On February 6, 2014, President Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast. As an evangelical Christian, I find many of his actions while in office objectionable. But in his NPB comments, he touched on several themes that I appreciate, such as specific calls for the release of Kenneth Bae and Saeed Abedini, American Christians being imprisoned for their faith in North Korea and Iran. On the other hand, some of his remarks seem misleading. I think it’s wrong to try to impart motive or unstated meaning to someone’s words or deeds, without justification. So at the risk of violating my own prohibition, I offer some reasons to consider more carefully what the President said in these three excerpts:
1) “And here we give thanks for His guidance in our own individual faith journeys. In my life, He directed my path to Chicago and my work with churches who(sic) were intent on breaking the cycle of poverty in hard-hit communities there. And I’m grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else. It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. “
Without naming him, Obama is speaking of Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a controversial figure to say the least. (Remember “God d*** America,” and “America’s chickens have come home to roost”?) Wright was described by the Chicago Sun-Times as a “close confidant” of Obama, who described Wright as “like family to me. [Wright] strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children” and was the one who “introduce[d] me to my Christian faith.” Based on his writings and sermons, Wright’s religion could well be described as anti-American, Afrocentric liberation theology. At the risk of over-simplification, if Wright said that he “embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” it seems that he would mean that since Jesus’ mission was to set his fellow black African Jews free from the historic oppression of the white race, Wright embraces that mission and hopes to save others who are oppressed by rich white people. At the very least, the Biblical concept of Jesus as God the Son who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Him as Messiah or Savior, seems a stretch for Wright. So what exactly does Obama mean by these words? Might he agree with his close confidant and pastor for 20 years?
2) “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.”
But not if you’re the Little Sisters of the Poor. This is the Catholic order struggling in court to get relief from Obama’s health insurance law that forces them to violate their closely-held religious beliefs. If they lose, their choice will be to either capitulate and violate their conscience, or cease to “strengthen America” by serving the poor. How could Obama make this and other religious freedom statements at the NPB, knowing that the Little Sisters, the Green family of Hobby Lobby, and Liberty University are all seeking relief from his administration’s violation of their previously-protected religious freedom, unless he believes that not all religion strengthens America? This encroachment on religious freedom is not to prohibit some extreme ritual. It forces Christians to act in a way they consider immoral and ungodly. So what does he mean by religious freedom?
3) “We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.”
It sounds like Obama is talking about Islamic terrorists, but did you see what he did there? He mentions “hatred” against people because of “who they love.” This is not just a veiled jab at Russia’s Putin and the flap over gays and the Olympics. Apparently, anyone who believes in the sanctity of marriage as ordered by God is part of a twisted religion. Look, there are all kinds of perversions of the human condition. Perversion of speech is lying; perversion of trust is infidelity; perverted view of life or possessions is murder or theft. Yet no one accuses folks holding to these standards of morality as having a twisted religion. When Christians help each other, and their neighbors who suffer from any perversion, it is an act of compassion, not hatred and twisted religion.
As to “conflicts along religious lines,” there are plenty of examples of Islamists killing and driving out ‘infidels’ that Obama could have cited. But do you know what recently happened in the Central African Republic? Muslims are being driven out, because the people in self defense can no longer tolerate the Islamists murdering and destroying their people and homes. Why choose this example of religious conflict, one of the few where the Muslims are on the receiving end? I’m not defending what’s happening there, I’m just asking exactly what was the message with this example?
As for the “killing of the innocent,” it’s enough to recall Mother Teresa’s words from the 1994 NPB event: “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child…Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” So, just who does Obama think are the innocent that should be protected?
I hear the President’s words, like faith, Jesus, Savior, freedom, love, innocent. At first they seem good, especially in looking for something, anything, encouraging from this White House. But on closer examination, I’m reminded of why I continue to be driven to prayer over the direction of our country. You see, the truth is found in how you define the terms.