Christians are commanded in scripture (1Timothy 2:1-4) to pray for the president and all of our nation’s leaders. However, many conservative believers expressed more anger than prayer for President Obama, and many liberal people of faith are doing the same today for President Trump. The same was true when President Bush was in office. Yet it is my duty to pray for my president daily.
My friend and fellow hospital chaplain, Dick Allison, usually votes for Democrats. He tells me that during the Watergate scandal that plagued Republican President Richard Nixon, he would often complain about Nixon’s failures. He didn’t vote for Nixon, and he didn’t like him. One day he realized that he had failed to pray for Nixon. “Since that day, hardly a day has gone by that I have not prayed for the president, whoever it was,” says Chaplain Allison.
I have a fuzzy photo of President George W. Bush taken on August 21, 2006, when President Bush spoke in Savannah, Georgia. After speaking, he went through the crowd shaking hands, and I grabbed my camera and took this picture in such a hurry that it came out fuzzy. As Mr. Bush greeted the crowd and shook my hand, I said, “I pray for you every day.” He looked me in the eye, and exclaimed, “Thanks, it’s working!” A priest who disliked President Bush’s policies later told me, “It must not be working.” Because he disagreed with the politician, he dismissed the prayer. How short-sighted! Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the Old Testament prophets modeled this kind of praying for us. Isaiah said that the Lord “wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 49:16), Jeremiah wept over the nation, and Ezekiel called for someone to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) on behalf of the nation. Whatever our political persuasion, we can be patriotic prayer warriors. If the praying prophets of ancient Israel could pray for their nation, even when they had evil rulers, can we do less? Will we stand in the gap for America?
Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. You can read the text of his speech here.
In that speech, he said many good things. He spoke out against terrorist attacks from Paris to Pakistan “by those who profess… to stand up for Islam,” and especially the “brutal, vicious death cult” ISIS, which he calls ISIL. He also spoke up for Iran to release Pastor Saeed Abedini, and he praised the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae from North Korea. Unfortunately, when he got to the subject of Nigeria, he only referred to “the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.” By mentioning Muslims first and Christians second, he played down the reality that it is an Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, that is wreaking havoc all over northern Nigeria, and that the killings in Nigeria are overwhelmingly done by Muslims, killing Christians and sometimes killing other Muslims, as well.
However, I was especially troubled by the way he focused on violence done in the name of Christ to imply that Christians were really no better than Muslims. Twice he mentioned violence done “in the name of Christ”– once in reference to the Crusades and the Inquisition, and then again in reference to slavery and Jim Crow. He said, “There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency, that can pervert and distort our faith.” To sum it up, President Obama clearly implied that Christians are really no different from Muslims, because all religions have people who distort their faith.
So why do I find this so offensive?
1) To have a fair discussion of any religion, we should judge that religion by it’s true followers, not blame it for it’s misguided followers. President Obama, by his own words, appears to agree. So let’s look at the founders of Islam and Christianity. Muhammad was a man of the sword, who sought an earthly kingdom. He wrote in the Qur’an, “Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day… until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued” (Sura 9). Through countless sayings attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith, he left them a heritage of permanent war against the “infidels.” In a short time after his life, Muslims conquered the Middle East, Northern Africa, and eventually conquered parts of southern and eastern Europe, forcing non-Muslims into second-class status under their rule. In contrast, Jesus was a man of peace, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of peace, and allowed His life to be sacrificed to forgive sins. He said, “Put away your sword” (Matthew 26:52), and “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). In a short time after His life, Christians spread their peaceful message all over the Roman empire, without fighting any wars, at all.
2) To have a fair discussion, we should look at things in balance. It is a fact that the followers of Muhammad, be they misguided or not, sought to conquer the territory of the known world, and nearly succeeded. It is also a fact that the misguided Crusaders sought only to conquer the Holy Land. (See the map below.) The Crusades and other wrongs done by people in the name of Christ are inexcusable, but they are not the norm of the Christian faith, nor can they compare with what was done in the name of Muhammad.
3) To have a fair discussion, we should not blame people today for what their ancestors have done in the past. When I meet a Japanese person today, I do not hold him personally responsible for the attack at Pearl Harbor, which happened less than a century ago. Obama wants to blame Christians for the Crusades that happened ten centuries ago, but does he see roving bands of fundamentalist Christians beheading people, flying planes into buildings, and conquering vast sections of territory today in the name of Jesus? No? Does he see anybody doing anything today in the name of Muhammad? Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said it well: “The medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please look out for the radical Islamic threat today.”