Barack Obama, 2007
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Unfortunately, such tactics have won a lot of devout support for Republican political candidates, so some Democrats have decided that their party should do something similar. Even as they decry the politicization of religion on the right, they seek to politicize religion on the left. Case in point is Barack Obama who recently took it upon himself the authority to not only declare what is a genuinely religious issue, but also what an appropriate Christian response would be.
Obama said that too often religious leaders use faith to "exploit what divides us" by saying that the only issues that matter are abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, and intelligent design.
"Everyone in this room knows that's not true," Obama said.
He said there are other challenges that can unite people of faith, one of them being the issue of climate change. "The bible tells us that when God created the earth, he entrusted us with the responsibility to take care of that earth," he said. "It is a responsibility to ensure that this planet remains clean and safe and livable for our children, and for all of God's children."
Taking things step by step and focusing on the overall context, let's look carefully at Barack Obama's train of thought:
- It's exploitative and wrong for religious leaders to say that only certain issues, like abortion and gay marriage, are religious issues.
- There are more things that matter to religious people than things like abortion and gay marriage.
- Here's an idea: let's make global warming a religious issue, too!
Now, if this were coming from a prominent liberal preacher, this wouldn't be nearly so problematic. Granted, there would still be the question of why they are complaining about how religious leaders "exploit what divides us" and then promote the exploitation of a new issue to divide people, but at least we would be seeing a religious leader trying to make religious arguments for a particular social policy that already has substantive secular arguments. That's OK — I may not agree with their religious arguments, but I don't have a problem with them being made when there are already substantive secular arguments.
What we have here, though, is a politician seeking the highest elected office in America who is trying to promote a secular political issue as also being a religious issue. Who does Barack Obama think he is? He's not a pastor or minister, nor is he running for the office of "Highest American Priest." He has no business promoting anything as being "genuinely religious" or not; indeed, this is something which Christians should arguably be more annoyed with.
Christians look to their priests, pastors, and ministers for advice on how their religion can inform their responses to pressing social and political issues. Christians shouldn't have to deal with elected politicians stepping into that role and trying to tell them what their religion has to say about the matter. Can you imagine if George W. Bush gave a speech where he tried to make a scriptural, religious, and explicitly Christian argument against abortion, gay marriage, or anything else? Liberals would be howling with outrage, insisting that this disrespects the separation of church and state while making the same points I'm bringing up here.
They'd be right to do so, too. Barack Obama and George W. Bush may have their views on certain matters influenced by their religion, but they have no business trying to instruct the nation about what a proper Christian response to some issue is, should be, or even might be. They have no business telling religious believers what is or should be a proper "religious" issue in the first place — if citizens want to make religious arguments for or against something then that's their right. If they don't, then they shouldn't bother. Getting involved with religion simply isn't part of the job description of any elected government official and certainly not President of the United States.