Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) criticized Barack Obama's linking of Jesus Christ's teachings on wealth and the poor with the president's policy call for higher taxes on the most wealthy Americans as heard in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, saying the president is not "theologian-in-chief."
Obama told prayer breakfast attendees Thursday morning that his tax policy is influenced by the scriptural saying "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required."
Hatch later sought to set the president straight on Jesus and the Bible.
"Someone needs to remind the president that there was only one person who walked on water and he did not occupy the Oval Office," he said on the Senate floor Thursday evening.
The Bible, he said, pertains more to "regular matters" than of politics and tax policy. He also doubted that the president's statement reflected the religious beliefs of its listeners.
"The president comments this morning share more with political strategy than they do with the religious beliefs of most Americans," said Hatch, a devout Mormon.
The president's spiritual adviser Joel C. Hunter told The Christian Post after the Thursday event that Obama's words made "moral sense."
However, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Associate Professor of Ethics Craig Vincent Mitchell said Obama's justification for higher taxes for the rich is not biblically sound.
"When Jesus talked about giving, he was talking about from the individual giving from the innermost desire of one's own heart. Jesus never advocated the government giving from someone else's wealth," he told The Christian Post.
He said those who try to equate redistribution of wealth with Jesus are taking scriptures out of context.
The phrase "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required" comes from Luke 12:48, NIV. Jesus made the remark after having told the disciples, whom he had been teaching for some time, a parable about the watchful servant waiting for the second coming
Jesus told the disciples:
"Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."
Mitchell said that the Old Testament described the Israelites paying more of a flat tax than a "progressive tax."
Hunter defended the president saying that Obama was simply trying to explain that he does reflect on the principles of the Bible when he makes decisions.
"He is trying to make connections between what is actually happening in the decision-making realm of politics and faith. So he is saying, that these policies we are making isn't just a matter of affairs, but also a matter of what our faith have told us to do," Hunter explained.
Sen. Hatch, however, lamented that Obama would even use the nonpartisan event to talk about his legislative agenda.
Richard Land, a Southern Baptist ethicist and executive editor of The Christian Post, agreed the president's message was unusually political.
"I thought it was the most political speech that I heard a president give at the prayer breakfast and I've been to several prayer breakfasts," said Land to CP Thursday.
Land also said that several attendees had told him that the political nature of the president's speech was "unfortunate."
For his part, Mitchell said it is OK for the president to talk about politics from a biblical perspective, but he should quote the Bible correctly.