Focus on the Family, host of the Love Won Out ex-gay roadshow and national billboard campaigns, has been known to celebrate politicians who cherry-pick Old Testament verses to justify partisan political policies.
But when Barack Obama cited the Sermon on the Mount in an Ohio speech on Sunday, Focus on the Family’s partisan political unit objected — and was careful to misquote Obama.
Obama was recorded by WTAP-TV (full Q&A on video, scroll to 40 percent) responding to a supportive local pastor’s questions about 1) home foreclosures affecting his congregation, 2) Obama’s faith, 3) Christian social gospel, and 4) moral litmus tests that are imposed upon Christians by evangelicals. After discussing home foreclosures at length, Obama talked about his devout Christian faith and 20-year membership in the United Church of Christ. Eventually he addressed partisan moral litmus tests:
I will tell you that I don’t believe in gay marriage, but I do believe that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and the state should not discriminate against them. So I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other.
I don’t think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.
Focus on the Family Action misquoted Obama, omitting his lengthy discussion of faith and justice — and his narrow definition of a civil union. Focus solely quoted Obama as follows:
I don’t believe in gay marriage, but I do think that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and that the state should not discriminate against them. So, I believe in civil unions. … If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount. …
John Barner, a Focus “pastoral care” operative, then belittled Obama’s respect for the Bible and church, falsely insinuated that Obama supports marriage for gay persons, and — in disagreeing with Obama’s support for civil unions — implied that unidentified Bible verses deny same-sex-attracted persons the right to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property.
“We are always saddened as evangelical Christians when others who identify themselves as Christians do not have the high view of Scripture that we believe is so important. We believe isolated portions of Scripture should not be used to justify a personal preference or a social position that goes in a different direction than the overall message of Scripture.
“We believe Scripture is pretty clear in proscribing and affirming that marriage is to be an exclusive, lifetime relationship between a man and a woman. The compromising positions of these candidates are a disappointment to us as evangelical Christians.”
Focus on the Family uses its “Action” nameplate to sidestep federal restrictions on partisan activity by tax-exempt religious organizations. Yet the organization seems to freely use the services of its tax-exempt employees to engage in partisan politics.
But this tactic may be outliving its usefulness. Focus’ donations and its claim to speak for evangelical Christians are weakening, as the National Association of Evangelicals reasserts political independence and demands that environmentalism and concern for poverty be given equal time on the national agenda.
Hat tip: Chris Crain