It’s amazing how some folks are more prepared to defend the Crusades than acknowledge that the President of the United States had a point.
I’ve sat in years and years of history, political science, and religion classes, some public and some Christian, and have never in my life encountered any serious person saying, “The Crusades weren’t that bad.” I’ve never heard such eager attempts to validate the Crusades as I have since President Obama raised the point at the annual National Prayer Breakfast last week. Here’s what he said, with multiple paragraphs for context, though the bolded part seems to be the thing people are focusing on:
So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous ends?
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And 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….
….So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful 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. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.
And, first, we should start with some basic humility.
To be clear, I’m not one to defend the President, Democrat or Republican. I don’t tout any politicians – it’s a profession for which, it seems, I only really admire people in hindsight. So don’t take me for an Obama apologist; I’m not.
But I can’t believe the zealous fury with which so many have reacted to his statement – a statement, mind you, that came in the middle of a longer speech that also hearkened such wisdom as:
Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments….
….And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends….
….The Torah says ‘Love thy neighbor as yourself.’ In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: ‘None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ The Holy Bible tells us to ‘put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ Put on love….
….And as we journey together on this ‘march of living hope,’ I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and ‘put on love.’
Fine, we all grant that the Crusades and ISIS are not identical. But don’t we also agree that history echoes? Anyone can attack any comparison. Analogies lend themselves to argument, because one can always point to the ways two things are not alike.
Of course the Crusades are not the same as ISIS’ present rampage. Time, circumstances, and some motivations have changed. But so what? It’s not as though drawing a comparison between the two is apples and oranges. Anyone who can’t see any similarity is lying to himself.
Anyway, that should be beside the point.
The point that President Obama made is clear in the word that came soon after any talk of Crusaders or Jim Crow. The word is humility.
Why aren’t we talking about that? Doesn’t the lack of humility in too many fervent reactions only prove his point? Why don’t we want to be humble?
Humble enough to acknowledge that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Humble enough to admit that the Crusades, even if parts had some righteous, noble, American-ized virtuosity to them, were not all glorifying. Humble enough to say that, whatever we think of the Crusades, at least we can acknowledge that evil has been done in the name of Christ in the past. Maybe President Obama’s examples weren’t the ones we would use, but doesn’t his point still ring true?
Humble enough to say, “He has his own agenda and position, and so do I, but I still respect him.” Humble enough to love thy neighbor. Humble enough to love thy enemy. And pray for those who persecute you. God help us with that.
Humble enough to respect a leader, a leader whom God has granted present authority, whether we like him or not. Humble enough to admit we have been wrong. To admit others have been right.
Humble enough to compromise. Humble enough merely to want to try to compromise.
Humble enough to think the best of people.
Humble enough to recognize our own sin. Humble enough to recognize a perfect God.
Humble enough to do hard things.
Humble enough to keep our scathing critiques of a politician’s speech during a prayer breakfast from being rooted in mere political preference.
Humble enough to start focusing on something else President Obama said in the same speech:
And this is perhaps our greatest challenge — to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another. As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.
Humble enough, then, to see our reflection in both Barack Obama and John Boehner. To see politicians of all stripes as our brothers and sisters. Humble enough to see them as they are, fallen creatures created in the image of God. Humble enough to know we are the same as them.
And humble enough “to keep faith with one another.”