Michael Gerson, the evangelical Christian whose sparkling oratory sent soldiers off to a pointless war knows all about true religion:
>Obama’s criticism of the religious right for baptizing the agenda of economic conservatism — making tax cuts their highest legislative priority — had some justified sting. But then he proceeded, in the typical manner of the religious left, to give a variety of more liberal causes a similar kind of full-immersion baptism: passing a “universal health care bill,” withdrawing quickly from Iraq, approving comprehensive immigration reform. Agree with these proposals or not, none is a test of true religion.
>The whole enterprise — there are examples on the right and left — of asking “What Would Jesus Do?” on the earned-income tax credit or missile defense is presumptuous. Jesus, were he around again in the flesh, would probably be doing sensible things such as healing the sick, embracing outcasts and preaching sacrificial love. After all, he showed little interest in issuing a “Contract With the Roman Empire.” But his followers eventually found that “love your neighbor” had political consequences, leading them to challenge slavery, infanticide and the mistreatment of women and children.
>This has been the Christian compromise on faith and politics. The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim “Thus sayeth the Lord,” spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.
>Obama is clearly more fluent on religious issues than most in his party. But to appeal broadly to religious voters, he will need to be more than the candidate of the religious left.
It’s presumptuous to talk about what Jesus would do, but Gerson does so anyway by way of telling us what Jesus would not do as well as what sorts of things you can’t say Jesus would do. You can’t speak, he says, about specific policy proposals Jesus would support–e.g., welfare reform (from the right) or welfare (from the left). Aside from the fact that that’s precisely what the Christian right has been doing for years, Obama hasn’t endorsed policies (at least on Gerson’s presentation of them) as somehow necessarily following from the Christian faith without meaningful debate or non-sectarian justification. Gerson hasn’t given any indication, in other words, that Obama has invoked the commands of his Christian faith as the sole justification for his myriad policy proposals.
Of course, whether some given policy–say preemptive war–is consistent with the Christian faith is another question, the one that Obama is probably asking.