Bill Clinton’s Analogy Revisited: Barack Obama vs. Jesse Jackson

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Last week, presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke with Evangelical magazine Christianity Today about faith and morality. He gave the interview to convince Southern voters that he is not an undercover Muslim, as some vicious Internet-driven rumors are suggesting, but rather a true Christian, like them.

Did it work?

His overwhelming victory (55 to 27 percent) over Hillary Clinton on Saturday, in the first-of-the-South primary, was bittersweet. Exit polls confirm that among black voters, Obama holds a commanding advantage over his chief rival. But the serious concern to his campaign is the fact he only won 25 percent of the white vote, most of whom are Evangelicals.

Former President Bill Clinton, who used to revel in his reputation as “the first black president” and who now apparently has ambitions for other titles, pointed to the racial divide among the Southern electorate as a bad omen for “black Barack,” as he would like the candidate to be known. In what was surely a pre-approved analogy, he reminded the country that civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, also won South Carolina in 1984 and 1988, before crashing and burning on Super Tuesday.

It was a low blow — very low — almost as low as they come.

President Clinton’s comparison, however, of Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson is not altogether unfounded. Contrary to Bill Clinton’s bigoted implication, their similarity is not primarily one of race. It has more to do with their unique understanding of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Both Rev. Jackson and Sen. Obama have an uncanny ability to use the language of a Southern Baptist or Evangelical preacher when it is to their advantage, while at the same time rejecting some of the most basic principles of Christian morality.

We see the perfect example of this religious dualism in Senator Obama’s interview with Christianity Today. “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.”

Then when the interview turns to Christian moral teaching — in particular, abortion — he flips and flops. He uses Christian lingo to justify a pro-choice position that is contrary to the beliefs of the major Christian denominations in the United States, including Southern Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic.

Examine carefully the religious language he employs: “I do think that those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren't expressing the full reality of it. But what I believe is that women do not make these decisions casually, and that they struggle with it fervently with their pastors, with their spouses, with their doctors."

Is Sen. Obama suggesting that Christians who consider “the moral elements of the decision” and who “struggle with it fervently with their pastors” may be in line with God’s will by deciding that abortion is the right choice? I think he is, or as he would probably say, “the right choice for them.”

Sen. Obama goes even further with this creative mix of religious talk and completely subjective morality. He suggests women “pray about” whether to have an abortion — as if God might whisper his approval. In reference to decisions about late-term abortions he says, “I think they need to be made in consultation with doctors, they have to be prayed upon, or people have to be consulting their conscience on it.”

I don’t doubt Sen. Obama’s sincerity. He is surely well-intentioned. But like Rev. Jackson, his relativistic philosophy on this issue and others does not jive with Christianity. God doesn’t contradict himself. And if, for whatever twisted reason, my conscience tells me that it’s good to do evil (rob my neighbor, for example) I can be sure my conscience is simply ill-informed.

When Barack Obama’s Democratic rivals (and Rudy Giuliani) talk about their support for abortion, they generally use political language. They argue that a government does not have the right to interfere in a woman’s choice. Right or wrong — and as you probably guess, I think their reasoning is wrong — at least they aren’t preaching that God is on their side.

As Sen. Obama faces the big stage of Super Tuesday and beyond, he may want to reconsider his novel approach of trying to convince voters that — unlike his rivals — he is a true Christian, just like them, because he talks the talk. Using the name of God to support non-Biblical positions is the most grievous way to use his name in vain.

If Sen. Obama continues to argue that legislative support of abortion (including partial birth abortion and no requirements for parental consent) is compatible with Christian theology, he will be making more enemies than friends and he may end up as just another Jesse Jackson.

He’s better than that.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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PS: On a lighter note, I've got a theory: God will be rooting for the New York Giants on Super Bowl Sunday. After all, he is known for being on the side of the poor and disadvantaged (the statistical underdogs); shuns the haughty and proud (those who flaunt perfect records); and punishes cheaters (hidden cameras and fake foot casts)! So the smart bet — theology data included — is on Big Blue! (But I'm not biased.)

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