President Obama gave a speech during the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, and some of his comments have conservatives, especially Christians, extremely angry. The president welcomed the Dalai Lama, thanked the attendees and other speakers, and made a few jokes. These are not the comments that have outraged right-wing Christians. After musing about his own Christian faith, President Obama pointed out the challenges we have faced over the past few months, and the past six years, when it comes to religious extremism. He correctly pointed out that we have seen faith used “as an instrument great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”
From his speech:
As we speak, around the world, 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. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. 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.
So far, so good. Detailing examples of faith inspiring good, people who follow the message of Actual Jesus, then speaking about the horrors of ISIL, and the terrorist acts in Pakistan and Paris. Calling ISIL a “brutal, vicious death cult,” which they are. Using the words terror and terrorizing. President Obama continued:
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.
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 for their own murderous ends?
Perfectly stated. Show the atrocities, then ask how people of faith reconcile the profound good with the acts of “those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous ends.” Then it all came off the rails, at least for conservative Christians. President Obama could have stopped here, secure to rest on his laurels, but he took it a step further. Again, from the speech:
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. 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. Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
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. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.
And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.
And we’re done. Conservative media outlets are hysterical about this. They’re completely ignoring everything President Obama said prior to this portion of his remarks, and are focused solely on “terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” He called ISIL an evil death cult, but that doesn’t matter, because the Crusades were hundreds of years ago, slavery doesn’t exist anymore, how dare he bring this up, he’s a Muslim. The majority of the headlines from sites like Breitbart and Fox are “Obama At National Prayer Breakfast: ‘People Committed Terrible Deeds in the Name of Christ.'”
They did. People have been twisting religion for as long as there has been religion. As for President Obama’s statement on humility, yes, wouldn’t that be nice? It’s not just religious extremists who need a slice of humble pie; conservative Christians would be wise to sit down and have a piece as well. Exhibit A: a few comments from Fox Nation’s Facebook page, underneath the link to their article on the president’s speech:
Dale Brumley: “They want to take prayer out of school why not take Islam out of the USA”
Morrow Leigh: “islam belongs in the dark ages”
Ann Blanchard: “I can’t figure out what took people so long to catch on to who and what Obama really is, I didn’t vote for him because I had my suspicions from the beginning, I have always suspected him of beeing a Muslim, I also believe he was never elected, he was selected, bought and paid for by some very affluent person, after I read some books on him and about him, I was sure he was never on our side, he is out to ruin our once beautiful country and we are letting him get away with it, I fear for my grandchildren and great grandchildren what kind of a life will they have, if any of them survive this war between Muslim’s and Christians, Let’s hope someone will save us and our country before it’s to late…….God Bless the USA………………..”
Yes, God Bless the USA. Not anyone else, just the USA. Islam must be taken out of the God-Blessed USA. Conservative Christians have blown up abortion clinics, murdered doctors, called for the LGBT community to be stoned to death, and left behind electrified fences to die. When Fox ran an article about an atheist group suing over a proposed cross at a 9/11 memorial, conservative Christians responded with some seriously violent commentary. Conservative Christians have threatened President Obama and his family with violence, including racist imagery of the president hanging from a noose.
Religious extremism isn’t just over there somewhere, it’s also here. In the form of right-wing Christians, hijacking a message of peace and tolerance, and using it for evil. President Obama didn’t have to go all the way back to the Crusades for his examples; he could have referenced any number of more recent events. The murder of George Tiller, the Sikh temple massacre, Timothy McVeigh, Byron Williams, and James W. Von Brunn-all modern examples of Christian extremism.
God Bless the USA.