This past week at the National Prayer Breakfast President Barack Obama caused quite a stir with some of his comments. This one particular statement has caused quite a ruckus:
"Lest 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. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."
There has been s large amount of controversy over these words, and here are three brief thoughts for what they are worth.
Love him or hate him you have to admire the President for once again wading into theological/historical waters despite displaying little knowledge or understanding of the issue at hand.
It would appear that the President’s understanding of the Crusades differs from mine as well as what this article suggests are the majority of historians of the period. Having said that the general point that terrible deeds have been done in the name of Christ is not off-base. What is rather mind blowing is that somehow moral outrage over terrible deeds is somehow being on a high horse. Would the President really expect that since some Americans of the 19th century* tried to cloak the wickedness of slavery in the garb of holiness that today we should not vocally oppose slavery where we see it? If we are to apply his ideas logically it would seem so. Moral outrage at seeing video of a man being burned alive by terrorists is not being on a high horse. Now to be fair accurate information about history is generally concealed in books so I don't really expect politicians of either party, or anyone claiming to be a journalist to know where to find it.
One of the best things about the President’s comments is that it served to remind me of one of my favorite movie quotes. In the classic movie Hoosiers there is a scene where Coach Norman Dale, Gene Hackman’s character, has just taken over coaching the basketball team. A local man who has been helping with the team while they were without a coach does not approve of the changes that coach Dale is wanting to implement. This leads to this rather exasperated bit of wisdom from the man:
"Look mister, there's two kinds of dumb ... the guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and the guy who does the same thing in my living room. The first one don't matter, and the second one you're kinda forced to deal with."
The Crusades and the Inquisition are fascinating topics for historians, theologians, and philosophers to argue and write dissertations about, but practically speaking they are the naked guy, in the snow, barking at the moon. The people that are currently beheading anyone that they disagree with seems to be a problem that the President of the United States should consider “kinda forced to deal with.”
Call me crazy, but maybe we should spend a little more time focusing on twenty-first century foreign policy, and a little less time on the eleventh.
*One of the most important factors in ending slavery in this country was evangelical zeal for abolition. I defer to eminent Civil War historians, James McPherson, who discusses the matter if detail in his book, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.