I make eggs for breakfast just about every morning, depending on how our chickens are feeling. And I have finally learned that if I talk too much between the time I take the eggs out of the pan and dig in at the table, my eggs will get cold.
President Barack Obama enjoys breakfast as well, often at what is called the National Prayer Breakfast. At last Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, the president spoke about religious extremism. One gets the impression the president really doesn’t like these prayer breakfasts, as he so often makes controversial statements at them.
The president began his latest musings with this: “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.” But then he went further.
In noting that the “twisting and distorting” of faith is not unique to one religion, the president further explained that Christians also have a history of justifying bad deeds in with name of Jesus.
He 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 …”
Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore responded by saying, “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”
I am not sure I would say the president has offended every Christian, but I would say he makes as lousy a theologian as he does as historian.
Why didn’t the president mention that the first Crusade began in 1095 AD, 460 years after Muslims overran the first Christian city? That would be 457 years after Jerusalem was taken over by Muslim armies, 427 years after Muslim armies took control of the Christian capitol of Constantinople, and 250 years after Rome was sacked by a Muslim army. Why didn’t the president throw in the fact that by the time the Crusades began, Muslim armies had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world?
Why didn’t the president say unequivocally that no Christians today believe the Crusades were a good thing? Just asking, that’s all.
I will not get an answer to those questions. And to be honest, those are not the questions that trouble me the most. I suppose this is what I would like to ask President Obama: What is your point?
What is the point in making such a statement? Why say such a thing? This is not the Middle Ages. Extremist Christianity is no longer a threat to anyone. The threat the world is dealing with in 2015 is extremist Islam. What could possibly be the point?
If the president’s point is that we Christians ought to feel terrible about what Christians-behaving-badly did 1,000 years ago, then I believe that message got lost. If his point was to suggest a measure of empathy for what ISIS is doing, then that certainly did not come through, either.
Perhaps what he could have said is that, just as mainstream Christianity corrected extremists (who, by the way, were after land more than anything else) in the Middle Ages, so too could Islam today. What he could have said is that it was Christian humanism that brought the world out of those violent Middle Ages, to the Age of Enlightenment, and to democracy itself. Instead, in downplaying the value Christianity has brought to the world since the Middle Ages, the president calls into question his own understanding of the foundation of this country’s ideology.
As Jim Gilmore added, “This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”
Sit down and eat, Mr. President. Your eggs are getting cold.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.