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Friday, February 13, 2015

What Was Obama's Sin At The National Prayer Breakfast?

A few days ago, Obama made some controversial remarks at the breakfast honoring the National Day of Prayer (click here for full speech, Obama should need no biography). How did Obama sin in what he said? That depends on whom you ask. For his comments have certainly upset a group of Conservative Christians who form an alliance between Evangelicals and Conservative Catholics. This blog will offer its own criticisms after discussing the criticisms of this group. Examples of Conservative Christians criticizing the President's remarks can be found here: Ben Carson's remarks, Ravi Zacharias' remarks, and Thomas Madden's remarks.

What got Obama in trouble with the group mentioned above is that in addition to warning us not to use our religious faith as an excuse or camouflage for hatred and violence, we should not use the violence practiced by groups like ISIL to look down our noses at all Muslims. Why? It is because we should remember the violence our spiritual ancestors practiced in the name of Christ in such examples ventures as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and what was practiced in Jim Crow. Such, especially the implicit criticism of the Crusades and the Inquisition drew much criticism from the Christian group cited above. The criticisms of Obama and his comments centered on two themes: the questionable political wisdom of his statements and an alleged inaccurate assessment of the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Criticizing Obama's political wisdom for making his statements is simply saying that his sin at the prayer breakfast was violating the greatest commandment for all Presidential speeches including the State Of The Union Address. That commandment says this: We must be praised. Only the we in this case was not the government, the nation, nor his fellow citizens. The we here are our spiritual ancestors: the Church. And when talking about the Crusades and the Inquisition, the reference to the Church is even more specific: it is the Roman Church and its Pope. And if we understand that many of those who are upset belong to above cited alliance, the reaction becomes understandable. Their response to what could be discrediting to an important institution of theirs shows a tribalism and an authoritarian mindset. Their anger at Obama's criticisms of that period of Christian history reveals the loyalty they have to the Church. Their anger also shows their authoritarian side in that Obama's criticisms could easily appear to threaten acceptance of Church authority now because of they sense a discrediting of the Church back then.

We should also note one other point here. When one responds with anger because either that person or their authority figure has been rejected, it COULD  indicate problems with narcissism. We must be careful not to jump to conclusions here. There are nine indicators for Narcissism of which at least five must be present for the diagnosis to be made (click here and there). This is not to say that the individuals themselves who are angry must be narcissists. We should note, however, that there is such a thing as a group or collective narcissism where the group exists in the minds of its members and operates as if it has narcissism. And, collective narcissism can be related to the degree to which a group is idealized by its members (click here).

Here, we might want to compare the defensiveness that these Christians are exhibiting with Obama's reactions to the past. While the group of Christians cited above were defensive and at least partially denied the significance of the past violence committed by fellow Christians, Obama was saddened and reflective. Obama used some of Christianity's past as a reason to exercise restraint in criticizing followers of another religion. At this point, it might be educational to reference Jesus' parable of the two men praying (click here) and ask, whose actions resembled the actions of the person who, in the parable, went home justified? At the same time, who more resembled the Pharisee from the parable?

The ironic problem here is that those who are self-proclaimed champions of God's Word, at least in comparison with the President, seem to be more like the self-righteous pharisee by their reaction to the President's criticisms of the Church from the past. Of course,  we should have seen that coming realizing that the Pharisee, as Frederick Dale Bruner pointed out in his book A Theology Of The Holy Spirit (click here), were 'religious professionals.'

So, especially when we look at history, Obama should be counted as being off the hook for his statements about some of the dark moments of Christianity's past. But does that mean that Obama made no major errors during his talk?

At this point, we need to listen to when he talks about how faith starts with doubt and that no religion should think that they have a monopoly on God's truth. Here, some nuance is required.

On the one hand, no faith has a monopoly on doing God inspired good works. All of Romans 2 (click here) testifies to this assertion in order to show those who believe in God that they have no right to judge those who don't believe. They have no right because they commit the same sins as the unbeliever (see verse 1ff).

But at the same time, we also must do justice to what Jesus says when he claims to be the only way to the Father (click here). At this point, God's Word is clear concerning every faith. It is Jesus alone who leads us to the Father. It is Jesus who must qualify anyone to be acceptable to God. 

Therefore, the nuance we need regarding the uniqueness of the Christian faith is this: it is Jesus who makes the Christian Faith what it is compared to the other faiths. It is Jesus who makes the Christian faith unique. It is Jesus who makes the Christian faith exclusive. It is Jesus, not His followers that gives the Christian Faith a monopoly on finding the way to God. This is something Obama failed to point out. 

Why did Obama fail? Perhaps it was the setting. Or perhaps he was compromising his faith. Or perhaps he doesn't adequately understand the Christian Faith. Regardless of why, Obama failed to describe why the Christian Faith is above all other faiths. It isn't because of us followers. Us followers can easily make Christianity appear to be no different than any other religion.  But Jesus makes Christianity the way to God.

That final point brings us back to the overly defensive reaction some Conservative Christians have shown to the President's remarks about our past. And the question that must be asked of these Christians is this: If Jesus is the one that makes the Christian Faith special, why should people finding faults with the Church make us feel so threatened?


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