How dare President Barack Obama use the occasion of the National Prayer Breakfast to remind Americans that there are extremists in most religions, including Christianity, who hijack their faith to do evil rather than good?
His sheer audacity to “speak the truth to the people” (as poet Mari Evans would say) prompted his usual detractors to condemn him vehemently.
The problem is that too many people — and especially those who profess to be followers of Christ — don’t want to hear the truth, and certainly not to be reminded of their own sins.
In his remarks, which recounted many good deeds being done in the name of religions, the president said “we also see faith being twisted, used as a wedge — or, worse, used as a weapon.”
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He noted the violence and terror of the “vicious death cult” Islamic State that “carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism”; the sectarian war in Syria; the killing of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria; the war in the Central African Republic rooted in religion; and the rise of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe.
But Obama truly drew the ire of many conservatives, and some liberals, when 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. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often were justified in the name of Christ.”
The president was merely speaking the truth to the people, and there are plenty of folks who can bear witness to it.
While I won’t go back a millennium or even three or four hundred years, I am keenly aware of how religion in this country was used to justify the mistreatment of people.
At a time when our majority Christian nation was adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” to its greenback currency, states throughout the South were still refusing to allow integrated schools, equal access to public accommodations and interracial marriage.
I can remember during my childhood when flood waters threatened various communities in and around Fort Worth and the congregation at Friendship Baptist Church offered refuge only to the white victims fleeing their homes.
This is a nation that at one time wouldn’t permit black and white soldiers fighting for their country to die together and even separated their graves in cemeteries.
There is a reason why there are Southern Baptists and Southern Methodists, denominations that divided over the issue of slavery, and as late as this century, certain all-white churches have been apologizing for their past racist views.
As tough as they may be to view, take a look at some of the lynching photos in America, and note those spectators dressed in their Sunday best, many with proud smiles who brought their children along for the dreadful occasion.
I used to wonder how many people who dressed up in white hoods and robes on Saturday night were in choir robes on Sunday morning. Or how many Ku Klux Klansmen burned crosses (the very symbol of Christianity) on a Monday evening, then went and knelt before a sanctuary cross at Wednesday night prayer meeting.
The president admonished us to “start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others; that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”
Don’t get angry with Obama for speaking the truth. Get right.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775