President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, as you know, and that speech unleashed considerable negative reaction—mostly from the same people that have criticized him for about everything he has said or done since 2009.
Most of the criticism centered on remarks he made about Christianity in the context of talking about the Islamic State. His words about the latter were not minced: he described ISIL as
a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism—terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
Shortly after that clear censure of the Islamic terrorist organization, the President went on to ask his hearers to
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.
It was this latter statement that elicited strong criticism from his political opponents.
The President’s talk came shortly after the barbaric burning of a Jordanian hostage by ISIL. But consider these historical burnings of Christians by Christians.
In 1415 the Moravian Christian leader Jan Hus (John Huss) went to the Council of Constance (in Germany), the 16th Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. Hus was promised safe passage, but ended up being burned at the stake. Here is an image portraying his tragic martyrdom:
In 1527, the Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler was also tortured and then burned at the stake by Catholics in Rottenburg, Germany. Other Anabaptists, beginning with Felix Manz in January 1527, were killed by the Reformed Church in in Switzerland. Here is an image depicting Sattler’s martyrdom:
One more example: in 1555, Queen Mary in England sentenced Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to be killed by burning. Here is a drawing from “Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s” (1563) showing their martyrdom:
Some say, though, “But all that was a long time ago!” Quite true. But it was also in the 16th century that the Augsburg Confession (1530) was adopted by the Lutherans, and it remains as a primary doctrinal statement or Lutherans today.
Further, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion was a document adopted by the Church of England in 1563 (finalized in 1571). Incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer, that is still the basic statement of Anglican/Episcopal doctrine.
My point is this: it is not logically consistent to dismiss some events of the 16th century as being done by ancient people who are not like us today while affirming 16th century religious statements as still being authoritative.
Moreover, the Christian atrocities mentioned above weren’t done by some radical fringe group, such as the so-called Islamic State (which is neither truly Islamic or a state) is, but by the most prominent Christian authorities of the time.
Of course, the President also referred to events of the 20th century, not just of the Middle Ages.
On the same day as the President’s Prayer Breakfast talk, noted political commentator Bill Moyers posted “The Fiery Cage and the Lynching Tree, Brutality’s Never Far Away” on BillMoyers.com. Apparently before the President’s talk, Moyers was writing about the very sort of thing the President mentioned—and has been criticized for.
If you aren’t convinced by the brutality of past Christianity depicted in the pictures above, check out Moyers’s article. The President, sadly, wasn’t misrepresenting Christianity.