I’ve just listened to President Obama’s speech at the prayer breakfast, the speech that has been reported to have outraged many people. I don’t know who these people are or how many they may be, but I heard nothing astonishing (as Pat Buchanan reportedly called it) at all. What the President said about brutality in the name of religion, including Christianity, was mild and quite restrained. He didn’t drag out what could have been a very long recitation of Christian atrocities, because enumerating them was not his purpose. He said, rightly, that many times in our world’s history, religion has been twisted by those claiming to act in God’s name and on God’s authority to commit horrendous evils. He spoke against singling out Islam because of ISIS (or ISIL) when zealots of other religions have acted similarly and, also similarly, have not truly represented the faith. Indeed they have. Does Pat Buchanan not know the history of Christianity, or is he being disingenuous to smear our President?
President Obama could have added much more from the history of atrocities committed in the name of Christ. Catholics have slaughtered Protestants, and Protestants have slaughtered Catholics. Both have slaughtered Anabaptists and others labeled sectarians. I live just outside the town of Lititz, Pennsylvania founded by Count Zinzendorf as a refuge for Moravians fleeing persecution in Europe. Why do we think the Anabaptists, the Amish and Mennonites, came here? Many were slaughtered in the lands they fled – yes, in the name of Christ. They came here to find freedom to live their faith as they believed God led them to live it and to escape being killed for it in the name of the very Christ they served.
Please, let us not forget the centuries of persecution of Jews by Christians, in the name of Christ: the blood accusation, the pogroms sometimes fueled with hatred spewed directly from pulpits, the seizing of Jewish lands and raping of Jewish women, the humiliations of public trials during which rabbis were forced to balance on one-legged stools and wear “Jews’ hats.” The terrible name “Christ killers” resounds through our history supposedly justifying brutality as some twisted sort of holy revenge. To this day, Muslims continue slaughtering Christians even as Christians slaughter Muslims, and, yes, the carnage certainly does go back to the Crusades.
Yes also, as the President suggested, the twisting of Christianity played powerful roles in our own nation’s history of slavery followed by post-emancipation oppression and atrocities. The KKK presented itself as Christian. Churches justified slavery and wrote slave catechisms that perverted the Bible to make faith seem to require, as God’s will for them, the willing submission of the slaves and acceptance of their place at the very bottom of society even as their labors brought wealth to people many of whom identified themselves as Christians.
What President Obama said was mild and restrained indeed. He said it to call for humility, compassion, cooperation for peace, and consideration of the “Golden Rule” in dealing with each other – calling us to treat others as we would like them to treat us.
I see no reason to be outraged as a Christian or even mildly offended. I know enough of our history to realize his remarks were very mild and made with good purpose. He emphasized the positive efforts of religion more than the twisted, negative ones. I thought much of the history of atrocities committed in the name of Christ was common knowledge. Was I mistaken? Plus, the President’s purpose was not to insult or shame us but to persuade us not to mount our high horses and preach hatred against Islam because of our quite justified anger at the atrocities (of which he spoke harshly) perpetrated by those who twist Islam’s faith.
The President concluded with the call of Micah 6:8 to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Yes, he’s right that humility is needed deeply and sometimes desperately in all religious faith and practice. According to Jesus, it’s mandatory for his followers.