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.
“Given today’s religiously diverse context, this way of thinking about religion and spirituality provides a handy bridge across religious differences,” said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University.
Ammerman said she first became aware of the centrality of the Golden Rule precept as she studied American congregations in the 1990s, and more extensive surveys since then have underscored the premium that U.S. believers put on this live-and-let-live tenet as opposed to any specific sectarian doctrine.
“Consistently, roughly half say that it’s how you live your life everyday and how you treat others,” said Ammerman, whose book on these and other findings, “Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Everyday Life,” will be published next year. “About 40 percent place the emphasis on more evangelical practices like reading the Bible and witnessing to others. And about 10 percent say that it’s about working for justice.”