My Take: On gay marriage, Obama, Billy Graham, and a tale of 2 Christianities
President Obama cited his Christianity in explaining his support for gay marriage.
May 10th, 2012
11:41 AM ET

My Take: On gay marriage, Obama, Billy Graham, and a tale of 2 Christianities

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Not so long ago and not so far away, the culture wars stuck to a simple script.

On questions such as abortion, the Republicans would denounce the Democrats for preaching a "secular agenda." The Democrats would denounce the GOP for injecting religion into politics. Then, because the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God, the Republicans would usually win.

Things today are more confusing, and more interesting.

After John Kerry’s defeat at the hands of George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, the Democrats got religion. Nowadays they too present their public policy positions in moral and often biblical terms, describing the question of taxes, for example, as a matter of “fairness” and in some cases quoting from the Gospel of Luke (“Blessed are the poor.”)

Nowhere is this shift more stark than on the gay marriage debate. In a week that saw North Carolinians inject a gay marriage ban into their Constitution, the nation’s most celebrated preacher and the nation's most celebrated politician weighed in—as Christians.

In full-page ads in North Carolina newspapers, Billy Graham said, “The Bible is clear—God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman." In an interview yesterday with ABC’s Robin Roberts, President Obama said that when he and the First Lady “think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

Both men ignored facts that did not support their cases. Graham did not mention the many cases of polygamy in the Christian Bible. And Obama ignored the many cases in which homosexuality (particularly male homosexuality) is denounced.

Two things are striking about this debate. The first is that both sides are now conducting it in religious terms. Whereas the GOP in prior culture wars was able to denounce the Democratic Party for pushing a “secular agenda,” now it is in the much more difficult position of claiming (as Rick Santorum did of Obama) that the left is preaching a “phony theology.”

Second, it is striking how closely this debate mirrors the slavery debate in antebellum America. Then, pro-slavery forces read key passages in the Bible in a "commonsense" manner and concluded that God was in favor of slavery. Meanwhile, anti-slavery activists, seeking after the "spirit" rather than the "letter" of the Biblical text, concluded that slavery flew in the face of both "love your neighbor" and the Golden Rule.

As Mark Noll argues in his book America’s God, the fact that the Bible seemed to most "commonsense" readers to support slavery brought on a crisis of authority that helped to produce what we now liberal Protestantism. Many American Christians at the time just knew slavery was wrong, so they learned to read the Bible in a different way.

We may be at a similar inflection point today. If you take a literal approach to the Biblical books and focus only at passages on sexuality, the Bible seems to support Graham. But if you focus on its broader message of love, it casts its vote for Obama.

As with slavery in the nineteenth century, public opinion in the twenty-first century is shifting rapidly on the gay marriage question, and not only among secular types. Billy Graham and other evangelicals who continue to insist that “the Bible is clear” in its opposition to gay marriage would do well to heed the lessons of America's most costly conflagration over race.

As they preach what they see as the "clear" meaning of scripture, they are not only swimming against the tide of history. They are putting their own religious tradition at risk.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Bible • Billy Graham • Christianity • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Homosexuality • Politics • Same-sex marriage • United States

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    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

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    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

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    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.