Barack Obama used the national prayer breakfast to sell his tax plan. In so doing he mangled Scripture and amused or outraged many clergymen.
What Obama said at the prayer breakfast
The National Prayer Breakfast is not usually a political event. But last week the man now holding office as President, Barack H. Obama, made it one. He chose that event to make a political point about his soak-the-rich tax plan.
I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.”
Of course, Obama is not talking about himself, any more than Warren Buffet was when he proposed his “rule.” (Buffet is now trying to evade his own rule, at last report.) If he were, he would urge anyone as “rich” as he to draw extra checks, marked “Pay to the order of the Bureau of the Public Debt,” and send them in.
But more to the point: Obama’s remarks at the prayer breakfast totally misconstrue Scripture and do not impress certain clergymen to whom the Bible is still important.
How Obama got it wrong
First, Obama made an elementary mistake: he took that Scripture out of context. The quote he made is from Luke 12:48. The exact English words he used, aren’t the big mistake. Even if they don’t exactly match anyone’s translation, they still are a good translation of the original Greek text.
But Jesus did not say that in the context of Divine blessing and “giving something back.” He said it in the context of responsibility, and of doing one’s job.
The full passage is Luke 12:35:48. In it, Jesus tells His students to watch out for His eventual return. Specifically, He wants them to take the attitude of business managers waiting for the owners to come back. In fact, in the verse before the one Obama quoted, Jesus says that the manager who knew what his owner wanted him to do, and didn’t do it, would pay a severe penalty. Then comes the rest of the verse, that Obama did not quote: that the manager who didn’t know what the owner expected of him, and blundered badly, would pay a lighter penalty. Here is the full text of those two verses, from the New American Standard Bible:
And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
For modern times, read “employee” or “manager” instead of “slave,” and “owner” instead of “master.” Thus in the full context, Jesus is saying something that any person who works for a boss knows without anyone telling him. Which is: when your boss pays you generous wages (or salary) and benefits, he expects a good job from you. And when he trusts you with much of his assets, he expects even more effort from you to keep them safe, and multiply them.
More to the point, Jesus wants His students to spread His Good News to other people. In that way, we would act like the good manager who knows what his owner wants him to do, and does it. This has nothing to do with either taxes or charity (public or private).
And if Obama wants to say that “to whom much is given, much is expected,” then he should heed his own words. When a President speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast, he ought to say something profound and, above all, Scripturally correct. He should not instead deliver a banal campaign speech. And he certainly ought not read something into the Bible to make his point.
At least two clergymen to whom CNAV talked to yesterday about Obama’s remarks were singularly unimpressed. Assistant Pastor Jeff Briden of Parsippany Baptist Church (Parsippany, NJ) hadn’t watched the prayer breakfast, and so hadn’t heard what Obama said. When CNAV repeated Obama’s words to him, he guffawed.
Now I’ve heard everything!
His boss, Alan B. Brown, didn’t laugh.
The verse he’s talking about, is about our Christian walk, and being a good Christian example to people. It has nothing to do with Obama’s tax plan.
Dr. Michael Youssef of the Church of the Apostles seems to agree. “Abuse of Scriptures,” he cried, and even said that Obama should apologize for what he said at the prayer breakfast.
One has to wonder if Mr. Obama has replaced God with his administration. He must believe that when he says “much is given,” he refers to what…the government [gives]; and “much is demanded,” as that which…the government [demands]. This is 180 degrees opposite to the truth.
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) said much the same, and then added this:
Over the last few weeks, he has done more to assault religion in this country than any president, certainly in recent history, maybe even in [all] history.
Santorum cited Obama’s latest order to tell Catholic hospitals to provide birth-control pills and other methods to their employees as a condition of the funding that all hospitals get.
In sum, Obama surprised many by invoking the Bible at all. And he got it almost laughably wrong. He would almost have done better to stay away from the National Prayer Breakfast.ARVE Error: need id and provider
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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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