Last week many Christians were offended when the president, at the National Prayer Breakfast, compared Muslim violence to historic Christian violence, namely the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Jim Crow laws.
Many pointed out the connection (or disconnection) between core Christian commitments and actions, ergo violence done in the name of Christianity can hardly be considered Christian because it stands in contradiction with the actual teachings of Jesus.
I’d hate to think that Christians gave the president an unfair hearing—that they threw out the president’s message entirely because they were interpreting everything he says through a lens of doubt and disdain. However, a few things did occur to me.
The president’s essential comment was: we should be careful to judge others who do violence in the name of religion and remember that Christians have also done violence in the name of their religion. The argument goes that this is an untrue assertion because it is an unfair assertion. So because the crusades were largely defensive against a radically violent Muslim expansion, they are not a true example of violence done in the name of religion.
Interestingly, the Crusades were a great argument against the Roman Catholic Church, at least, before last week. After all, Pope Urban II promised soldiers entire remission of sin and salvation if they died in combat against the infidels (sounds familiar). So we who are Protestant or Evangelical are delighted that Pope John Paul II apologized for that, but how dare the president evoke such a notion.
More interestingly, I’ve yet to see anyone upset with President’s invoking the Inquisition or Jim Crow laws. Were those unfair examples too? Have we as a church repented of our treatment of blacks, as our faith commitments might instruct us?
Of course the argument is again that those examples were inconsistent with core Christian beliefs… which to me sounds a little bit like what Obama was saying—we Christians are not innocent of acting contrary to our core faith commitments. If only someone had said it besides him… like maybe a NASCAR legend or someone.
One of the core New Testament messages is humility, demonstrated by the image of someone with a plank stuck in their eye shaking their finger at someone with only a speck. It’s unfortunate that someone else couldn’t have shared that message at the prayer breakfast. That when we come together with Buddhists and Muslims and want to earn their respect and audience, we might confess our own vulnerability—that we’ve burned our own at the stake, owned our own as slaves, and abused our own as sexual objects.
Then maybe we could get down to the teachings of Jesus and the design of a benevolent God in whose image we are all made; a God who doesn’t affirm violence but ultimately punishes it and offers hope and healing to all those broken by violence.
I could conclude that the president chose a poor example, that he doesn’t understand the facts and is too pluralistic and accommodating. But, had the president only mentioned the inquisitions or Jim Crow laws, I think we would have still found a speck in his eye, because after all… the plank is always biggest when we are looking at our enemy.