President Obama called out the Crusades and Inquisition as times when “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ” at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast, and advocated not insulting religions “just because you have the right to say something.”
Obama said the annual event is “a chance to reflect on my own faith journey.”
“Many times as president, I’ve reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said: Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to thee for strength. Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to thee for strength,” he said. “I wondered, at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little to literally.”
He reflected on “realities” around the world from ISIS — “a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism” — to “religious war” in the Central African Republic.
“Humanity’s been grappling with these questions throughout human history, and unless we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place — remember that during the Crusades and 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,” Obama said.
“…So it is not unique to one group or one religion; there is a tendency in us, a simple tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. And God compels us to try.”
Obama advocated starting with “some basic humility.”
“I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt, not — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and — and that God speaks only to us and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and — and doesn’t care about others, that — that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth,” he said. “…And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who’ve tried to distort our religion. Any religion for their own nihilistic ends.”
He added that “part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.”
“And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who were targets of such attacks. Just because you have the right to say something, doesn’t mean that the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.”
Calling the United States “one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most western developed countries,” Obama stressed separation of church and state. “…Humility — a suspicion of government getting between us and our faith, we’re trying to dictate our faiths or elevate one faith over another.”
Obama then quoted the Torah, an Islamic hadith, and the Bible to back his call to live by the “Golden Rule.”
“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,” he said. “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.”