This week’s hot news is undoubtedly the re-election of President Obama for a second term. The result was not a huge surprise for Britons but the vote was tight: 50.2% to 48.3% in Obama’s favour, with the Florida result still to be announced.
Whilst the President is admired in the UK amongst politicians and the public, he is less popular at home than when first elected in 2008. In part the expectations of him were beyond realisation in the difficult economic circumstances he inherited. More surprising was the widespread antipathy towards him amongst American evangelical Christians. One I spoke to this week said he voted for the Mormon, Mitt Romney, as the lesser of two evils. Retrospectively, it seems that more Christians voted for Obama this time than in 2008 but his views on abortion and same-sex marriage have alienated many. Since that also applies to British politicians it is worth examining.
Conservative evangelical Christians tend to view these two issues as non-negotiable issues in their politics because they believe the Bible defines both as sins. Whilst I share their conviction that the Bible has supreme authority in relation to all that it teaches, their use of it in politics raises three problems. First, there are some Christians who come to different conclusions on these issues and also believe that they are faithful to biblical teaching. For example, the conservative view of same-sex marriage is that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman. They see this affirmed in the Creation narrative and Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh”. They note that everything Jesus says about marriage reiterates this and observe the biblical condemnations of homosexual acts in Leviticus 18 and Romans1. Christians who support same- sex marriage, including MPs in all three major parties, point to the character of God, the relational thread running through the Bible, and Jesus’ stress on love. Of course there is room for debate between these points of view but they are both held with conviction that they are biblically Christian.
The second problem is about priorities in one’s political thinking. Even if one takes the conservative position on abortion and same-sex marriage, are they the issues that define what Christians stand for in politics? Many would say that social justice and care for the poor and powerless are higher in Jesus’ priorities. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” according to Matthew 25:31-46.
Thirdly, realism tells us that as minorities in society our impact on politics and policy making is limited this side of Christ’s return. That means that we only achieve influence by working co-belligerently with those who share our views on particular issues and beg to differ on other issues. Life in a fallen world cannot always be as tidy as we might wish.