Barack Obama defended same-sex civil unions Sunday by referring Christians against the practice to look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which he contends supports gay civil unions.
"I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other," Obama said, referring to unions that provide all the legal benefits of marriage but the title, according to Christian Broadcasting Network. "I don't think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state.
"If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans," the Democratic presidential candidate contends. "That's my view. But we can have a respectful disagreement on that."
Media agencies speculate that Obama was referring to Matthew 7:12: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."
Obama was responding to a question posed by a local pastor during an appearance in Nelsonville, Ohio. Pastor Leon Forte had asked the candidate how he plans to win the support of evangelical voters who disagree with him on moral issues.
But not all Christians were happy with Obama's use of the Bible to defend civil unions.
Pastor John Barner, manager of pastoral care at Focus on the Family, said:
"We are always saddened as evangelical Christians when others who identify themselves as Christians do not have the high view of Scripture that we believe is so important. We believe isolated portions of Scripture should not be used to justify a personal preference or a social position that goes in a different direction than the overall message of Scripture."
The FOTF pastor said the Scripture is "pretty clear" in defining and affirming that marriage is "an exclusive, lifetime relationship between a man and a woman."
"The compromising positions of these candidates are a disappointment to us as evangelical Christians," he added.
Sen. Hillary Clinton has also expressed her support for civil unions.
"It's a personal position," she said in August, according to FOTF. "I am absolutely in favor of civil unions with full equality."
Denny Burk, professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, also criticized Obama for insinuating that the Sermon on the Mount should be given greater emphasis than the teaching in Romans about homosexuality.
"The fact is that Jesus appointed Paul to bear his name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), many of whom were living in homosexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)," Burk said, according to the Baptist Press.
"The passage in Romans condemning homosexuality was not obscure to first century readers living in the Roman Empire. It's only obscure to modern readers when they are looking for biblical grounds to justify that which God condemns," the New Testament professor argued.
"As a matter of public policy, the best way to honor God's intention for marriage and human sexuality is to keep monogamous, heterosexual marriage privileged in law," he said. "Unfortunately, the policies of Senator Obama fall far short of the biblical ideal."
Amid ongoing questioning about his religion, Obama defended his personal faith while responding to the Ohio pastor, saying:
"I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian. I've been a member of the same church for 20 years. I pray to Jesus every night and try to go to church as much as I can."
The Illinois senator explained that he hasn't been home on Sunday for several months now.
The dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Russell D. Moore, cautioned Christians to not jump to conclusions about Obama.
"Conservative evangelicals and other social conservatives should not see Senator Obama's statements here as necessarily bad news," Moore said in a statement to Baptist Press. "He is acknowledging that his theological presuppositions affect the way he views governmental justice issues. We should be willing to engage that conversation, even when (as will often be the case) we have something very different to say."
Obama's pro-same-sex union comments came three days after he released a letter to the gay community vowing to use the "bully pulpit" as president to "treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws."