Obama's new Bible bobble gets media notice -- and a few defenders

Remember the mashup by the Biblicist-in-Chief to support his new immigration policy? On Nov. 20, President Obama said the Bible tells us that "we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger –- we were strangers once, too."

Well, he's at it again -- while arguing immigration reform again -- and the varying reactions of news outlets are instructive.

"I think the Good Book says, you know, don't throw stones in glass houses, or make sure we're looking at the log in our eye before we're pointing out the mote in other folks' eyes," Obama said Tuesday at an "Immigration Town Hall" in Nashville. "And I think that's as true in politics as it is in life."

He was partly right. Jesus did say something like it in Matthew 7:3-4, although Obama apparently mixed translations. Here it is in the commonly quoted King James Version:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

The New Revised Standard Version, used by mainline Protestants, substitutes "speck" for "mote" and "log" for "beam." So Obama wasn't wrong, just patching together different versions.

"One problem, though," as The Week says: "The Bible never mentions glass houses."

Actually, more than one problem in Obama's Nashville speech -- how he applied his earlier "stranger" theme:
It’s worth considering the Good Book when you're thinking about immigration. This Christmas season there’s a whole story about a young, soon-to-be-mother and her husband of modest means looking for a place to house themselves for the night, and there’s no room at the inn.

Most mainstream media didn't make a lot of Obama's Bible bobble. Time magazine spent a brief, breezy 195 words on it, saying Obama "jumbled his Biblical metaphors." Time did suggest that the gaffe was especially awkward in Nashville, both "the center of the Christian music industry, and a city that has [one] of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country."

Despite its more conservative tilt, the Washington Times took only a slightly longer 242 words, backgrounding us on Matthew 7: 1-3.  The Times notes also that the Bible has no glass houses. But it coolly reports his effort to compare Joseph and Mary to modern immigrants.

Other media, though, were more acidic. As Bizpac Review said about Mary and Joseph:

Actually, they were the very opposite of illegal aliens. According to the story in Luke, they were traveling to Bethlehem, in their native land, because of a law, not in spite of one. The president also seems to think the old adage about “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes from the Bible too.  

Reactions of other conservative media, of course, range from testy to outraged. If you want to sample those, try Newsmax, Breitbart, The Blaze, and of course Rush Limbaugh.

Politicians misquoting scripture, of course,  is a time-dishonored tradition. In 1988, I covered a speech by candidate George Bush Sr., in which he cited Matthew 6:39. Problem? Well, Matthew 6 ends at verse 34. Considering that Bush's audience was the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, his attempt to show Bible literacy fell flat.

Still, it's one thing for a candidate to fail to impress televangelists; it's another for a sitting president to cite holy writ in support of federal policy.

For Obama's error this week, more liberal media tried some elaborate defenses, like a long-winded apologia in the Washington Post. The story acknowledges that the Bible mentions no glass houses; then it says the "sentiment" behind it is "clearly in the Bible."

Among the evidence is Matthew 7:1: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged." Surprisingly, it also quotes Sirach -- "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and whoever sets a snare will be caught in it" -- surprisingly, because a liberal Protestant like Obama doesn't likely pore through the Catholic Apocrypha.

The Post admits that Obama fumbled in trying to support immigration policy with Mary and Joseph's trip to Bethlehem. But the story counters: "Obama might have had a better case had he turned to another gospel, Matthew, in which Joseph, Mary and Jesus are instructed by an angel to flee from Jesus's birthplace of Bethlehem to Egypt, in order to escape the wrath of King Herod."

So there.


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