Teaching in California and Watching a Debate on Religion from Afar 06.25.08

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Well, I am back from Israel and what do I run into as I do my annual two weeks at Talbot Theological Seminary? It is a debate between Barak Obama and James Dobson about faith, the Bible, and the political environment. This one is about an Obama speech given two years ago to a group sponsored by Sojourners. Now when politicians get into religious discussion my ears perk up. This speech seems to have been a strange combination of reading the Bible in a very flat manner, in which the food laws tied to Judaism are discussed along side Christian views without any seeming awareness of how Jesus discussed the issue of Jewish practices and how the church came to handle such questions. On the other hand, the key question Obama raised about which American citizens' Christianity should be followed (those like Al Sharpton or that of James Dobson) seems to have been the kind of contrast and theoretical question Dobson missed the point of (Dobson was upset to be placed next to Sharpton). Advocacy was a point in this speech. Obama's question was whose advocacy should count and how should such advocacy work in a society where a mixture of religions and wordlviews are at play in the citizenry. It is like asking who would get to pray if prayer was allowed back in schools. The question is actually a very relevant one. In a country that involves a kind of social contract with people of varying backgrounds, how does one make the case for the values one holds dear? In advocacy, yes. Seeking and arguing for a common good, absolutely. Making the case from a moral base that might well appeal to an array of sources, including the Bible, yes. It also needs to be done in a way that engages neighbors of differing background in a manner that attempts to have them appreciate an array of reasons for pursuing ends for society's benefit, not just arguments that appeal to religious reasoning or grounding. In the end, religious faith believes God asks of people what is good for them as human beings, things that make for human and societal health. Penetrating to those kinds of arguments might actually help public discourse and cause all of us to reflect more on whay we do and seek to live as we do. So as I watch this discussion from afar, I ask myself if the attention this topic has received might actually move away from the personalities that cause it to gain public attention to a real discussion about how a pluralistic culture engages on questions of the day without always turning into a food fight.

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