The tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast started during the Eisenhower administration with the encouragement of Billy Graham, who spoke at most of them at that time. President Eisenhower sought, in those crucial years when atheistic communism seemed to be in the ascendancy, to call the nation back to its Christian roots. Those were also the years when “In God We Trust” was added to our coins and “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Breakfast was meant to be an occasion for reaffirming our basic Biblical beliefs as a nation. It was never intended to become a lightning rod for undermining those beliefs or diminishing their inherent value to a people. Yes, a civic religion, as such, is not sufficient for salvation. That’s fine—government was never meant to be our savior; only Jesus can take that title legitimately. But I see nothing wrong with calling government officials together to acknowledge our dependence on God. It can lead to saving faith for some if the message is clear.
Much has been written and said about President Obama’s remarks at this year’s Breakfast. I waited a couple of days before adding my own. First, let me say in what sense I might agree with him. Certainly, anyone in the world, both now and throughout history, can hijack a religious tradition and do things in the name of that tradition that are abhorrent. That’s called free will; God doesn’t always intervene directly to stop human beings from being foolish and/or downright evil.
From that premise, I have no problem acknowledging that many have “used” the name of Christ for their own selfish purposes, whether to gain ecclesiastical or political power or to get rid of those they consider their enemies. So far, so good.
Here are the problems with the President’s remarks.
First, he offered them as a way of deflecting attention from the atrocities currently being committed by Islamists. It’s a standard ploy when you want to minimize the terrible actions of people you seek to support. Draw attention elsewhere. Kind of like “Look! Squirrel!”
Second, he attempted to turn the whole conversation into a “moral equivalence” argument. This is what some historians have done with the Cold War. They have tried to point out America’s sins and thereby downplay the actions of the Soviet Union in the struggle. They have argued that there really is no essential difference between the sides, i.e., they are the same morally. That analysis—if that word really can apply here—ignores the actions that started the Cold War, that forced the United States to take the actions it did to defend itself, and the evil inherent in the communist system.
Third, he twisted some history to make the moral equivalence argument. Why did the Crusades take place? Could it perhaps have had something to do with the fact that Muslims, by military might and methods of forced conversion, took over most of the the territory where Christianity began? Could it possibly have been an attempt to take back that territory that had been grabbed unjustly? Could these Crusades have been initiated to help the beleaguered Christians living in a hostile environment?
Then there’s the Inquisition. Do I agree with what happened in the Inquisition? Of course not. It was the instrument used by the Church at one period in history to try to make sure no one upset the status quo. Did some people die in the Inquisition? Yes. Was it unjust? Yes. Did the inquisitors wipe out entire populations, rape the women, and kill all the children? No.
Then there was Obama’s linkage of Christianity to the support of slavery and segregation. Some people will always use their religious beliefs to bolster other things they want to believe. One thing he left out, though, is the crucial role Christians have played throughout history to rectify those inequities. All he sees is complicity because it bolsters his theme. He ignores the other side of the story. He also says nothing about where slavery exists today, largely in the Muslim world.
What we are witnessing in our day is a large-scale attempted genocide of any people group that stands in the way of Sharia law being imposed on the entire world. It is not, as the President says, only .1% of the Muslim population that favors jihad; in some countries, according to a recent survey, almost half the population finds jihadist terrorism acceptable.
And we have a president who now seems oblivious to the inherent evil of that system of belief and who has done virtually nothing to stop it from spreading. It’s not just Al Qaeda and ISIS. Iran’s rapid development of nuclear weapons comes with its development of intercontinental ballistic missile capability. Israel is not Iran’s only target; the United States is on that list as well. Yet, what seems to be President Obama’s chief concern?
By all means, let’s continue with the National Prayer Breakfast tradition. It has yielded some excellent speakers—Eric Metaxas, Ben Carson, Darrell Waltrip—who have boldly proclaimed Biblical truths. What we may need to do, though, for the remainder of this presidency, is to find the courage to decline the traditional invitation that allows the president to make remarks also. We would be better off as a nation if he didn’t say anything.