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Question of religion and politics

It’s a question I hear with increasing frequency. “Does God care more about homosexuality than about hunger?” The question arises because those who purport to represent religion in politics — people such as the Revs. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson — expend vastly more effort crusading against homosexuality than against hunger.

It’s a question I hear with increasing frequency. “Does God care more about homosexuality than about hunger?”

The question arises because those who purport to represent religion in politics — people such as the Revs. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson — expend vastly more effort crusading against homosexuality than against hunger.

Their websites underline the point. Dobson’s Focus on the Family site contains sections on abstinence, education, gambling, homosexuality and marriage but nothing on hunger. The same goes for Robertson and Falwell, though Robertson does offer the opportunity to support his flying hospital, buy his “age defying protein pancakes” and sample his diet plan. (I may look into the last.)

The Christian Coalition seems to believe that God cares more about the flat tax than about hunger. Among the 18 agenda items on its website are making the president’s tax cuts permanent, confirming Bush’s judicial nominees and support for anti-gay measures. But there is nothing about hunger here either.

Indeed, the Christian Coalition apparently finds biblical support for “abolition of the IRS and the federal income tax and replacing it with a flat tax or a national sales tax” but can’t seem to locate a biblical imperative to feed the hungry.

I can. Deuteronomy 15:7-10 commands, “If there is among you a poor man … you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”

So what does God really care about? Leave aside the possibility of the Almighty speaking to Robertson about the tax code. To be sure, Leviticus does include an express prohibition of a male homosexual act. In verses nearby God expresses similar disapproval of sex during menstruation and the mixing of linen and wool in clothing. While traditional Jews still obey both those injunctions, I haven’t seen Dobson leading a crusade against sex during a woman’s period or even against the mixing of linen and wool. Why not?

(As someone unschooled in Christian theology, I can’t help but ask myself what conversation Dobson had with the Lord in which He said, “I’m deadly serious in my opposition to homosexuality, but I was just kidding about the whole sex-during-menstruation thing.”)

And why not a crusade against hunger and homelessness? I make no pretense of special ability to divine the Divine priorities, but, if volume is an indicator, the heavenly concern about hunger and homelessness outstrips concern about homosexuality. There are two references in the Pentateuch to homosexual acts but scores of references to the hungry and homeless. The prophets rail against those who oppress the poor and fail to feed the hungry but do not castigate the gay.

One of two interpretations is possible. Either there was no homosexuality to critique during the prophetic era (dubious) or the Lord put the priority on helping the hungry.

For those of us who take religion seriously, its texts and teachings are essential sources of moral values. But religion must be authentic. Some may struggle with issues such as gay marriage; however, there can be no doubt that God expects us to feed the hungry, house the homeless and take care of the poor. Those who claim to represent religion but ignore those priorities present a perverted picture of biblical values.

Three notes on last week’s column: First, one line could have been misinterpreted as a critique of the Latino team in the Kerry campaign. It was not. The team was outstanding. Second, a small programming error yielded very slightly inaccurate precinct-level exit-poll data. It does not change any of the conclusions, and the correct data are now in the Web version of the article. An editing error of mine has also been corrected.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last year.