Last week's clash between Dr. James Dobson and Barack Obama is but the latest skirmish in a war that dates back to the time of Christ. At issue: What is Christian truth? Does the true Christian put social peace ahead of his duty to make God's Law man's law?
In a speech in June 2006, Obama, citing the Book of Leviticus, which declares homosexuality an abomination, noted that Leviticus also says the eating of shellfish is an abomination and condones slavery.
Moreover, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is "a passage so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."
"Folks haven't been reading their Bibles," said Obama.
"Even ... if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States ... whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's or with Al Sharpton's?"
Barack was saying that, since Christians disagree deeply over what is biblical truth, why fight? Let us "try to translate some of our concerns in a universal language so that we can have an open and vigorous debate rather than have religion divide us."
In Catholicism, this is the heresy of indifferentism, which holds that one religion is just as good as another and all religions can be a path to salvation. The Pew poll out last week reveals that 82 percent of Protestants believe there are multiple paths to salvation, as do 79 percent of Catholics and 57 percent of evangelicals.
A striking development. For did not Christ say, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"?
Dr. Dobson is having none of it. Tuesday, he accused Obama of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology."
"(H)e is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter," said Dobson. "Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the life of tiny babies?"
"What he (Obama) is saying here is that unless everyone agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."
Dobson has no small point. For in his litany of moral heroes, Barack himself selected no "can't-we-all-just-get-along?" Christians.
Indeed, Obama celebrates the Underground Railroad and the abolitionists who, to end slavery, took us over the brink into Civil War. He invokes the defiant marchers of Selma Bridge and Dr. King, who chose confrontation and tore the nation asunder rather than see segregation endure.
Obama, however, is now preaching a kumbaya Christianity where leaders who believe abortion is the killing of the innocent unborn are to set their convictions and cause aside in the name of ecumenical amity.
It is Dobson who, in his intolerance of perceived evil, seems in the tradition of the abolitionists, and Barack who appears more like the milquetoast believers of whom Christ said he would spit them out of his mouth because they were neither hot nor cold and whom Dante consigned to the deepest reaches of hell.
Does social peace require the toleration of manifest evil?
In the Roman Empire before Constantine, Christians accepted martyrdom rather than burn incense to Caesar. Thomas More went to his death rather than assent to the divorce of the Henry VIII, declaring, "I am the King's good servant, but God's first."
A disciple of Gandhi, Dr. King is celebrated as a champion of civil disobedience against the injustice of segregation. What would Obama say to massive civil disobedience by those who believe the killing of 50 million unborn children since Roe v. Wade is a greater evil than segregating folks by race in public accommodations?
Would an Obama, who hails the abolitionists and Dr. King, condemn them as divisive? Was not that the charge thrown up at Dr. King?
The divide between Dobson and Barack is mirrored among many who profess the Christian faith. It split the Baptists. It is splitting the Episcopalians. A traditionalist minority has severed communion over female bishops and homosexual marriages.
Barack has a "fruitcake interpretation" of the Constitution if he thinks it requires us to give up fighting for justice because it may be divisive, says Dobson. Here, too, he has a point.
The unbridgeable divide between the two portends a troubled future. Can Americans ever come together if we are divided in our deepest beliefs about morality and truth, where one side believes gay marriage is moral progress, the other holds it a moral outrage; where one side views abortion to be a mighty advance for women's freedom, the other sees it as legalization of mass slaughter of unborn babies?
There can be no peaceful coexistence in a cultural war because it is at root a religious war. Far into the future, Americans seem fated to face each other again and again "at some disputed barricade."