President Obama recently had some remarks during a talk at the National Prayer Breakfast that has set off controversy among the Christian community. He was speaking about ISIS, or as he always calls by their other acronym ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and either Syria or Levant).
Reportedly, President Obama called this “a brutal vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism.”
After the beheadings and ritualistic burnings that ISIS has carried out in the name of their cause, few in the west would disagree with this statement (although, amazingly to me, there are some who applaud these actions).
If President Obama would have left his statements at this, everyone at the National Prayer Breakfast would have gone home happy. But then he went on to ruin it for himself.
Just one breath later, the president added this, “Lest we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
This last statement was not received so well. Both Protestant and Catholic leaders have denounced these words, calling them anything from “unfortunate”[i] to “insulting” and “pernicious.”[ii] No doubt almost every sincere Christian felt some type of offence at these words, myself included. However, from what I have read of the responses of Christian leaders in our country, it seems that the offence that I felt was different from what most have felt.
Every one of the responses that I have read from Christian leaders in our country have dismissed the statements of the president as unwarranted or as unfair, and some have denied that the church was ever involved in similar activities. I will not dispute the claims that the president’s remarks were unwise, but I think it does no good to deny that horrendous atrocities under the name of Jesus Christ have indeed taken place in history.
I agree with the words of Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, when he wrote: “Mr. President — many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness. He came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life.”
I have posted before about the Crusades, so I will not mention that again here, but concerning the Inquisition, the response from Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League was reportedly:
Regarding the other fable, the Inquisition, the Catholic Church had almost nothing to do with it.
The Church saw heretics as lost sheep who needed to be brought back into the fold. By contrast, secular authorities saw heresy as treason; anyone who questioned royal authority, or who challenged the idea that kingship was God-given, was guilty of a capital offense.
It was they — not the Church — who burned the heretics. Indeed, secular authorities blasted the Church for its weak role in the Inquisition.
It really is beyond me how Mr. Donohue could call the Inquisition a “fable.” Even he must not really believe that it really is a fable, since in the same breath he denies a significant role of the Catholic Church in the Inquisition.
But lest I, as a Protestant get on my own “high horse,” I see that in history, atrocities against others have also taken place by various leaders and churches of protestant denominations. Do an internet search of “Protestant Inquisition” if you do not believe me.
I agree that the words spoken by President Obama were ill-advised and unwise and did not take into account the differences in historical settings and culture, but we as Christians do not make things better by pretending everything done in the name of Jesus Christ has always been well intended and pure. We have our own house to attend to.
One of the things that I have always appreciated about the Bible is that it does not attempt to whitewash the lives of those who are considered “examples of faith.” A very obvious illustration of this was King David, who is called by God, “The man after my own heart.” Yet the historical account found of him in the Old Testament does nothing to try and hide his pernicious (to use Donohue’s word) affair with Bathsheba, the wife of the faithful servant Uriah, and the king’s subsequent murder of the husband in order to hide his own wrongdoing.
Nor will we ever progress in our Christian walk if we do not come face to face with our own iniquities. If we continue to plead innocent to wrong-doing when any fair reading of history will say otherwise, we will never move beyond past lessons left unlearned.
[i] Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
[ii] Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League