At his National Prayer Breakfast address yesterday, President Obama declared, “Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.’ Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical.”
These are wise words. I only wish Obama believed them.
Because in the same speech in which he quoted Lewis, Obama also said this:
And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
For Obama to move from the Biblical injunction that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required” to higher marginal tax rates on those making $250,000 or more is laughable theology. Why draw the line at $250,000? Why not draw it at $125,000? Or $500,000? And why doesn’t Obama, in the name of Jesus, propose increasing the highest marginal tax rates to 90 percent? In fact, why doesn’t he endorse a plan for the government to take over people’s property and their life savings and distribute it to the poor under the banner of “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required”? Why doesn’t he propose a plan to take money from Americans making $25,000 a year in order to send it to people in Africa making a dollar a day? And why doesn’t St. Barack, in order to set an example for us all, commit that his net worth will never exceed $1 million? Or perhaps the argument being made by the president is that if we read the book of Acts carefully enough, we’ll find that God’s preferred tax rate just happens to be the one championed by Obama.
My point in this exercise is to illustrate what a ludicrous dart game Obama is playing. But it’s actually worse than that. What the president is doing is using the Scriptures to advance a transparently partisan political agenda, and he did so in a setting where past presidents have traditionally stayed away from such stunts.
To be clear: I believe, and have long argued, that people’s faith should help shape their political ethics. But I have also written that Scripture does not provide a governing blueprint and that, while whether the top marginal tax rate should be 70 percent, 40 percent, or 28 percent is a serious public policy issue, neither the New Testament nor the Hebrew Bible sheds light on the matter. The Christian ethicist Paul Ramsey put it best when he said, “Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.”
In the vast majority of cases, what we are talking about are prudential judgments about competing priorities, and we need to approach them with humility and open minds. No president, even Barack Obama, should pretend his tax policies have been chiseled on stone tablets delivered to him on Mt. Sinai.
It’s no secret that Obama, in order to win re-election, is attempting to divide us by class. But that, apparently, is too restrictive a category for Obama. Now he wants to divide us based on faith, portraying his position on taxes as consistent with the teaching and spirit of Jesus and those who oppose his agenda as being anti-Christian (as well as anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish).
Barack Obama, in his quest for re-election, is as eager to vulgarize and dumb down Christianity as Jerry Falwell was. I wonder if any of those on the left, especially liberal Christians, will express a word of public criticism or concern. Or might it be their real concerns have less to do with preserving the integrity of their faith and more to do with advancing a narrow partisan agenda?
We’ll know soon enough.