first choice. Concerns about his Catholicism notwithstanding, he enjoyed their endorsement from mid January. Yet the decision was controversial and produced some extremely unChristian scenes among hardcore evangelicals (see the article here: http://bit.ly/ZReTDO).

    When Santorum’s campaign collapsed the Christian Right went into a frantic huddle for a weekend and finally agreed to support Romney. As before the decision was not unanimous, and caused a great deal of angst (see the article here: http://bit.ly/ZRgQjv).

    The tipping point for Romney came when Billy Graham’s granted his public support. But it involved a major concession: sharp-eyed pundits noted that Mormonism was removed from the list of cults on Graham’s website a week after Romney had visited him to plead for an endorsement (see the article here: http://abcn.ws/Qgipal).

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  10. unkleE says:

    Yes, it’s interesting to look back on all that now. The fact that the christian right couldn’t find a viable candidate of their own (I guess Michele Bachman was the closest, but I wonder if they were all happy about supporting a woman?), the fact that Romney had to appease the right to win the nomination, then try to move back to the centre to win the Presidency, and Billy Graham’s actions.

    There is still a lot of angst in the blogosphere about Obama.

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  11. arkenaten says:

    @IG

    “Hmm, should God then give his detached opinion on every political issue, like a slightly meandering ceremonial head of state, with a voice from the sky? That doesn’t sound like a knock-down argument against theism.|

    LOL.
    This was not meant to be a reflection on your god, rather to show how ludicrous Christians are to even think that your god – ANY god- would be in the slightest bit interested in their plea or thanks.
    Do they ever give thanks to Santa Claus? No. Then why bother appealing to a deity? Bit silly really, don’t you think?

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  12. arkenaten says:

    @ Unklee

    “Not sure if God is keeping “mum” at all. I see signs of him teaching people all sorts of things. Those who “have eyes to see” may see this, others may not.”

    Yes, quite, and the ‘god-fearin’ folk of the USA while not the archetypal model of insular blindness come a pretty close second. It’s no coincidence they are one of the most diverse religious nations in the world.
    With around 40,000 different christian sects worldwide if your god is showing ‘signs’ his people sure as heck fire aren’t getting it.
    I wonder why?..)

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  13. unkleE says:

    “With around 40,000 different christian sects worldwide if your god is showing ‘signs’ his people sure as heck fire aren’t getting it.
    I wonder why?..)”

    There are billions of people and every one has a different DNA. Some people are good at chess, some are great musicians, some can do maths, some can run fast, etc. God loves diversity.

    Most people fail to live up to their own standards – sometimes we help our neighbour, sometimes we are selfish. God allows diversity and choice, even though it leads to all sorts of ugly things as well as beautiful things.

    All christians believe in Jesus, by definition, but there’s pretty much diversity after that, because that’s how God wants it or allows it. But if we want to listen we can “get it” about some important things But most of the things that separate denominations and sects aren’t all that important – often it’s only a name.

    So you don’t need to wonder any more! : )

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  14. unkleE says:

    “rather to show how ludicrous Christians are to even think that your god – ANY god- would be in the slightest bit interested in their plea or thanks.”

    Run that one by me again, would you please Akhenaten – why is that proposition ludicrous?

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  15. arkenaten says:

    “So you don’t need to wonder any more! : )”
    Phew, all sorted then? I shall sleep better. Unklee saves the day.
    You don’t wear red underpants over your trousers I hope? (well, not in public, Aussies get a bit funny about that , fair dinkum, so I’ve heard.

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  16. arkenaten says:

    “rather to show how ludicrous Christians are to even think that your god – ANY god- would be in the slightest bit interested in their plea or thanks.”

    Run that one by me again, would you please Akhenaten – why is that proposition ludicrous?”

    And you say I don’t understand you. Sheesh!

    There are thousands, upon thousands of gods maybe over a million – I must do a search one day – and no doubt a fair part of humanity putting their hands together in supplication or the local equivalant.
    There has been no ‘god – intervention’ in response to pleas or thanks or curses or anything.
    Are we getting it yet?

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  17. unkleE says:

    I think people across all ages wish for more good government and less politicking! We are in the last few weeks of a national election campaign here in Australia, and the main things to come out of the campaign are (1) how unattractive both parties are, and (2) that Rupert Murdoch and his flunkies behave in a truly nasty manner.

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  18. ignorantianescia says:

    There’s not much news in the Northern Hemisphere about your elections. What examples typify both points?

    Also, are there any reasons why there is not a centrist party that stands ideologically between Labor and the National-Liberals?

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  19. unkleE says:

    I took the liberty of making the correction you pointed out.

    Both parties tend to have moved towards the centre themselves, though there are forces in each that pull back. So both have a very protectionist policy towards refugees who arrive by boat, both have similar economic policies on most matters, neither is much respected as a party.

    The main differences are:

    • Labor believes in global warming and in fighting it (in a very mild way) whereas the Liberals are unsure if they believe in it and are even softer on fighting against it.
    • The Liberals are a little more conservative economically while labor is a little more profligate (though their policies got Australia through the economic crisis better tan most countries and better than the Liberals would have done).
    • Labor is setting up a forward thinking high speed broadband network, Liberals have a much feebler proposal.
    • Labor has been painted by an awfully biased and nasty Murdoch press as a total mess, with some justification but some exaggeration too.
    • The Liberal leader has been the least popular leader in a long time, but is slowly making up ground on a once-popular Labor leader who is losing his touch.

    There is little doubt the Liberals will win, and little doubt in my mind that they will be a disaster also.

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  20. ignorantianescia says:

    “I took the liberty of making the correction you pointed out.”

    If you are referring to the God Helmet quote, thanks for that. Normally such errors do not matter, but the views expressed by the other person were very pernicious.

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  21. unkleE says:

    No, I was referring to the correction you posted to the typo in your previous comment here. I just made the correction and eliminated the second post, to make things simpler.

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  22. ignorantianescia says:

    Oh! Well, thanks for that too. 😉

    Thank you for your outline of the difference between Labor and the Libs and the Murdoch skirmishes. My country has seen a (rather ideologue imo) austerity politics for the past three years, but it has neither structurally improved government finance nor contribute to a solution for the economy. So I think your assessment of Labor policies might well be correct.

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