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.
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:
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.