In his remarks at this year’s Presidential Prayer Breakfast, President Obama talked about violence done in the name of religion:
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. Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs… 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.
His comment about “terrible deeds [done] in the name of Christ” were met with unsurprising outrage and protestations of innocence.
A former Virginia governor called them “the most offensive [comments] I’ve ever heard a president make.”
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League undertook to rewrite history, arguing the Crusades were justified and suggesting the Church was barely involved in the Inquisition.
Ravi Zacharias, a respected Christian apologist, called Obama’s remarks a “presidential blunder” demonstrating an “absence of wisdom” the likes of which he’s never before seen:
The president obviously does not understand the primary sources of [Christianity or Islam] to make such a tendentious parallel.
Yet the president could’ve gone further. He could have mentioned Rwanda, where the church was complicit in one of the worst acts of genocide since the Holocaust. He could have invoked Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered at the hands of professing Christians. He could have highlighted the colonization of Africa, which was steeped in an imperialistic, racist brand of Christendom.
Obama’s aim, however, was not to pick on Christianity but to demonstrate how “religious faiths of all types” are vulnerable to distortion when they are used to justify violence and discrimination against others.
If we don’t recognize this, they maybe we’re the ones who need to spend some more time with those “primary sources” that Ravi Zacharias mentioned. It’s worth noting that both Christianity and Islam have their problem texts in their primary sources, the Bible and the Quran. Both contain passages that seem to allow or even encourage violence.
Read the texts below and see if you can guess which holy book they come from—the Bible or the Quran. (The answers are given at the end of this post. No cheating!)
One note: References to God and/or specific people have been generalized where necessary)
1. We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining.
2. When we resolve to raze a city, we first give warning to those of its people who live in comfort. If they persist in sin, judgment is irrevocably passed, and we destroy it utterly.
3. So he made a vow to God, and said, “If you will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” God listened to his voice.
4. When God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.
5. Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them.
6. You shall destroy all the peoples whom God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them.
7. Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love aggressors.
8. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and he will say, “Destroy!”
9. He left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as God had commanded.
10. Do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.
11. Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you.
12. True believers fight for the cause of God.
13. This charge I commit to you, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.
14. Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the hereafter, fight for the cause of God.
Were you able to tell the difference? What similarities did you notice between passages from the Bible and the Quran?
As Christians, we would argue that context matters when reading the Bible’s more violent texts. However we make sense of these passages, most of us agree they do not permit us to commit comparable acts of violence today. And we don’t like it when people use them as weapons to try to discredit or disparage our faith.
Which is kind of the whole point.
Muslims can say the same about their so-called problem texts. And we should give them the same benefit of the doubt that we expect others to give us.
We don’t get to decide what someone else’s holy book teaches—especially when most of us have read even less of the Quran than we’ve read of the Bible.
I don’t get to decide what the Quran says based a handful of proof texts I’ve heard quoted out of context.
I don’t get to decide what it says based on what a handful of extremists do with it—no more than others get to decide what the Bible teaches based on what white supremacists have done with it.
None of this is to encourage us toward religious relativism. The Bible is my holy book. This is about simple human respect—or, as President Obama put it, “basic humility.”
Yes, we should push back when others try to distort our faith. But we should let the experience remind us not to disparage or misrepresent someone else’s faith.
1. Bible (Deuteronomy 2:34)
2. Quran (17:16)
3. Bible (Numbers 21:2-3)
4. Bible (Deuteronomy 7:2)
5. Quran (9:5)
6. Bible (Deuteronomy 7:16)
7. Quran (2:190)
8. Bible (Deuteronomy 33:27)
9. Bible (Joshua 10:40)
10. Bible (1 Samuel 15:3)
11. Quran (2:191)
12. Quran (4:76)
13. Bible (1 Timothy 1:18)
14. Quran (4:74)