Folks, I am a die-hard conservative. Want me to prove it?
- If I were Catholic – which I’m not – I’d nominate President Ronald Reagan for sainthood.
- I was a registered Republican long before “hanging chads” were even a problem and didn’t like Al Gore (a fellow Tennessean) even when his wife, Tipper, hated rock music.
- I still wear a vintage, hand-made, limited edition Rush Limbaugh tie every once in a while.
- In the 80’s one of my heroes was Alex P. Keaton.
So, in other words, when I say I am a conservative, it’s not hype. However, I feel much of the ruckus over President Obama’s comments at the recent National Prayer Breakfast is, in my opinion, not much more than that…hype. To be clear, let’s define hype:
■ noun extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion.
■ verb promote or publicize intensively or extravagantly.*
Oh, don’t misunderstand me! I have many issues with the POTUS and his policies, especially those which undermine our freedom of religious expression in the workplace and the public square. But the way some on my side of the political camp, especially those of the religious persuasion, have attacked Obama for his comments at a multi-faith prayer breakfast seems to be over-the-top – more hype than anything – especially considering the context.
Like I said in the title of this post, the POTUS’ speech was not that bad, that is, if you consider where he was making the speech, to whom he was speaking, and all that he could have said, but didn’t. Let’s face it, people, Obama was NOT speaking to a singularly Christian audience; there were many faiths in attendance. So, to say that Obama’s remarks regarding humility were only being directed at Christians is a tad bit disingenuous.
Now, I do not agree that there is any moral equivalency between the Crusades and what ISIS is doing in the world. For that matter, I wish more attention would be paid to the fact that the Crusades were, incidentally, a response to earlier Muslim expansion by the sword; much of the Christian “atrocities” were in response to hundreds of years of Muslim “atrocities.” But the general message of Obama’s speech was one that encouraged tolerance across the board. Even though he made comments highlighting the Crusades, he spent even more time addressing killing in other places around the world, such as Nigeria, India, etc.
Obama is the President, not a preacher or theologian. For that matter, he is not even a historian of any degree. His purpose at that prayer breakfast was ecumenical in nature, to encourage well-meaning citizens of all faiths to seek peace, to seek the face of God, and to renounce violence toward others in the name of religion. He was at a MULTI-FAITH prayer breakfast, for crying out loud! What else did those present expect him to say?
Just in case you missed it, there were some other things President Obama said that were encouraging. First, whether he ultimately means it or not, he used the term “freedom of religion” in the same sentence as “freedom of speech”!
“There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility. They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both.”
As believers, we should hold him to these words, especially when it comes to the public expression of faith on public grounds.
Second, the President took the time to specifically mention three Christians who had either been persecuted or sacrificed for their faith: Kenneth Bae, Pastor Saeed Abedini, and Kent Brantly. And what’s more, he even quoted a portion of a letter from Pastor Abedini, still being held captive in Iran: “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.”
Third, President Obama quoted more from the Bible than any other religious text. For example, at the end of his speech in one paragraph he quoted from both 1 Corinthians 13:12 and Micah 6:8.
“If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose. We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”
The fourth encouraging thing might be the most overlooked of all: despite everything else, the President of the United States of America is NOT an atheist. Hallelujah at least for that, right?
So, just to recap all I’ve said, I don’t think it was fair to compare the Christian church of today with the Crusades of 800 years ago, especially in the light of what Islam is doing at this moment. It was also irresponsible to morally equate the Crusades to the 15 centuries-worth of Muslim expansion by the sword. That being said, considering the audience and the context of the event, Obama’s speech wasn’t that bad – especially if you’re an ecumenical, pluralistic, main-stream liberal.
So, my fellow conservatives (of all types), quit making such a big deal about this one prayer breakfast…at least Obama went (which is a lot more than we can say for his church attendance). He even got to hear Darrell Waltrip (NASCAR legend) preach the Gospel.
There’s still hope.
*Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).