Barack Obama has one final year to realize that the National Prayer Breakfast just isn’t a good venue for him. Obama’s track record at the annual function has been little other than disastrous, and another president—one with a more hostile media and a less dedicated constituency—would have been ruined already by previous catastrophes.
Obama’s problems with the National Prayer Breakfast began in earnest in 2012, when the keynote speech at the affair was given by author Eric Metaxas. The speech Metaxas gave in advance of Obama’s own address was a tour de force and an indictment, though a polite one, of Obama’s position on abortion and other social issues as decisively anti-Christian. Metaxas stole the show and left Obama giving a speech that had been thoroughly repudiated from the same podium just minutes earlier, about how Christianity included essentially the same moral framework as Hinduism or Islam.
Then, a year later, Ben Carson used a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast to more directly challenge Obama’s leadership. Carson, a highly-successful surgeon who grew up in far more challenging circumstances in the slums of Detroit than did Obama in Honolulu, spoke of the existential threat political correctness posed to America. He attacked Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the so-called Affordable Care Act, as nonsense. Afterward, according to Carson, the president’s underlings called the event’s organizers to inform them that Obama had taken great offense and to demand an apology. Carson’s speech created such a sensation that two years later he’s being touted as a potential candidate to succeed Obama in the White House.
But at this year’s event last week, Obama didn’t need a prominent conservative to upstage him. He was perfectly capable of creating a man-caused disaster on his own by delivering a speech so tone-deaf and condescending to the American people, Christians the world over, and even Western civilization in general as to put an exclamation point behind the speeches of Metaxas and Carson.
Obama launched into a dissertation on the depredations of the Islamic State. After decrying that jihadist organization’s many atrocities and characterizing them as motivated by something other than Islam (which is problematic in its own regard, a topic for another column), Obama then offered what seemed like an excuse for their behavior—namely, that before harshly judging the civilization or culture which could produce the monsters of the Islamic State, we should be remember that Christians have blood on their hands as well. Obama pointed to the Crusades and the Inquisition as examples, and then offered up slavery and Jim Crow as horrors perpetrated “in the name of Christ.” In this the president did little more than parrot an omnipresent rhetorical device of Left, moral equivalence between America or the West in general and other cultures of far more meager accomplishment.
The Crusades were initiated by Pope Urban II in 1095 at the request of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Konmenos. The Seljuk Turks at the time were engaged in a campaign of conquest and subjugation of a large swath of Christian Eastern Europe. Engaging in military action against the Muslim world was seen as a defensive effort to save Christians. That the Crusades centered upon retaking the Holy Land could hardly be seen as unreasonable: what religion’s adherents wouldn’t want to control the place of its birth?
In counting the Crusades as some sort of black stain on Christianity or Western civilization, Obama left out any mention of the Umayyad Caliphate’s conquest of Spain, or the fall of Constantinople, or any of the other Muslim aggressions in Europe, which, on balance, were at least as bloody and barbaric, if not more so. Interestingly enough, Muslims to this day occupy every city vital to the formation of Christianity except for Jerusalem, and none of those other cities enjoy the standard of living, human rights, or basic freedoms available throughout the Western world.
As for the Inquisition, it hardly ranks as one of Christianity’s high points, but it’s not clear what this has to do with the Islamic State. The Inquisition was an early attempt by the Catholic Church at creating a legal framework for the punishment of heresy within Christianity; that its practices do not measure up to the standards of modern law enforcement isn’t exactly a surprise. That said, what’s commonly associated with the Inquisition is the practice of burning victims at the stake, but it should be understood that this was not sanctioned by Catholic doctrine or Biblical scripture but was rather a practice common to civil authorities in Europe at the time. As Jonah Goldberg wrote last week, “What made medieval Christianity backward wasn’t Christianity but medievalism.”
Obama refuses to recognize that the brilliance of the civilization Christianity created is in its penchant for positive change. Take the two more recent examples Obama gave of supposed Christian abuses. Slavery was eliminated in Christian lands specifically as a result of a Christian-led religious movement—has the president never heard of William Wilberforce?—and was and remains a common practice in other cultures. Obama’s reference to Jim Crow is similarly obnoxious and mind-numbingly ignorant. Perhaps someone somewhere might have attempted to justify “separate but equal” in Biblical terms, but one would think he would recognize the starkly Christian nature of the civil rights movement. Has Obama never heard of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Christianity has been perhaps the single most aggressive force in civilizing human beings in our history. To so brazenly insult those sharing that identity by bringing us down to the level of the Islamic State is an outrage. Christians must of course turn the other cheek in response; there is nothing else to do. But can we be blamed for wondering about Obama’s loyalty to, or even knowledge of, the faith he claims to hold? If instead of defending the civilization Christ inspired he can only mount his high horse to lecture us that we’re no better than the jihadists, what are we to conclude?