Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dobson Tees Off on Obama

The Christian blogosphere is criticizing Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson after harsh words he made against Barack Obama on a Tuesday radio broadcast.

Reacting to a speech Obama gave two years ago at a Sojourners' convention, Dobson accused Obama of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview," and called Obama's suggestion for how religious people should engage in politics, the "lowest common denominator of morality," labeling it "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

Scot McKnight of Jesus Creed said, "Dobson and his companion commentator routinely distorted what Obama was saying by rephrasing and capturing what he said in their own context and for their own agendas." Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, responded saying "Dobson either didn't understand it or is deliberately distorting it." Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, leader of the largest Methodist congregation in the country, went so far as to establish a website called "James Dobson Doesn't Speak for Me."

My reaction to Dobson? His method of criticizing Obama was a waste of precious broadcast time. He was too emotional, too concerned about Obama's reference to himself, and failed to substantially engage Obama's argument on how religious people should conduct themselves in politics.

What sparked Dobson's "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution" was this remark by Obama:
"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality."
Obama's point is well taken in this sense: If religiously motivated people want to succeed in a democracy, argue your case based on reason and "universal" values. That's good strategy. And actually, Christians do that already. My only reaction is that democracy doesn't demand this. In the public square, people can argue their case any way they want. So if they want to cite Scripture or make religion specific arguments, let them do so.

When it comes to Obama's use of Scripture, Dobson said, "I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology." In tit for tat fashion, Obama responded the following day that Dobson was, "making stuff up." Dobson's anger arose from this Obama quote from that speech two years ago:
"And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles."
Obama poses a hypothetical question: that if we were strictly a nation of only Christians, what method of interpretation (or hermeneutic) would be used to understand the Bible's message and in turn govern ourselves? Dobson misses the question entirely.

Rhetorically though, Obama's question is an obvious jab at "literalists" or conservative Christians-- evidenced by the remark, "Folks haven't been reading their bibles (sic)." No, reading the Bible isn't the problem as much as it is interpreting the Bible and by extension interpreting how faith should translate into political action. Dobson's arrows of criticism would be far more effective if he went in that direction. Like this:

So how does Obama read his Bible? He thinks the Sermon on the Mount puts demands on government to dismantle its military! Imagine that in the day we live in!

How does Obama put faith into political action? Listen to this:
And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate.
You work hard all your life and at your death, Obama believes government should take away and deny your loved ones your hard earned money because you obviously "don't need it" nor were you "asking for it." Elect Obama and elect a President who truly believes he's entitled to take away your money.

Here's the bottom line: Dobson is a radical conservative, pro-life, and pro-traditional marriage. Obama is a radical liberal, pro-abortion, and pro-same-sex civil unions. While I share Obama's faith, in no way do I share his politics.

May we who are Christians decide with an informed and prayerful faith.

And let democracy decide.

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