TALLMAN: Would Jesus support Obama?

Only remaining candidate who backs his faith with bucks is Romney

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Every candidate for the presidency in 2012 claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. As an evangelical, I give people the benefit of the doubt whenever they so self-describe. However, as a voter, I’m obliged to scrutinize such claims more carefully. This isn’t because I will only vote for a fellow Christian. It’s because I refuse to vote for a fake.

When I judge the religious claims of a candidate, it’s not because I require them to match my beliefs. It’s to see whether they match his behavior, because the man who will lie about his religion won’t hesitate to lie about everything else.

Yet how do we judge a man’s Christianity? By counting Sunday attendance? By looking in his closet for idols - or affairs? A Bible knowledge quiz? Just look at money.

Jesus Christ was a man of few rules, but He did expect His followers to give charitably, the minimum standard for which was set by the Old Testament at one-tenth of annual income. This makes it simple. Any outspoken Christian candidate who has wealth but gives less than this is a religious hypocrite. So, who passes the test? Let’s start with the incumbent.

From 2000 through 2004, the Obamas earned $1,218,632 and attended Trinity United Church of Christ, where tithing is a dogma. Moreover, President Obama regularly tells us the rich have a moral duty to help the less fortunate - a view the Bible does affirm. Just how much of that $1.2 million did the follower of Christ give away?

He gave $10,770.

Over five years, the Obamas gave away exactly 0.88 percent of their income to charity, just 9.12 percent short of the bare minimum for Christians. That’s not social justice. It’s hypocrisy.

Yes, his giving has been higher in recent years. From 2005 to 2009, his income was $14,941,208, and his giving was $879,142, or 5.9 percent. That’s a lot better than 0.88 percent, but it’s still not a tithe. One does wonder whether this shift is the result of a religious epiphany or of a perceived political vulnerability. In fact, given the sudden surge in 2010 and 2011 to 14.2 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, the numbers look less like a changed heart and more like a changed campaign strategy. If so, however, the Catholic vice president is not participating. From 1998 to 2006, Joseph R. Biden earned an average of $236,688 per year. His single biggest annual gift to charity?

It was $380, and that’s no typo.

Yes, Ebenezer Biden gave a microscopic 0.13 percent of his income away over that nine-year period. There has been a recent surge, with Mr. Biden giving away $18,590 on $1,680,504 over the last five years, for a marginally less embarrassing 1.1 percent. By this standard, Mr. Obama is a Franciscan.

But what of the Republican field?

Herman Cain, a Baptist, and Michele Bachmann, an evangelical, never released their taxes and are, of course, out of the race now. Rick Perry, an evangelical, gave $70,569 on income of $695,484 from 2008 to 2010 for a tithe-tidy 10.1 percent, and Ron Paul, a Baptist, has refused to disclose his returns. But here’s where things get painful. In 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich earned $3,162,424, on which he gave a measly $81,133. That’s 2.6 percent for a Baptist-born-Lutheran-now-Catholic, who has likely been exhorted to tithe in both English and Latin.

But what about the most outspokenly religious candidate, the darling of my religious right? Rick Santorum’s campaign may be on pause, but do his financial deeds match his professions of faith? Is he a tither? Not quite.

From 2007 to 2010, Mr. Santorum earned $3,644,884 and donated an anemic $81,484, or 2.2 percent of his income, to charity, numbers comparable to Mr. Gingrich’s. This means Senator Religious is not Senator Generous, which means he’s really not Senator Religious, either.

This brings us to Mitt Romney. In 2010, the Mormon governor earned a whopping $21,646,507. Yes, that’s an eight-figure income. How much of it did he give away? That year, Mr. Romney gave away almost $3 million, about half to his church and half to his Tyler Foundation. That’s a robust 13.8 percent, by the way. In 2011, on a comparably massive $20,901,075, he gave away more than $4 million, or 19.2 percent, two-thirds to his church and one-third to the charity.

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