For 60 years the National Prayer Breakfast has been a nonpolitical event where speakers put aside their earthly biases and focus on a higher authority. Last Thursday, President Obama departed from that tradition to claim the endorsement of Jesus for raising taxes. It beat the endorsement of Mitt Romney by Donald Trump.
In his remarks, the president quoted Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” The president sees this verse as a command for him to raise taxes on the successful so the money can be “spread around” to the less successful. If the president’s interpretation of this verse sounds a little like Karl Marx, it should. Marx said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
The president took a quote that was meant to mean something else and twisted it to serve his political ends. He took a verse out of context, created a pretext and then preached on politics. A conservative spinner might also wrongly use Matthew 13:12 to justify cutting taxes. That verse says: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.”
Dr. Robert Norris, senior pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md., (where I attend) said in response to what I suggested to him was the president’s flawed exegesis, “There is an accountability we have for all that we have been given. We are held personally responsible by God and not man for what is entrusted to us. The knowledge, abilities and resources we have come from him and he holds us accountable for their use.” The problem comes when government seeks to replace God and this was the attitude conveyed in the president’s remarks.
The religious and even secular left commends religion when it suits their earthly agenda, but opposes religious instruction when it comes to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
The absence of any editorials in major newspapers critical of the president’s mixing of church and state and the virtual silence of activist groups like the ACLU and People for the American Way testifies to this point. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State criticized the prayer breakfast, but not the misinterpretation of Scripture, though it did say most of the president’s remarks were “election-season boilerplate.”
The president claimed Muslims, Jews and even secular sources such as Plato also admonish us to have “consideration for others.” True enough, but that isn’t a mandate for government to be our primary keeper so we “shall not want.”
The verse the president quoted, in context, differs from the spin he placed on it. True charity has a purpose beyond the satisfaction of physical needs. Its objective is to change hearts so that whatever is making someone poor will help them become less so. Meeting physical needs is the primary work of the church and individuals, not government, which changes no heart and does a poor job of making people self-sustaining. Government should be a last resort, not a first resource.
The social gospel is not new to this president. It is largely a creation of 20th-century Protestants who believed in applying “Christian principles” to rectify society’s problems. Deeds quickly supplanted faith, evolving into a “works salvation” theology, which says if you do enough good works, God will be pleased and let you into Heaven when you die. This contradicts biblical teaching that it is by faith and not works that one is saved from judgment (Ephesians 2:8-9). Some verses teach works as an extension of faith, revealing its depth and seriousness, but they equally teach that works without faith in Jesus is not enough. This is traditional Christian theology. Accept it, or not, but the president is mistaken when he interprets Scripture to achieve his political goals.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist and author.