Brian Williams’s leave of absence due to concerns about his truthfulness is just the highest profile of a long line of individuals who have stretched the truth. It is interesting to me that the truth matters so much to Americans in a news anchor, but so little in our political leaders. Politicfact.com has four pages of untruths told by our current president, but I don’t hear anyone calling for him to take a sabbatical. President Obama’s recent comments at the National Prayer Breakfast –invoking slavery and the Crusades as examples of how people have “committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ”—may not have been strictly untrue, but they certainly were misleading. Let’s dissect them.
First, if the President wants to compare Christianity’s failings to Islam’s, slavery is not a good place to start. Islam’s connection to slavery is quite well documented. I am not even going to get into the obvious argument related the pivotal role Christians played in outlawing slavery both in the British Empire and in America. Second, as many fact checkers have already noted, the Crusades have been understood for generations as defensive wars against previous Islamic aggression. Some historians have suggested that they were offensive actions driven by papal prerogatives, but even those assertions must be understood within the context of the previous half of a millennium. Regardless of the veracity of the President’s poorly used historical allusions, those who use such arguments fail to recognize the long history of Christian actions since the Crusades. One Presidential partisan tried to turn the statement around suggesting that he was actually slamming Muslims by suggesting they were 600 years behind Christians in their development of civilized living. I have to give him credit for digging deep into the bag of tricks to find that one, but I am afraid he hurts the President more than he helps him. The fact that we have to go back so many centuries (it is actually closer to 900 years), suggests that the comparison is hardly helpful today.
Second, why is the President working so hard to avoid offense? I can remember back in the 1980s when a handful of mentally unstable individuals who called themselves Christians bombed abortion clinics. Public statements about them were quick to align them with Christianity proper and, in particular, with the Pro-Life movement. The Pro-Life organizations promptly distanced themselves from those individuals, but the tarring continued. In today’s America, the nation’s president refuses to refer to the Taliban as terrorists. Is it any wonder that HarperCollins published an atlas for schools in the Middle East that failed to include Israel? The story was hardly a blip in the news cycle, but when the Texas Board of Education thought that the influence of Judeo-Christian thought on the development of the United States was worthy of inclusion in their school textbooks, the internet blew up.
Finally, I think it is worth stating the obvious here. While the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS members in Libya occurred after the President’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast, the martyrdom of these men highlights the fact that ISIS claims to be acting in the interests of their faith. The 21 men were killed because they were Christians. Since September 11, 2001, we have seen this assertion made by various groups time and time again. The numbers of those involved in these actions are significant and the connection between them and the Islamic faith has been made by the terrorists themselves, not by the West.
The Bible is clear about the importance of truth. It can set us free (John 8:32). The Son of God referred to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), suggesting that truth is at the very heart of the character of God. The biblical principle applies very well this discussion. If Islam is truly a religion of peace, then it does not need half-truths and misleading comments to defend it by our leaders. The President, his pundits, and the media would do well to focus on telling the truth. Both Christians and Muslims alike will benefit from having the truth prevail. Apparently, the only way this is going to happen is if the American people demand it. The Brian Williams story suggests there is still some hope that we can require the truth. Perhaps we ought to be more consistent in our pleas.