The Golden Rule rules

David Gibson at Religion News Service notices that in America, the Golden Rule–treating others as you wish to be treated–is still at the heart of popular (and political) American religious thought.

As pundits and politicians struggle to divine the political fallout from President Obama’s sudden endorsement of same-sex marriage, one thing has become clear: The Golden Rule invoked by Obama to explain his change of heart is the closest thing Americans have to a common religious law, and that has important implications beyond the battle for gay rights.

In fact, one of the most striking aspects of Obama’s revelation on Wednesday (May 9) that he and his wife, Michelle, support marriage rights for gays and lesbians, is that he invoked their Christian faith to support his views. In past years, Obama – as many believers still do – had cited his religious beliefs to oppose gay marriage.

Obama told ABC News that he and the first lady “are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

Obama has frequently mentioned the Golden Rule or that general idea when speaking about how his faith shapes his policies, and he can point to chapter and verse to back up his views.

Jesus twice invoked the Golden Rule in the Gospels, in a phrase that is often rendered “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And Jesus is cited three times boiling down all of God’s law to what is known as the Great Commandment, a dual injunction to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

In those passages, Jesus is actually citing the Hebrew Scriptures — specifically Leviticus 19:18, when God tells Moses to “Love your neighbor as yourself” — and scholars of religion say some version of the Golden Rule can be found in almost every religious tradition.

That universality is especially useful in modern-day America, as the religious landscape has not only become increasingly diverse, but as people of different faiths are increasingly living and working together, and marrying each other and raising children.

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