At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Barack Obama was highly critical of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, and rightly so. The misuse of Islam to justify horrific acts undermines the integrity of one of the world’s great religions.
But Obama also reminded people: “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.”
Obama was, of course, historically correct. And frankly, I wondered if Obama had overheard some of my conversations when I cited the same atrocities committed in the name of Christianity. Just this week, I interviewed Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister who is retiring as President of the Interfaith Alliance. After the interview, we both noted that we cite the same historical realities very frequently in speeches and conversations.
But, according to a story on the front page of the Washington Post on Friday, some Republicans were outraged. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, a Republican, said this: “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. … Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Obama’s remarks about Christianity were “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.”
I don’t know if Gilmore and Moore are ignorant of history or are simply looking for yet another opportunity to criticize Obama. (I suspect the latter). Maybe they don’t want to be reminded of some of the historical atrocities of Christian history. But it is helpful, it seems to me, to recall that no religious adherents are perfect. And it should give us some appreciation of our need to separate the vast majority of Muslims (who are also highly critical of ISIS) from the handful who want to use Islam to justify horrific acts of terror.
Finally, I loved what Obama had to say in response to the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market shootings in Paris: “And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.”
Obama understands good interfaith relations. Clearly, his critics do not.