Mike Huckabee’s Crass Misuse of Jesus

The SCOTUS rulings handed down yesterday have stirred impassioned responses on all sides.  I (and guest posters) will have more to say in this space soon, from differing perspectives.  Stay tuned.  For today, I am always thrilled to share the thoughts of Peter Wehner, one of the most serious and experienced evangelical policy thinkers around.  Check out his bio for more information on Pete, and you can see his other posts at Philosophical Fragments here.

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Mike Huckabee’s Crass Misuse of Jesus

By Peter Wehner

The Daily Caller reports that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee used the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage to raise money on behalf of his political action committee HuckPAC. Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But what is problematic, I think, is the nature of the appeal.

Here’s the text of the e-mail Huckabee sent out:

Dear Friends,

My immediate thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: “Jesus wept.” Five people in robes said they are bigger than the voters of California and Congress combined. And bigger than God. May He forgive us all. Elections matter and our fight to protect Traditional Marriage continues. If you want to help elect men and women who support Life and Marriage, I urge you to make an immediate donation of $3 or more today to Huck PAC. As the Left wing media and activists cheer today’s rulings, help me show them the fight to preserve Traditional Marriage is far from over. Please donate today!

Sincerely, Mike Huckabee

Based on the character portrait of Jesus as laid out in the New Testament, my own guess is that Jesus would be less likely to weep at Supreme Court decisions that (a) declare federal benefits can’t be denied to gay couples who are already legally married and (b) decline to rule on Proposition 8 than he would in reaction to, say, tens of thousands of innocent people dying in the Syrian civil war; or those who perish in natural disasters; or young children who die of AIDS and malaria in Africa; or Christians being persecuted in Egypt. Or the couple who learn their child will be born with severe handicaps, the husband whose wife is afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, the parents of a son who suffers from schizophrenia, or the wife, daughter and sister who dies of cancer, leaving a grieving family and friends behind.

I cite these examples in part because they better approximate the circumstances in which we read that Jesus wept (John11:35). This verse, in which Jesus is reacting to Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus, underscores Jesus’ humanity and his mercy. His tears were not based on judgment but emerged out of a deep compassion, tenderness and sympathy for human suffering. (Even in the less familiar episode where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, there is no evidence that homosexuality played any role in Jesus’ sorrow. He knew what was going to happen to the city of peace; its destruction in AD 70 had to do with factors wholly unrelated to sexual matters.)

I don’t agree with Garry Wills on every matter to be sure, but he rightly points out that Jesus was found in the company of those society deemed as lowly, despised, and defiled – and was himself judged to be unclean, a consorter with Samaritans and loose women, a glutton and a drunkard, and a mocker of the law. “In truth I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s reign before you,” Jesus says to the elders and chief priests of the Temple. And of course Jesus was thoroughly non-political. “He walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs,” according to Wills. “People and practices other men were required to shun he embraces with an equanimity that infuriates the proper and observant in his culture.”

This doesn’t mean, of course, that Jesus would embrace same sex marriage. Those who make this claim, it seems to me, are disfiguring the Scriptures to match their ideological preferences. It does mean we need to be careful not to reduce Jesus into a caricature that fits neatly into our existing political categories.

But my concern goes well beyond this. Mike Huckabee is not only recruiting Jesus to be a foot soldier in the culture wars; he’s trying to raise money for his political action committee on it. I understand that how one views this is entirely subjective, but I for one find this kind of thing to be, at a minimum, tasteless and crass. We all get the game that’s being played: the Supreme Court renders a verdict on a hot-button social issue –and within hours “Jesus wept” is used as a fundraising tool. One has to strike while the iron is hot, after all. Still, you might think that a Christian would use a good deal of caution when it comes to leveraging poignant verses about Jesus into three dollar donations for HuckPAC.

In saying all this I’m fully aware of the type of blowback this invites. Why pick on Mike Huckabee? At least he has the courage to stand up to the liberal assault on traditional values. Can’t I distinguish between the fire brigade and the fire? And so forth.

I will say that on policy, Mr. Huckabee and I are fairly close in the views we hold (though certainly not identical). But what troubles me, and what I would hope would trouble Huckabee, is we’ve seen what happens when Christians use their faith as a blunt political instrument. It isn’t good for politics; but it’s a good deal worse for Christianity. A politicized faith is discrediting. It pushes people away. And it frankly distorts who Jesus was.

I don’t pretend it’s easy to navigate the tricky waters of faith and politics. There are close calls and difficult judgments. When and how to make a moral stand isn’t always self-evident. But what Mike Huckabee has done, in my estimation at least, is not simply cross over a line, but obliterate it. And because he’s a gifted man, and I’m sure in many respects an admirable one, I hope he rethinks his approach.

 

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Good points, Peter (and thank you Timothy for featuring his post here). Mr. Huckabee’s policies aside, it’s never OK to take a Bible verse out of context and use it as a Scripture bomb.
    And what’s this about God forgiving “us all”? If he belongs to Jesus, he’s already been forgiven completely. It’s another misuse of doctrine in service of his inflammatory rhetoric.
    Thanks for helping to clear things up!
    Cheers,
    Tim

    Here’s how I’d rather see him encourage people to respond to gays and others he considers in need of God’s grace: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/your-sports-hero-is-gay/

  • John W. Morehead

    Jesus
    subverted the social and religious conventions of his day in his
    expansion of the Kingdom to include the outcasts, sinners, and
    marginalized, and wept over Jerusalem’s failure to recognize her time
    and his coming. Thus, his shed tears were not over alleged moral
    failures in the culture wars, but were aimed at Israel’s pretentiousness
    in her calling and ultimate failure at being a light to the nations.
    With this in mind, it would appear that Huckabee has misunderstood and
    then misappropriated and misapplied Jesus in the service of Evangelical
    boundary maintenance in the culture wars. Such a pity.

  • Justice McPherson

    While it is good to hear this objection, I hope that it isn’t a new discovery. I and others both expected that response and regarded it as the norm for modern Christian behavior, which has been defined by hatred and intolerance justified by careful avoidance of red text for years. You say “A politicized faith is discrediting. It pushes people away. And it frankly distorts who Jesus was.” I say that this has already thoroughly happened quite some time ago. Indeed, Huckabee’s ridiculous scripture bomb seemed like a quite mild response.
    I know a number of people who follow the teachings of Jesus in the Bible who I adore for doing so, but came to the conclusion quite some time back that the only reason they called themselves “Christian” was because the mainstream churches lacked the power to forbid them from using the label. They haven’t been shy about removing them from their heirarchies for their insufficiently hateful beliefs.

  • jessie fine

    The creation of Republican Jesus is not a good deal for either Republicans or Christians.

    • Susan_G1

      Please visit us more often!

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Agreed! The Republicans are too much like the Democrats anyway!

      Oh wait, maybe that wasn’t quite what you meant. ;-)

  • joe_chip

    I feel like this is one of the best and most insightful things I’ve seen Timothy post. While I realize you didn’t write it, thank you for bringing it in front of my eyes.

  • iowatomcat

    As a Bible teacher of mine years ago stated..”A text without a context is a pretext.”

  • http://stowellbrown.blogspot.com/ stowellbrown

    Hillsdale
    College 1979………..”It was from that moment that I began to get the feeling that
    a liberal view of life was not what I’d supposed it to be – a creative movement
    which would shape the future – but rather a sort of death wish. How otherwise
    could you explain how people, in their own country ardent for equality, bitter
    opponents of capital punishment and all for more humane treatment of people in
    prison, supporters, in fact, of every good cause, should in the USSR prostrate
    themselves before a regime ruled over brutal-ly and oppressively and
    arbitrarily by a privileged party oligarchy? I still ponder over the mystery of
    how men displaying critical intelligence in other fields could be so
    astonishingly deluded.” Malcolm Muggeridge

    We do need more conservatives in government. I agree with Huckabee.

  • Y. A. Warren

    It seems that many are afraid of sitting down with “sinners.” Is it because they are afraid that they will be tempted by the proximity of what they consider “sin?” Strong believers don’t need Supreme Court rules to follow their own consciences.

  • Basil

    Huckabee was right, but that silly man just forgot the last 4 words of the sentence: “Jesus wept, with tears of joy”.

    Our LGBT brothers and sisters, who were previously and deliberately castigated and excluded, took a big step forwards towards full equality and social inclusion. There is still a long way to go, we should all weep tears of joy at the progress made thusfar

    • thesauros

      “with tears of joy”?
      Just hoping that people don’t own a Bible, huh? Or care about context?

  • http://www.freewebs.com/compuaid/index.htm Ather

    So, I take it Mike has never lied? Never cheated on his wife/girlfriend? Those are part of the 10 Commandments. Something god never thought needed homosexuality to be a part of. But I guess Mike is bigger than god to decide what is and isn’t a major sin. No god, you were wrong. Homosexuality is the greatest sin of all. How dare you not make it a Commandment.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/compuaid/index.htm Ather

    Even if a sin, who acres? Gays can just apologize later, and be forgiven. And as the Prodigal Son teaches, well rewarded as well. GOP’s are just upset their not being rewarded for constant “obedience” to god.

  • Susan_G1

    This post brought me to goosebumps. How rarely do we see one saying things like, “A politicized faith is discrediting. It pushes people away. And it frankly distorts who Jesus was.” Thank you! I am not saying this because I wish Christians were not disliked; I am saying this because I wish Christians were more loving, like Jesus. I can’t help but believe that if we paid more attention to the Greatest Commandment, there would bee far less fuel for division and culture wars.

  • capecodder2010

    When I saw Huckabee’s message, I immediately posted “Huckabee tweets “Jesus Wept”. He left out two words: “With Joy”.

  • Jerry Lynch

    “A politicized faith is discrediting. It pushes people away. And it frankly distorts who Jesus was.” Like others here, I agree this says it all. I was in a few Christian Forums and had to leave for suggesting the same; the responses were truly hateful. I live in a very Right Wing Conservative Christian town where a politicized faith seems to mean true faith. The slightest questioning of that comment by Huckabee would provoke indignation or ire. And of course from some accusations of being the worst of all possible evils, a “liberal.” Even speaking about some reasonable gun law draws immediate suspicion of being in the presence of the serpent. The marriage between faith and the Republican Party should be considered a far, far greater problem for the soul than gay marriage. The relationship with faith and liberals seems more a live-in affair.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Yes! Who cares?!

    We want what we want and we won’t be denied.

    Those 10 Commandments were a joke, anyway.

    Who does God think He is?

    We are ALL born liars, according to Jesus. Does that make it right?

    Repentance, reshmentance.

    It’s just a big game with NO consequences.

    (you’d better hope so)

  • James Stagg

    You know what? Based on the bias evident in the article and comments, I have decided that HuckPac will receive my donations, such as they are. I agree with Huckabee completely!

  • Esther O’Reilly

    This concerns me:

    “…my own guess is that Jesus would be less likely to weep at Supreme Court decisions that (a) declare federal benefits can’t be denied to gay couples who are already legally married…”

    So, demanding that the government continuing perpetuating the sinful fiction that is gay marriage by granting “marriage” benefits to those couples… is something Jesus would approve of? I’m sorry, I can’t agree.


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