There have been a number of remarks on the internet and elsewhere concerning President Obama's talk at the National Prayer Breakfast. Quite a few (mostly from the right) have been negative, some questioning or even denying the President's faith, yet a few giving him reasonably high grades. A Google search brought up many comments, but I finally found the talk itself and listened/watched the full 24 minutes.
After this I went back and attempted the same with some of his critics though I couldn't bring myself to finish most of them. I even came across Glenn Beck's rant. (There are apparently still some who take stock in this guy's rantings!) As I listened to these tirades the question crossed my mind as to whether they and I had observed the same talk - but, of course, we had.
The main points of most of these criticisms was their assertion that he had compared Islamic terrorism with Christianity or that he had said bad things about Christianity and/or America, which in the minds of many of the critics were the same entity. He was criticized for not spending more of his talk attacking ISIS and Islamic terrorism. It was even claimed that his confessions of America's and of Christianity's faults were evidence that he is not a Christian or a patriot.
The President spoke of the fact that many evils have been committed in the name of Christ. He mentioned the Crusades and the Inquisition. He talked of the slave trade and Jim Crow laws and how the Bible had been used to justify these evils. He even used the word SIN a few times and over and over again emphasized our need for humility. He talked about the need to practice the Golden Rule and to love our neighbors.
Did these negative critics forget the context of these remarks? This was a Prayer Breakfast! Barack Obama was not there to speak as the Commander-In-Chief, giving a Patton-like pep-talk urging his hearers to get out there and kill those _______'s. Barack Obama was speaking as a follower of Jesus Christ, urging himself and his hearers - most of whom were professional politicians and national leaders - to live out their faith in their particular circumstances.
Perhaps the critics are unfamiliar with the kind of Christian context this was supposed to be. I have had many experiences and attended many different kinds of Christian meetings and worship services, so I suspect that I know the type the critics are used to: the preacher rants about the sins and evils of those out there - those terrorists, those abortionists, those homosexuals, those cultists, those liberals. It's easy to condemn those on the outside - they can't say anything. And the preacher gets many "Amens!" from those on the inside.
But there are other types of worship services - services where believers gather to worship God and to recognize their need for His grace, services that even begin with confession, with sermons that speak of our sin and need, more than of the sins of those out there.
Yes, we can find areas for criticism in the President's talk. We may dislike his slow deliberate style, his lack of dogmatism (I don't.), his occasional misquoting of Scripture. But these are petty. We must remember too that even though in this talk he was speaking simply as a follower of Christ, he also recognized his need, because of his position, for being "politic" in all his words. But I do not believe that in speaking of "our" sin rather than "theirs," he was in any way comparing Christianity unfavorably with Islam in any of its manifestations.
I think that NY Times columnist David Brookes - himself a conservative and a Christian said it best:
"I think if the President had come as an Atheist to attack religion and to attack Christianity, the Republicans would have a point - that's not what a President should be doing. But that is not how he came ... He's come as a Christian. And the things he said - I've never met a Christian who disagreed with what he said - that the religion has been perverted, that we have to walk humbly before the face the Lord, that God's purposes are mysterious to us. This is not some tangential weird belief - this is at the core of every Christian's faith and every Jew's faith and so what he said was utterly normal and a recognition of historical fact and an urge toward some humility. And so I thought the protests were manufactured and falsely manufactured." (PBS News Hour, 2/5/2015)