Mr. Obama said we shouldn't "get on our high horse" because "During the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."
He also said, "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."
This riled many Christians and other opponents of the president, some of whom (truth be told) would be riled if Mr. Obama found a cure for cancer.
But the president is right, up to a point. Christians did indeed torture and murder non-believers in the name of their religion. Whether the Crusades and the Inquisition were as horrible as many have come to believe, is not the point. They were horrible enough. No reasonable person should make excuses for what Christians did as the president pointed out "in the name of Christ." Not a thousand years ago and not more recently in America during slavery and Jim Crow.
But the president could have also pointed out that those who fought the hardest against slavery were also Christians. But he didn't.
He could have told his audience that Christianity went through a reformation and that moderate Muslims need to lead a reformation too. The President of Egypt has called for just such a reformation. But our president didn't talk about that at the Prayer Breakfast.
And he could have pointed out that Europe had a Renaissance; that it went from the Dark Ages into the light and that the Arab world has had no such Renaissance, but desperately needs one. He didn't do that either.
If Mr. Obama had to reach back so many centuries to make a point, his critics may be excused if they think he was making a case for moral equivalence between what some Christians did centuries ago and what some Muslims are doing today. It's interesting that Mr. Obama has no problem talking about "terrible deeds" committed "in the name of Christ" but can't bring himself to say that today there are "terrible deeds committed in the name of Mohammed." Why is that?
And let's not forget that the president's sermonette came just days after the Islamic State released that video showing a Jordanian POW locked up in a cage being burned alive. Was last week the best time to dredge up atrocities committed in the name of Christ in medieval times?
According to the New York Times, "The president wanted to be provocative in his remarks [according to his aides] … urging people to see how the current brutality of the Islamic State … fits in the broader sweep of global history that has often given rise to what he called 'a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.'"
Thank you, Mr. President, for the history lesson. Thank you for telling us that Christians tortured and killed their enemies a thousand years ago. Now put the time machine back in the garage and come up with a plan to deal with the havoc radical Muslims are causing now.
And it's not terribly useful, or even smart, to judge behavior practiced in the Dark Ages by today's standards. Or even Jim Crow behavior by today's standards.
So why do it? I suspect Mr. Obama doesn't really like the types who attend the Prayer Breakfast. White conservative Christians haven't exactly been part of his base. And any time this president gets an opportunity to take a shot at those he thinks detest all Muslims for what the fanatics do, he'll take the shot. That's what he really did at the Prayer Breakfast.
From here, it looks like he was sending a message to Americans, mainly white, Christian, Republican Americans. A message that says: Don't be so quick to judge them … Muslims… because you are not so pure, either. You too have in your bloodline "a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort" your faith.
President Obama wanted to provoke. And judging from the reaction his speech got, he did. And I suspect, having no more races to run, he doesn't care who he offends. I think we'll be seeing a lot more of Mr. Obama unplugged before he leaves office.