Last week at the National Prayer Breakfast President Obama condemned ISIS, Obama and went on to say: “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. 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.”
It is this part of the speech that went viral and caused controversy. Most people probably did not listen to or read the entire speech to get context (you can do so here). This is indicated by the fact that most of the people offended refer to his words on the Crusades, events from centuries ago, and not the more recent events in our own country he went on to speak of.
I was surprised at the hubbub. I’ve interacted with some friends on Facebook in recent days over it and as I’ve thought about it, I’ve had some scattered thoughts. Here are some:
1. Christians Have a Dark Past – It is no secret that people have done awful things in the past in the name of Christ. I’ve heard and read these events referred to countless times. Philip Jenkins has a fantastic, must-read book on this subject that shows, historically speaking, Christians may have more blood on their hands then Muslims. If that sounds controversial to you, he even argues that the Bible is a bloodier and more violent book then the Quran. This dark past is not only centuries ago. Obama mentioned more recent history also, which most who were offended have ignored, but it was not long ago that Bible believing Christians in America were lynching black people. For a chilling example of this, read here. Compared to the teaching and example of Jesus himself, these events are to be unquestionably condemned.
2. People Who Know Little About History Speak Too Confidently About It – There is a lot of misinformation about such events. The Crusades are often spoken of and not often understood, but you can find both well-written books and articles to put them in historical context. If your thought of the crusades is wicked Christian soldiers attacking weak and outnumbered Muslims, your thought is wrong. If you have been told that Islamic terrorism today is rooted in memories of the Crusades, you are mistaken. This is not to say the Crusades were justified, in my opinion. Such violence is far from the way of Jesus. But if we are going to talk about history, we ought to be accurate.
3. Christians Make Contradictory Arguments I have noticed a interesting set of arguments Christians have given when responding to the sorts of things Obama said. Two statements seem to be made:
A. The Crusades were the responses by Christians to Muslim aggression. The lands the Muslims held were once Christian lands that were taken by Muslims. So the Crusades were merely the Christians fighting back.
B. Jesus never committed violent acts but Muhammad did. So when Christians do violence, they are going against their leader while Muslims are acting in line with theirs.
The first statement sounds, to me, like a wordy way of saying, “but they started it!” Any parent is familiar with this – one child is caught hitting the other and upon being reprimanded, the child says, “but he started it!” That aside, the two statements seem contradictory. How can you say Christians being violent are acting out of line with Jesus (argument two) and then justify violence (argument 1). It sounds like an argument that says, in essence, the way of Jesus is great but sometimes we need to employ the way of Muhammad.
4. Let’s Stop Stereotyping “All Muslims” – I often see people post things on social media, confidently stating what Muslims believe and what the religion is all about. I suspect most of these people have not read the Quran, let alone the Hadith. Zach Hunt has a great article about this.
5. Remember What it is to be a Christian – Maybe we need to shed some of our patriotism and remember what we learned in Sunday school – we are all sinful, we all have darkness inside of us, so we all need Jesus. We are not better then anyone else, we are sinners saved by grace. We strive to be like Jesus and we do so in humility recognizing we fail every day.