d r a f t

“Remarks by the President and the Vice President at Easter Prayer Breakfast,” Office of the Press Secretary, White House, April 7, 2015 https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/07/remarks-president-and-vice-president-easter-prayer-breakfast

“[…] Isn’t that how Jesus lived?  Isn’t that how He loved?  Embracing those who were different; serving the marginalized; humbling Himself to the last.  This is the example that we are called to follow — to love Him with all our hearts and mind and soul, and to love our neighbors — all of our neighbors — as ourselves.  As it says in the first letter of John, “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love.  And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned.  But that’s a topic for another day.  (Laughter and applause.) 

Where there is injustice — I was about to veer off.  (Laughter.)  I’m pulling it back.  Where there is injustice we defend the oppressed.  Where there is disagreement, we treat each other with compassion and respect.  Where there are differences, we find strength in our common humanity, knowing that we are all children of God.  

***

Maya Rodan, “President Obama Hints at Disappointment With Christians at Easter Breakfast,” Time, April 7, 2015

Speaking in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, Obama spoke at length about the meaning of Easter, the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, noting the religion’s emphasis on themes of love and acceptance.

“On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned,” President Obama said, before theatrically stopping himself. “But that’s a topic for another day.”

The response could have something to do with the fact that at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, the President didn’t use the same level of restraint. While discussing terrorists in Syria, Nigeria, Paris and beyond using religion to justify the harm they inflict on others, Obama held a mirror up to Christians, saying they too had in the past used their faith to justify violence.”

[quotes February prayer breakfast, concludes:]

On Tuesday, however, Obama took a different approach. “I’m pulling it back,” he said, to laughter.

***

Steve Bennen, “Obama’s Easter prayer event riles far-right critics,” MSNBC, April 9, 2015 https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/obamas-easter-prayer-event-riles-far-right-critics-msna569731.

[Bennen, a producer for the Rachel Maddow Show, quotes Daily Caller and Fox Nation, adds:]

That’s really just a small sampling. One Fox News host said yesterday Obama’s remarks “make people wonder about his Christian faith” because the president doesn’t say “nice things about Christians.” A Fox News guest added last night, referencing the president’s speech, “I don’t think in any sense he is a Christian.”

[…]

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of the right-wing apoplexy in February over the president’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s almost as if far-right media activists have some kind of weird preoccupation with the president’s faith, which skews their judgment and leads them to say dumb things in public. 

***

“Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast,” Office of the Press Secretary, White House, Feb. 5, 2015 https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast.

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.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth. 

[…]

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both. 

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

So humility I think is needed.  And the second thing we need is to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments.  Between church and between state.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell [Waltrip, keynoter, NASCAR] talk about his faith journey you know it’s real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It’s from the heart.  

[…]

Humility; a suspicion of government getting between us and our faiths, or trying to dictate our faiths, or elevate one faith over another.  And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them — that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  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.

Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”  He challenges us to press on in what he calls our “march of living hope.”  And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.  (Applause.)

***

Juliet Eilperin, “Critics pounce after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast,” Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2015 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-speech-at-prayer-breakfast-called-offensive-to-christians/2015/02/05/6a15a240-ad50-11e4-ad71-7b9eba0f87d6_story.html.

Some Republicans were outraged. “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

[…]

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.”

What we need more is a “moral framework from the administration and a clear strategy for defeating ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

***

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Critics Seize On Obama’s ISIS Remarks at Prayer Breakfast,” New York Times, Feb. 5, 2015 https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/us/politics/obama-national-prayer-breakfast-terrorism-islam.html.

[also quoted Gilmore]

Rush Limbaugh devoted a segment of his show to what he said were the president’s insults to the “whole gamut of Christians” and Twitter’s right wing piled on. Guests on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show spent 15 minutes airing objections to the president’s comments.

[…]

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that Mr. Obama was trying to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.” He said the president’s comparisons were “insulting” and “pernicious.”

Mr. Gilmore said the comments go “further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

The White House had no comment on Thursday night about the criticism.

***

Adalle M. Banks [Religion News Service], “Obama condemns ‘distorted’ faith at National Prayer Breakfast,” National Catholic Reporter Feb. 5, 2015

The breakfast has often turned controversial, and this year was no exception with the inclusion of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who attended but did not speak and was not seated on the dais with other speakers.

Under pressure from China not to recognize the Nobel laureate, Obama nonetheless opened his remarks by welcoming the Dalai Lama, calling him “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion” and someone who “inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.”

Chinese officials had criticized the Dalai Lama’s plans to appear at the event.

“We are against any country’s interference in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues, and are opposed to any foreign leader’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in any form,” said Hong Lei, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before the breakfast.

Obama and the Dalai Lama have met several times at the White House, but the White House usually keeps the meetings private and low-key so as not to anger China.

***

Eric Yoffie, “The Critics Were Wrong About Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech,” Time, Feb. 12, 2015 https://time.com/3707288/the-critics-were-wrong-about-obamas-prayer-breakfast-speech/.

[Eric Yoffie is a writer and lecturer and was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012.]

Here again, these are matters that are self-evidently true. While the President did not mention every major religion, Judaism included, he could have. All religious traditions succumb at certain times to an internal religious dynamic in which sacred texts are misused by extremist elements. They embrace a belief in a vengeful, hateful God, and use this belief to justify killing and fanaticism.

In the remainder of the President’s remarks, he spoke movingly of America’s imperfect but impressive record of preserving religious dynamism and promoting religious moderation. America has done what most democracies have not by insisting on both freedom of speech and freedom of religion, while also maintaining separation between church and state. Americans, he said, have a vibrant religious life because they do certain things: They are humble about their religious convictions. They don’t allow government to get in the way of religious practice. And they defend the right of a person to insult another’s religion, while also using their freedom of speech to condemn such insults.

One would think that both religious and political conservatives would have applauded the President’s remarks, which celebrated American religion and affirmed the centrality of religion in American society. But, in fact, exactly the opposite happened. As noted in the Washington Post, Jim Gilmore, the former Republican governor of Virginia, called the President’s comments “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.” Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore said the speech’s sentiments were “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison,” suggesting that the President’s emphasis should have been on defeating ISIS and not the sins of Christianity.

Why in heaven’s name the uproar, since the President’s words were so carefully chosen and so enthusiastically supportive of America’s religious way of life?

***

D’Angelo Gore, “Eight Years of Trolling Obama,” FactCheck.org, Jan. 19, 2017 https://www.factcheck.org/2017/01/eight-years-of-trolling-obama/.

Barack Obama will be succeeded as president of the United States by Donald Trump, who long challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by questioning whether Obama, the first African American president, was, in fact, born in America.

Trump wasn’t alone. For years, many of Obama’s fellow Americans questioned his citizenship.

But the so-called “birther” claims weren’t the only spurious rumors about Obama. Over his eight years in office, we have written about hundreds of viral claims about the president, his family and his policies. Perhaps no bogus claim has persisted more than the falsehood that Obama is an anti-Christian Muslim.

According to a 2015 CNN/ORC poll, 80 percent of Americans correctly believe that Obama was born in the U.S., but only a plurality, 39 percent, know that he is a Christian. Twenty-nine percent believe that he is a Muslim.

[Reams of quotes under headings: Not a Muslim; Not an immigrant; and Not anti-America]

This is just a sampling, really, of the bogus claims that have been made up about Obama over eight years. He also didn’t create the “Obamaphone,” call for a “new world order,” criminalize free speech, create a “private army,” or attempt to declare martial law.

In all, we’ve written close to 200 Ask FactCheck articles about Obama and the first family, including Bo, the dog. But the attacks on Obama’s religion and patriotism stand out — not for what they purported to say about Obama, but for what they say about the biases of people who write and spread such nonsense.

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