Much has been made of the remarks President Obama made yesterday at the 2015 Prayer Breakfast. The portion of the president’s remarks that have received the most attention concerned the Christian crusades (in 950 A.D.) and American slavery and segregation under Jim Crow. Said the president:
“Unless 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,” Obama said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Plenty of commentators have corrected the president on the history of the crusades. I would like to put away discussions of what happened 1000 years ago and how that is relevant to the atrocities we are witnessing in the 21st century. Rather, I want to take the president to task about his remarks concerning the American slave trade and the segregationist laws known as Jim Crow.
I have heard defenders of the president suggest that all the president was saying was that the bad behavior of a few people should not stand in representation for the belief system those people claim. (As an aside, I am constantly amazed at how often people have had to explain what “the greatest orator of our time” actually meant when he said…But I digress.)
Honestly, if that bit of sophism is all the president had to offer, I am uncertain as to why he even bothered to stand and speak. That there are people who pound a religious text while spewing hatred is not knew and is not an insight worthy of “the smartest man ever to hold the office.” No. The president was not speaking about a few folks here or there getting it all wrong. The president attacked Christianity itself. And while he is correct that it was the religious adherence to Christianity and the desire to make “disciples of all the world” that played a large part in the subjugation of indigenous peoples here in America and throughout the world, to leave off the conversation there is duplicitous to say the least.
The fact is that the abolitionist movement, while not exclusively Christian, was by and large a religious movement and that, mostly Christian. The language of Abolition was distinctively Christian in that abolitionists believed slavery to be a sin against God. Men like Charles Finney, Theodore Weld, William Wilberforce, and John Brown were all leaders in the anti-slavery movement and all of them Christian. In short, Christians were instrumental in the fight to end slavery. Meanwhile, slavery continues to exist in the Muslim world, a fact that the president ignores.
Beyond that, to the extent that slavery in the West continued beyond the early part of the 19th century, it was not a function of Christianity, but of the ascent of Darwinism and the German school of philosophy. The Southern states, led by men like John Calhoun, put forth the argument that liberty is not a natural right of all men, but a blessing bestowed as a reward for intelligence and virtue. That bit of philosophy is NOWHERE to be found in the Christian bible, or any mainstream Christian teaching of which I am aware. That attitude is, however, very present among early progressives like Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, who, among other things, re-segregated the federal government, opposed anti-lynching laws, and invited D.W. Griffith to the White House to screen “Birth of a Nation.”
And speaking of Democrats…It is interesting that the president mentioned Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws were instituted in the Southern states following the period known as reconstruction. These laws were designed by Democrats to enforce racial segregation and had nothing to do with Christianity. Jim Crow was an outgrowth of the Democratic effort to regain and hold political power in the South. Yes, Jim Crow was a creation of the president’s party and not of evil Christians. Moreover, it was Christians who fought Jim Crow. It was Christians who marched across the Edmond Pettus Bridge. The man who we honor every January as being instrumental in the destruction of those laws was without a doubt a Christian.
Honestly, Mr. President, for you to stand before the world and toss out the crusades, (mostly getting the history wrong), slavery, and Jim Crow, as failures of Christianity, AND fail to also mention the role Christianity played in ending those institutions, AND at the same time NEVER, EVER discuss the failures of Islam on those same fronts, AND especially Islam’s failure on this current front is disingenuous Bull ish!