Public Policy from the Sermon on the Mount

Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

– Barack Obama, June 28, 2006, “Call to Renewal”

The more I read this passage, the more confused I am.  Obama goes on to make a good distinction between the commandments of a religion based on the teachings of that religion and general laws and policies that must be agreed upon by people of many religions.  But I wonder what he had in mind about basing “public policy” on the Sermon on the Mount.

Does he mean outlawing anger or lust?  Or providing tax incentives for the meek?  Or passing national building codes requiring foundations to be set on solid rock?  It’s not a simple equation from Scripture to public policy – and, I would argue, many of the opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage are not basing their positions on proof texts, as Obama parodies them.  I’m not sure if this is political rhetoric to play up to his crowd, or if Obama legitimately doesn’t understand the Biblical arguments against abortion or homosexual marriage.

Obama has been increasing his religious language in the last few days, and the great website GetReligion.org posted an article calling for reporters to ask Obama more direct questions about how he sees various Biblical passages influencing his policy positions.  I second that motion.

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