Obama vs. Dobson

Why don’t politicians just not say anything about theology, rather than speechifying about it and getting it wrong? James Dobson of Focus on the Family is jumping on things Barack Obama said in an attempt to get Christians of all stripes to come around to his candidacy. Read Dobson accuses Obama of ‘distorting’ Bible. Excerpts:

“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?” Obama said. “Would we go with James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s?” referring to the civil rights leader.

Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”
“Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles,” Obama said.

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament. “I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson said. . . .

Dobson reserved some of his harshest criticism for Obama’s argument that the religiously motivated must frame debates over issues like abortion not just in their own religion’s terms but in arguments accessible to all people. . . .

“Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?” Dobson said. “What he’s trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe.”

Surely Obama displayed a surprising Biblical illiteracy in his handling of Scripture. Didn’t Rev. Wright ever get around to explaining the difference between Old Testament laws and the Gospel of Christ? Or that the latter is not just a more radical law?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The problem here is that there are too many Christians out there that would make the same mistake. I’m not even sure Obama made this mistake. I think he was calling the religious right out, and rightfully so, on this. Exactly what form of Christianity do you want guiding the nation’s policies? Are we going to uncritically apply all Biblical texts? Or are we going to train out judges theologically to distinguish between right and left hand issues?
    I say fair enough Obama. And Dobson, the answer to your question is yes you do have to frame your arguments to be accessible to all people, if you actually want to do anything for those innocent babies losing their lives to abortion.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The problem here is that there are too many Christians out there that would make the same mistake. I’m not even sure Obama made this mistake. I think he was calling the religious right out, and rightfully so, on this. Exactly what form of Christianity do you want guiding the nation’s policies? Are we going to uncritically apply all Biblical texts? Or are we going to train out judges theologically to distinguish between right and left hand issues?
    I say fair enough Obama. And Dobson, the answer to your question is yes you do have to frame your arguments to be accessible to all people, if you actually want to do anything for those innocent babies losing their lives to abortion.

  • Brian

    James Dobson should stick to giving advice about changing diapers and being a stay-at-home-mom.

  • Brian

    James Dobson should stick to giving advice about changing diapers and being a stay-at-home-mom.

  • Trey

    I see that Obama has commingled the two realms, secular and spiritual. Jesus is quite clear in regards to earthly matters that He is not come to settle petty and tawdry despites, but save the world from its sin. The Bible is mixed in regards to slavery in that it opposes it in some cases (Israel), but sets forth guidelines on proper conduct among slave owner and slave (See Ephesians 6:5–9). Of course, slavery in these times was quite different than the American experience. Slaves were considered part of the household or family.

    In regards to Matthew 5 or Jesus preaching of the Law, it is not to be understood as applicable in every or all situations, but is a guide, which we all fail at. The Government though is acting for God if it punishes evil (immorality) and upholds order.

    Dobson is an evangelical Christian so he does not distinguish between the two realms, but he is correct in his assessment of Obama skewing of the Scripture.

  • Trey

    I see that Obama has commingled the two realms, secular and spiritual. Jesus is quite clear in regards to earthly matters that He is not come to settle petty and tawdry despites, but save the world from its sin. The Bible is mixed in regards to slavery in that it opposes it in some cases (Israel), but sets forth guidelines on proper conduct among slave owner and slave (See Ephesians 6:5–9). Of course, slavery in these times was quite different than the American experience. Slaves were considered part of the household or family.

    In regards to Matthew 5 or Jesus preaching of the Law, it is not to be understood as applicable in every or all situations, but is a guide, which we all fail at. The Government though is acting for God if it punishes evil (immorality) and upholds order.

    Dobson is an evangelical Christian so he does not distinguish between the two realms, but he is correct in his assessment of Obama skewing of the Scripture.

  • http://www.boundless.org Ted Slater

    Brian — your comment doesn’t seem to add anything to this discussion. Is there anything in particular that Dobson said with which you disagree?

  • http://www.boundless.org Ted Slater

    Brian — your comment doesn’t seem to add anything to this discussion. Is there anything in particular that Dobson said with which you disagree?

  • Sam

    How refreshing it is to read Brian’s and Bror Erikson’s comments!

  • Sam

    How refreshing it is to read Brian’s and Bror Erikson’s comments!

  • Don S

    In context, Dobson was specifically calling out Obama’s “Call to Renewal Speech” of 2006, in which he said, concerning the partial birth abortion legislation that was being considered at that time: ““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.”

    Dobson objected to the idea that, in a democracy, folks can’t support or oppose a law solely for biblical reasons, if they want to. I agree with him on that, but if Obama chooses to govern in such a manner that he can only support laws for which he can articulate a secular reason, he is free to do that as well.

    Here’s my issue — how could Obama not come up with a secular reason for opposing partial birth abortion? The practitioner is stabbing a live baby in the head to kill him just before he emerges from the womb, so that it is not “murder”, according to some twisted legal logic deviced in a crackpot Supreme Court case 35 years ago. Why can’t Obama simply say — “I support this legislation because I don’t want to see little babies killed”?

  • Don S

    In context, Dobson was specifically calling out Obama’s “Call to Renewal Speech” of 2006, in which he said, concerning the partial birth abortion legislation that was being considered at that time: ““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.”

    Dobson objected to the idea that, in a democracy, folks can’t support or oppose a law solely for biblical reasons, if they want to. I agree with him on that, but if Obama chooses to govern in such a manner that he can only support laws for which he can articulate a secular reason, he is free to do that as well.

    Here’s my issue — how could Obama not come up with a secular reason for opposing partial birth abortion? The practitioner is stabbing a live baby in the head to kill him just before he emerges from the womb, so that it is not “murder”, according to some twisted legal logic deviced in a crackpot Supreme Court case 35 years ago. Why can’t Obama simply say — “I support this legislation because I don’t want to see little babies killed”?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, you asked, “Why don’t politicians just not say anything about theology, rather than speechifying about it and getting it wrong?”

    It’s a fair question, but why limit it to politicians? Why not, say, also ask it of James Dobson? I suspect the answer is the same in both cases: people have their own ideas about religion and imagine that their ideas are probably right, so why should they keep quiet? And while Obama doesn’t appear to fully grasp many biblical concepts well, at least he isn’t presenting himself as a biblical expert. Dr. Dobson has no such excuse.

    As to Don’s comment (@6), I think Dobson misunderstood Obama’s point, which has a bit of Two Kingdoms theology in it, such as it is. Obama isn’t saying that a person can’t oppose a law for biblical reasons, he’s saying that it would be bad to base policy solely on religious ideas. Rather, laws should be there to maintain order and protect people, and in this way, Obama missed the rather obvious point that the murder of the unborn does not contribute to order or protect people.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, you asked, “Why don’t politicians just not say anything about theology, rather than speechifying about it and getting it wrong?”

    It’s a fair question, but why limit it to politicians? Why not, say, also ask it of James Dobson? I suspect the answer is the same in both cases: people have their own ideas about religion and imagine that their ideas are probably right, so why should they keep quiet? And while Obama doesn’t appear to fully grasp many biblical concepts well, at least he isn’t presenting himself as a biblical expert. Dr. Dobson has no such excuse.

    As to Don’s comment (@6), I think Dobson misunderstood Obama’s point, which has a bit of Two Kingdoms theology in it, such as it is. Obama isn’t saying that a person can’t oppose a law for biblical reasons, he’s saying that it would be bad to base policy solely on religious ideas. Rather, laws should be there to maintain order and protect people, and in this way, Obama missed the rather obvious point that the murder of the unborn does not contribute to order or protect people.

  • Jonathan

    tODD’s comment is instructive.
    Obama is no theologian, but is Dobson? Dobson’s website notes his earned Ph.D. “in the field of child development,” and tells us that he is a licensed psychologist and counselor.
    Yet for decades he has wielded a great deal of political power, for a psychologist, and theological influence, for someone uncalled to the ministry and with no biblical training that I know of. To paraphrase Dr. Veith, “Why don’t [psychologists with a radio show] just not say anything about theology, rather than speechifying about it and getting it wrong?” I suggest that if you listen to Dobson’s show, you’ll see, regardless of your political sympathies, that, theologically, he gets a lot wrong.
    But, thank the Lord, it’s a free country. We all opine daily about things we aren’t expert in. Here, I suggest that we listen more carefully to Obama and ignore Dobson. But not because Obama may be right and Dobson wrong.
    Rather, it’s that Obama is in a position to carry out his ideas, should he get elected; we should know as much as we can about him, therefore. His comments here, be they right or wrong, tell us more about him than we may have known yesterday.
    If for no other reason, that’s why politicians should “speechify” about theology.

  • Jonathan

    tODD’s comment is instructive.
    Obama is no theologian, but is Dobson? Dobson’s website notes his earned Ph.D. “in the field of child development,” and tells us that he is a licensed psychologist and counselor.
    Yet for decades he has wielded a great deal of political power, for a psychologist, and theological influence, for someone uncalled to the ministry and with no biblical training that I know of. To paraphrase Dr. Veith, “Why don’t [psychologists with a radio show] just not say anything about theology, rather than speechifying about it and getting it wrong?” I suggest that if you listen to Dobson’s show, you’ll see, regardless of your political sympathies, that, theologically, he gets a lot wrong.
    But, thank the Lord, it’s a free country. We all opine daily about things we aren’t expert in. Here, I suggest that we listen more carefully to Obama and ignore Dobson. But not because Obama may be right and Dobson wrong.
    Rather, it’s that Obama is in a position to carry out his ideas, should he get elected; we should know as much as we can about him, therefore. His comments here, be they right or wrong, tell us more about him than we may have known yesterday.
    If for no other reason, that’s why politicians should “speechify” about theology.

  • Brian

    Ted, are you kidding? Of course I am adding to the discussion. I’m simply suggesting that Dobson should stick with family psychology.

    Personally, I find Dobson and other fundamentalists like himself to be a bit embarrassing.

  • Brian

    Ted, are you kidding? Of course I am adding to the discussion. I’m simply suggesting that Dobson should stick with family psychology.

    Personally, I find Dobson and other fundamentalists like himself to be a bit embarrassing.

  • utahrainbow

    A little off topic,
    but why, Brian, don’t stay-at-home moms need good theology? Why do WE get the “embarrassing” ones? :)

  • utahrainbow

    A little off topic,
    but why, Brian, don’t stay-at-home moms need good theology? Why do WE get the “embarrassing” ones? :)

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Its so nice for politicians to have the luxury of practical athiesm. You pull your little god out of your pocket when you need to appeal to the masses and then you put the little guy away when you need to get something done. Isn’t Obama’s god convenient for him, never getting in the way of his politics. (By the way, doesn’t McCain do this too?) And don’t you really have to somehow state to the people that you are a practical athiest just like them if you are to be elected these days. I mean, you can believe in Jesus and all that, but for goodness sake, leave it at church, man!

    P.S. Maybe Dobson should find a good seminary to attend – He could be a second-career guy.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Its so nice for politicians to have the luxury of practical athiesm. You pull your little god out of your pocket when you need to appeal to the masses and then you put the little guy away when you need to get something done. Isn’t Obama’s god convenient for him, never getting in the way of his politics. (By the way, doesn’t McCain do this too?) And don’t you really have to somehow state to the people that you are a practical athiest just like them if you are to be elected these days. I mean, you can believe in Jesus and all that, but for goodness sake, leave it at church, man!

    P.S. Maybe Dobson should find a good seminary to attend – He could be a second-career guy.

  • Joe

    Obama’s position that you can’t vote for legislation based on your beliefs unless other’s beliefs would also reach the same result is just simply unworkable. And, is it limited to religion? Obama does not support drilling in ANWAR – but my beliefs say we should, so how can he possible oppose it. According to his own standard, doesn’t he have to accommodate my views?

  • Joe

    Obama’s position that you can’t vote for legislation based on your beliefs unless other’s beliefs would also reach the same result is just simply unworkable. And, is it limited to religion? Obama does not support drilling in ANWAR – but my beliefs say we should, so how can he possible oppose it. According to his own standard, doesn’t he have to accommodate my views?

  • fw

    #13 Joe

    as always your posts provoke thought dear brother… i THINK obama is saying that all legislation needs to be based on the best of secular logic, as in aristotle’s moralism or the stoics…

    that reason and reasoned debate need to be the common basis for our society, and that religious arguments have no place in the governmental sphere.

    I am thinking that if this is not so, our form of american government is unworkable.

    as for your example of anwar, I think this misses the mark and manifests a misunderstanding on your part of obama’s views (and my own actually). Obama is in the strong tradition of the liberal deists who founded our country and those who pushed for a separation of church and state.

  • fw

    #13 Joe

    as always your posts provoke thought dear brother… i THINK obama is saying that all legislation needs to be based on the best of secular logic, as in aristotle’s moralism or the stoics…

    that reason and reasoned debate need to be the common basis for our society, and that religious arguments have no place in the governmental sphere.

    I am thinking that if this is not so, our form of american government is unworkable.

    as for your example of anwar, I think this misses the mark and manifests a misunderstanding on your part of obama’s views (and my own actually). Obama is in the strong tradition of the liberal deists who founded our country and those who pushed for a separation of church and state.

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  • http://www.christianimagination.com Seth

    Jim Wallis’ response is below. The speech took place at Sojouners event:
    http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/06/dobson-and-obama-who-is-delibe.html

  • http://www.christianimagination.com Seth

    Jim Wallis’ response is below. The speech took place at Sojouners event:
    http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/06/dobson-and-obama-who-is-delibe.html

  • William Wilcox

    Francis Beckwith comments here:

    http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/06/barack_obama_religious_citizen.html

    Concerning the role of religion in our legislation and government:

    “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles
    upon which freedom can securely stand.”

    — President John Quincy Adams, 1776

    “A trained intelligence can do much, but there is no substitute for morality,
    character and religious conviction “–Pres. Calvin Coolidge, 1924

    “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.” —James Madison

    Lastly from George Washington’s farewell speech:

    “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. … Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. “

  • William Wilcox

    Francis Beckwith comments here:

    http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/06/barack_obama_religious_citizen.html

    Concerning the role of religion in our legislation and government:

    “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles
    upon which freedom can securely stand.”

    — President John Quincy Adams, 1776

    “A trained intelligence can do much, but there is no substitute for morality,
    character and religious conviction “–Pres. Calvin Coolidge, 1924

    “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.” —James Madison

    Lastly from George Washington’s farewell speech:

    “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. … Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. “

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