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How Wrong Was Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast Speech?
President Obama is catching a lot of flack for some remarks he made at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, during which he said:
But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment. 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. Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldnt question those who would insult others in the name of free speech. Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.
It’s easy to see why so many pundits are criticizing the man who’s job description is to defend free speech in all its forms, even if that free speech insults another religion.
Oh wait, that’s not what everyone is upset about? What controversial statement could possibly cause Bill Donohue of the Catholic League to say that “Obama’s ignorance is astounding,” and former VA Governor Jim Gilmore to declare that “the president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime”?
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.
Although I shouldn’t be anymore, I am continually surprised by Americans’ tendency towards amnesia when it comes to our own history. So I’ve decided to put together…
A list of quotes from Americans using Christianity to justify evil.
“If domestic slavery had been deemed by Jesus Christ the atrocious crime which it is now represented to be, could it have been passed over without censure? Would the doctrines of salvation have been illustrated by a reference to it, direct and unequivocal? — should we not have been told, not that the rich man, but that the slave-holders, could not enter the kingdom of heaven?”
- National Intelligencer editorial, 1819
“If one, or more decisions of the written word of God, sanction the rectitude of any human acquisitions, for instance, the acquisition of a servant by inheritance or purchase, whoever believes that the written word of God is verity itself, must consequently believe in the absolute rectitude of slave-holding.”
- Richmond Enquirer editorial, 1823
“Our new Government… is the first Government ever instituted upon principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society…. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is the best, not only for the superior but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances or to question them. For His own purposes He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made ‘one star to differ from another in glory.’”
- Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, 1861
“God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks.”
- GA Governor Allen Candler defending unequal education, 1901
“[p]urity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.”
- MS Senator Theodore Bilbo, Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, 1947
“The parties were guilty of a most serious crime…. Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
- Judge Leon Bazile upholding felony charges against an interracial couple, 1958
“The good Lord was the original segregationist.”
- MS Governor Ross Barnett, 1960
“We invite the negro citizens of Alabama to work with us from his separate racial station…. This is the basic heritage of my religion, if which I make full practice, for we are all the handiwork of God.”
- AL Governor George Wallace, “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” inaugural speech, 1963
“We don’t hate people because of their race, I mean, we’re a Christian organization. We want to stay white. It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.”
- Frank Ancona, Ku Klux Klan leader, 2014
A comparison of Islamic State vs. the Jim Crow South.
Warning: this section contains some disturbing descriptions of graphic violence.
As a mental exercise, take a guess as to which of these acts were perpetrated by the Islamic State and which were perpetrated by Americans against other Americans:
A… mob dragged him outside, pinned him to the ground, and cut off his testicles. A bonfire was quickly built and lit. For two hours, Jesse Washington — alive — was raised and lowered over the flames. Again and again and again. City officials and police stood by, approvingly. According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as 15,000. There were taunts, cheers and laughter. Reporters described hearing “shouts of delight.”
If you guessed that this happened in Waco, Texas in 1916, you would be correct.
Brown ended up in the hands of the crazed mob. He was beaten into unconsciousness. His clothes were torn off by the time he reached the building’s doors. Then he was dragged to a nearby lamp pole on the south side of the courthouse at 18th and Harney around 11:00 p.m. The mob roared when they saw Brown, and a rope was placed around his neck. Brown was hoisted in the air, his body spinning. He was riddled with bullets. His body was then brought down, tied behind a car, and towed to the intersection of 17th and Dodge. There the body was burned with fuel taken from nearby red danger lamps and fire truck lanterns. Later, pieces of the rope used to lynch Brown were sold for 10 cents each. Finally, Brown’s charred body was dragged through the city’s downtown streets.
This happened in the streets of Omaha, Nebraska — not Iraq — in 1919.
They then beat the teenager brutally, dragged him to the bank of the [river], shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan and shoved his mutilated body into the water….. Till’s face was mutilated beyond recognition, and Wright only managed to positively identify him by the ring on his finger, engraved with his father’s initials.
This was the murder of Emmett Till, and it happened in 1955 in Mississippi.
They kidnapped [Michael Donald], drove out to a secluded area in the woods, attacked him and beat him with a tree limb. They wrapped a rope around his neck, and pulled on it to strangle him, before slitting his throat and hanging him from a tree across the street from Hays’ house
In case you were wondering whether innocent 19 year olds were still being lynched in 1981, the unfortunate answer is yes.
A description of the Christian Identity movement.
Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you haven’t. One of their leading ministries describes itself thus:
Kingdom Identity Ministries is a Politically Incorrect Christian Identity outreach ministry to God’s chosen race (true Israel, the White, European peoples). We proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom (government according to God’s Law) through books, tracts, tapes, videos, the American Institute of Theology Bible Correspondence Course, our international Herald of Truth Radio Broadcasts, a Prison Ministry, Biblical Counseling, Seminars, and other means. The Elect Remnant, Christian Patriots, Nationalists, Reconstructionists, Racialists, and all seeking a higher level of understanding will learn Biblical solutions to personal and national problems, and be given keys to unlock hidden truth.
Largely conceived by Wesley Swift, a Methodist minister, the Christian Identity movement has grown since the 1940s and featured such lovely figures as James K. Warner (who moved to Louisiana to campaign for segregation), and Richard Butler (who took the reigns of Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ Christian in 1974 and rebranded it the Aryan Nation).
The notion of the Phineas Priesthood emerged from the Christian Identity movement as well. The Southern Poverty Law center explains:
The idea of the Phineas Priesthood, sometimes referred to simply as Phineas Priests, originates in Vigilantes of Christendom: The Story of the Phineas Priesthood, a 1990 book by the late white supremacist Richard Kelly Hoskins. Hoskins describes Phineas Priests as individuals who, through the ages, have felt called upon by God to murder “race-mixers” and their fellow travelers. He bases his idea on a story in Numbers 25:6, in which Phineas uses a single spear thrust to kill both a Hebrew man and his lover, a Midianite woman. God is then said to reward Phineas, granting him and his descendants a permanent priesthood, because the Midianites worshipped Baal and were sowing their beliefs among the Hebrews. White supremacists read the story as saying that God has decreed the death penalty for so-called race-mixers.
Hoskins was a follower of the theology of Christian Identity, a warped reading of the Bible that claims that the Jews of today are biological descendants of Eve and Satan, that people of color are not human beings and do not have souls, and that whites are the real descendants of the biblical Hebrews. The concept of a Phineas Priesthood that Hoskins developed is essentially a particular form of Christian Identity.
The bottom line.
If none of this sounds like Christianity to you, then perhaps you can sympathize with Muslims who are equally horrified at the atrocities committed by the Islamic State.
I shall close with this eloquent quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Pointing out that Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is “the awesomest.”
Obama seemed to be going for something more — faith leavened by “some doubt.” If you are truly appalled by the brutality of ISIS, then a wise and essential step is understanding the lure of brutality, and recalling how easily your own society can be, and how often it has been, pulled over the brink.