WASHINGTON (BP) — Violence perpetuated in the name of religion is a global, historical sin that humanity is challenged to eradicate, President Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 5 in Washington, pointing out atrocities of ISIS, Boko Haram and other religious militants.
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” Obama said. “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’s comparison of current atrocities with religious crusades, inquisitions, U.S. pre-Civil War slavery and Jim Crow segregation were met with criticism from various quarters.
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, who attended the breakfast, expressed concern.
“His flawed comparison to atrocities that happened hundreds of years ago minimizes the severity of ISIS and other groups that are brutalizing and killing innocent people,” said Floyd, an Arkansas pastor. “Instead of focusing on the past, America needs heroic leadership in the present — leadership that champions religious liberty for all people,” Floyd told Baptist Press.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “President Obama is right that many wicked things were done in the name of Christ. This is an unfair and unfortunate moral comparison, though, in light of the threat of ISIS.
“All of the sinful acts he mentioned were countered by those who did so also in the name of Christ. The dissenters from these non-Christian deeds prevailed, precisely because a Christian moral ethic was on their side,” Moore said in a statement to Baptist Press.
Moore earlier responded to the Washington Post that Obama’s comments about Christianity were “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.”
“The evil actions that [Obama] mentioned were clearly outside the moral parameters of Christianity itself and were met with overwhelming moral opposition from Christians,” the Post quoted Moore as saying. A “moral framework from the administration and a clear strategy for defeating ISIS” is what the nation needs, said Moore, who placed a link to his Washington Post comments on his Facebook page.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said violence in the name of Christianity reflects a wayward faith.
“While the president is technically correct,” Page told Baptist Press, “he needs to understand that those egregious acts of violence were committed by people who claim to be Christian but whose heart were not following our Lord Jesus.”
Obama said violence in the name of religion is not unique, but reveals the human condition.
“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 ever harder to counteract such violence,” Obama said at the breakfast. “But God compels us to try.”
Basic humility, a respect for diversity in religion, a separation of church and state, global advocacy for religious freedom and following the Golden Rule found in the Bible can speed results, Obama said.
“The Holy Bible tells us to ‘put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,'” Obama said in a reference to Colossians 3:14. “Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.”
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told Baptist Press that the president’s comments “seem to say that he is more worried about possible feelings of Islamophobia from American Christians than the grotesquely brutal religious cleansing against their brethren that is actually taking place by jihadists in various countries.” Shea is a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has committed sectarian violence against Christians, Yazidis and Shi’ite Muslims, forcing nearly 2 million Iraqis to flee their homes, the U.N. Security Council has reported, putting ISIS violence on par with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Specifically, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said it has received reports of “several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive,” CNN reported Feb. 5.
Oklahoma Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford said on FOX’s Lou Dobbs’ business report that Obama needs to concentrate on the present.
“The real issue is what’s happening right now,” Lankford said. “And while we can look back on history and find lots of issues in history, you don’t find Christians around the world beheading. You don’t find Buddhists around the world beheading. You don’t find Hindus around the world beheading and setting people on fire. You find that right now among Islamic radicals.”
Obama’s comments came just days ahead of Race Relations Sunday, Feb. 8 on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar, and more than a month before the ERLC’s “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” summit, set for March 26-27 in Nashville.
It has been nearly 20 years since the Southern Baptist Convention, born out of a 19th-century fight to protect slavery, apologized for its racist past. Messengers to the 1995 SBC Annual Meeting adopted the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention , and the SBC leaders have worked intentionally to create multiethnic diversity within its entities.