The push-back against President Obama over remarks made at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast boil down to “How dare POTUS remind us that Christianity has been used to justify evil acts like every other religion?”
In the wake of increasing anxiety over extremists citing their Islamic beliefs to commit acts of terror, Obama offered some historical context for those in attendance, explaining:
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. … So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.
Not surprisingly, most of the criticism has come from conservatives. Slate’s William Saletan has extensive roundup of those who have spoken out, including the likes of Rick Santorum and Rudy Giuliani, among others. The irony is too delicious. There are the hyperbolic responses that sound as if Obama called Jesus the Miss Cleo of his day. Then there are the pathetically and purposefully dense responses, like those from Mike Huckabee, who claims Obama speaks “as if it was Christians who were responsible for racism in America.”
Given that Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, is such a fan of select passages of books within the Old Testament, one would think he’d know a thing or two about how Christian theology was exploited to justify both the enslavement of Africans and our disenfranchisement long after America abolished slavery. The Bible is riddled with references to slavery, but there are specific stories that were favored by the very Christians Huckabee cluelessly seeks to defend.
In “From Noah’s Curse to Slavery’s Rationale,” Felicia R. Lee writes for the New York Times:
In the biblical account, Noah and his family are not described in racial terms. But as the story echoed through the centuries and around the world, variously interpreted by Islamic, Christian and Jewish scholars, Ham came to be widely portrayed as black; blackness, servitude and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked.
By the 19th century, many historians agree, the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians.
Even novice students of the history of religion know this; you would think a former Baptist minister would, too.
Then there are the likes of Elizabeth Hasselbeck, someone never known for her intellectual curiosity, but no less always willing to play the role of pedant. She said on Fox & Friends, “Christians had nothing to do with a man being burned alive in a cage we saw on Wednesday that we saw took place last month. Nothing to do it!”
Hasselbeck is vexed that Obama dared to invoke the name of Christ “Our Savior!” yet seems to miss that whole lengthy period in which Black people were routinely lynched in this country by many a Klansman — a group that puts their Christian faith at the forefront of their wicked belief system. Perhaps some of that is due to mainstream papers like the New York Times doing reports on the history of lynchings in America, but failing to mention the race of those responsible for the lynching of Blacks.
For those who are vaguely aware, ala Rush Limbaugh, they bark back to Obama, “Jim Crow’s not around today. A thousand years ago, yeah. But not today.”
It was decades ago, actually, and Jim Crow’s offspring are actively doing their part to keep the legacy alive — just ask Black people looking to vote in the next presidential election. Moreover, the current fight over marriage equality is largely rooted in some Christians basing their opposition of selective interpretations of seven Biblical passages.
What’s most striking about these responses are that many of these people seem more offended that Obama invoked America’s history with slavery and segregation than they are about the mention of Christ, himself. How dare Obama be so bold as to remind white people of their crimes and the Christian dogma that was twisted to excuse it? And even in their defense, they prove Obama right.
If there’s any shared commonality between the world’s religious groups, it is that no matter the faith, there is a foolish flock within it that is too prideful to admit that the history of their religion is less than pristine.