In a town meeting last Sunday, Senator Barack Obama made an interesting religious statement. He said, "I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other ... If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount."
I've just two comments. First, homosexual couples already can visit each other in hospitals. Hospital rules generally are that a person can receive no more than two visitors at a time, but the visitors are not required to be legal spouses or biological family.
Second, where in the Sermon on the Mount would Senator Obama point us?
The sermon is found in chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew. Nowhere in it does Jesus mention "civil unions."
Senator Obama was not specific. He could have been thinking of the beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). He could have been thinking of the warning, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). Most people think that the Senator was referring to the "Golden-rule, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
Looking at these three passages in reverse order, the Golden-rule is easy to misinterpret. A thief would probably prefer a victim's home to be left open and the valuables sitting neatly packed on the table, ready to grab and go. Does this mean that the Christian, "doing unto others" ought to leave door unlocked, valuables packed, ready to go? No, not at all.
The call to be sympathetic does not mean that Christians are to abdicate values. Right and wrong do not become whatever we want them to be. What the Christian homeowner should do is confront the thief in love, just like we would want to be confronted, if we were about to make the same mistake.
The other passages - "blessed are the merciful" and "judge not least you be judged" - are both recognition that no one is perfect.
This is like John Bardford's famous quote, when seeing a prisoner taken away to be executed, "'There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford."
This does not mean that there will be no judgment; rather, it is statement that we are all sinners and, thankfully, God is the judge, not us.
There is one other passage in the Sermon on the Mount that the Senator from Illinois may want to consider when determining Jesus' views on same-sex unions. Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus follows this statement with several illustrations which make his view of the Old Testament Law clear. He said, "You have heard it said that you shall not murder, but I say to you whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."
He said, "You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Notice, Jesus isn't taking away from Old Testament Law, he is adding it. He is expanding the interpretation beyond the literal to the intent of the author. Now here is the crux of the matter, this same law that Jesus is in favor of is the same law that teaches that same-sex unions are wrong. (Leviticus 18:22).
So why would Jesus be in favor of the law, in general, but not in this specific instance? What is right and wrong does not change even when it is unpopular.
The Senator from Illinois needs to read the Sermon on the Mount again, especially the part where Jesus says, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets."