Recently, President Obama gave a speech that would astound most Americans. The topic was faith. He made three points to answer the question,
“So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious (sic) for their own murderous ends?”
His three points? Humility, freedom of religion, and the universality of the Golden Rule to most religions and all of mankind.
He strongly condemns those who abuse religion for their own purposes:
“We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.”
He quotes Colossians 3:14.
He says, “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.”
In his closing remarks, he made the following appeal:
“If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose. We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”
WOW! Why didn’t we hear about this speech in the news?
Well, you did. You just didn’t hear about this part of the speech. See, these were the key points from his speech at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast.
Why didn’t you hear about these points that most Americans, and certainly all Christians should be able to agree with? Because the Twitterverse exploded in real time over a brief aside in his introductory remarks, and the right-wing blogosphere was in full attack before he began his first point.
Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that Mr. Obama was trying to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.” He said the president’s comparisons were “insulting” and “pernicious.” Mr. Gilmore said the comments go “further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”
“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said Jim Gilmore, the former Republican governor of Virginia. “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.” (New York Times, 2/5/15)
DOUBLE-WOW!!! What could be so heinous as to offend “every believing Christian in the US?”
Warning: The following quote can be highly offensive–please don’t read while eating, or in the presence of young children:
“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Yup. That’s it. The headlines have screamed how Obama has said Christians are just as bad as ISIL! How the President is defending radical Islamists. The pundits left out the next sentence, where he condemned violence under guise of religion in India. They also totally ignored the next words out of his mouth, which led to him introducing his three main points, which were a spiritual (Christian, but watered down for a national ecumenical audience) response to the violence in the name of religion running rampant in our world:
“So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”
This point is crucial! See, I read this as the President saying we should be on guard to ensure that we don’t twist our beliefs to our advantage, at the expense of others.
Me? I see a great example of introspection and humility. Jesus spent much of his latter ministry challenging the pious religious leaders of his day to examine themselves–a message which we should all continue to heed today. Unfortunately, many American Christians today consider ourselves as superior to all others, as God’s chosen people, above criticism. As the frothing commentators seem to clearly demonstrate, from our high horse, it’s easy to see that the atrocities of ISIL are a whole different level of ugly than anything we could ever do. How dare the President drag up 1000 year old history and try to call us righteous Christians? That was then. We’re better than that now (interestingly enough, the point of typically liberal Washington Post commentator Eugene Robinson).
Of all people, Christians should be the first to take a hard look inside, because we have a unique theology that tells us that even when we are inhabited by the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, we are still fighting a battle against our sinful human nature (see Romans 7:14-24).
Sure, we can point out that Christians such as William Wilberforce led the abolitionist movement. But read Dr. King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.” This amazing document was penned in response to CHRISTIAN leaders who challenged his actions in standing up for human rights. Just a few sentences before his “verbal rape” (yes, Star Parker really said that!), the President made the point that faith has, and is being used for both good and evil:
“…we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done. We see faith driving us to do right.
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”
Seems like his critics are doing the latter–they’re playing upon America’s polarization to drum up dissent, by twisting the President’s faith (professing Christian, and demonstrating more Christ-likeness in words and action than many of his critics) as a wedge… or a weapon.
I hate to break it to the former governor of Virginia, but this Christian is not offended by the President’s remarks. I am in agreement with them. I’m offended by all the people who are attacking him for speaking truth, while ignoring his broader points. We American Christians can’t claim any moral high ground here. Here’s a picture from less than 100 years ago.
That’s the body of Jesse Washington. The full account of his lynching is here, but the short version of the story is that, after a questionable murder trial in Waco, Texas, Jesse was declared guilty, grabbed by a mob, dragged into the street to this tree, doused in oil, had his fingers and genitals cut off, was hung from the tree over a bonfire, where he was repeatedly lowered and raised over the next two hours, while he burned to death in the celebratory atmosphere of 10,ooo spectators.
Here’s another one (sorry, no pics of this one): According to the Associated Press coverage of her death, “Mary Turner had made ‘unwise remarks’ about the execution of her husband, and that ‘the people, in their indignant mood, took exception to her remarks, as well as her attitude’.” How did they take exception?
“There, before a crowd that included women and children, Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the grown, gave a cry, and was stomped to death. The Constitution’s coverage of the killing was subheaded-lined: ‘Fury of the People Is Unrestrained.” (Wikipedia, “Mary Turner”)
Betcha most of those folks went to church next Sunday.
“Yeah, but those stories don’t have anything to do with Christianity!” Except they came from a time when it was common to teach in church that blacks were subhuman (click the link “carroll.pdf” on the page to download your very own copy of the book “The Negro a Beast…0r…In the Image of God”).
“Yeah, but that was 100 years ago.” Well, first, the President’s point was that atrocities were committed by people who claimed to be Christians, and claimed to have Biblical justification for their heinous acts. Second, just Google Christian Identity. This hosed up, racist hatred is whitewashed “in the name of Jesus” and claims to use Scripture to justify their vile beliefs. And there are thousands of adherents to this and similar beliefs in our world today.
“So are you blaming all Christians for these lynchings, Jim Crow laws, and nutball white supremacists?” No. But I hope I’ve presented enough evidence to get you off your horse.
Or should we explore all the Jews killed during the Crusades–in the name of Jesus?