THE MOST “BIBLICALLY-HOSTILE PRESIDENT” or the MOST DECEITFUL CHRISTIAN LEADER?
Craig M. Watts
It seems that vicious distortion and flagrant misrepresentation are acceptable weapons in the battle for “God and Country.” One particularly nasty example of this is found in a piece by David Barton that has been widely spread for several months in emails, on Facebook and through other social media. Entitled “America’s Most Biblically-Hostile U. S. President,” it purports to show how President Obama ranks as enemy Number One for people who are Protestant, Catholic or Jew. The article claims that the President is “disrespectful” and directs “appalling treatment” toward the beliefs of these religions. Further, Barton insists there “have been numerous clearly documented times when his pro-Islam positions have been the cause of his anti-Biblical actions.”
This is certainly not the first time Barton has twisted facts to serve ideological purposes. He is above all a political operative, former Vice Chairman of the Texas Republican Party. He is acclaimed among the religious right for his “historical” works. In fact Barton is to historians what the movie “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” is to history.
While Barton impresses his audiences by firing out tidbits of (mis)information like bullets spraying from an M-16, he is not recognized as an authority – or even as a modestly credible lay historian – among professors of history. But among those who know nothing of the discipline of historians, principally religious audiences and conservative political circles, he is regarded as a leading light. Barton’s work has been repeatedly debunked by recognized historians, even among conservative evangelicals, but this means nothing to his fans who are taken in by his charm and who favor his ideology. They readily believe him when he calls real, respected historians “revisionists.”
Barton and his fellow travelers in the religious right accuse President Obama of engaging in a war on Christianity, or more broadly, on “biblical religion.” In fact they are the ones pursuing a war. It is one directed against anyone who does not defer to their sense of religious entitlement.
I have no great desire to defend President Obama from well-deserved charges. I have a substantial list of my own. But any claim that he is “biblically hostile” in a way that distinguishes him from previous Presidents is a lie, or in Barton’s case, a series of lies. He organizes his assault as follows: (1) Obama’s supposed attacks on Biblical persons or organizations; (2) examples of so-called hostility toward “Biblical faith” that have become evident in the Obama-led military; (3) a listing of what Barton represents as “open attacks on Biblical values”; and finally (4) a listing of “numerous incidents of his preferential deference for Islam’s activities and positions, including letting his Islamic advisors guide and influence his hostility toward people of Biblical faith.”
Many of the charges Barton marshals against the President have to do with matters of detail of which it is highly unlikely that the President had any input at all. Some of the other charges either blow out of all proportion the significance of the words or incidents Barton names or misconstrue the entire matter. Still other charges are brought against Obama for practices that also occurred with earlier Presidents but which Barton doesn’t acknowledge. Some of the charges are without any real basis at all. Unfortunately, it is much easier to tell a lie, twist the truth or misrepresent an incident than it is to briefly correct the distortions of fact. It would require a small book to answer all his falsehoods. Consequently, I will restrict myself to a sizable sampling of Barton’s charges.
1. Acts of hostility toward people of Biblical faith:
- April 2008 – Obama speaks disrespectfully of Christians, saying they “cling to guns or religion” and have an “antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” Certainly, this was a foot-in-mouth moment for Obama, one for which he apologized. We can say he was disrespectful of rural and small town Americans but to claim he attacked Christians as such is utterly false.
- February 2009 – Obama announces plans to revoke conscience protection for health workers who refuse to participate in medical activities that go against their beliefs, and fully implements the plan in February 2011. In fact there were no such protections under the Bush administration or earlier administrations. The rule was issued but not implemented, only a month before President Bush left office. President Obama just maintained the longstanding status quo.
- April 2009 – When speaking at Georgetown University, Obama orders that a monogram symbolizing Jesus’ name be covered when he is making his speech. Is this an act of hostility toward religious people? The suggestion that it is maliciously distorts the reality of the situation. The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Institute at Georgetown University, said he didn’t think “this is motivated by theology, but by communications strategy.” There is no evidence that the President personally gave any instructions about covering the religious symbol.
- May 2009 – Obama declines to host services for the National Prayer Day at the White House. As a minister, my response to this is, “So what?” No other President but George W. Bush hosted National Day of Prayer services. To consider this as an “act of hostility” is only possible from people with a bloated sense of religious entitlement. Rumors that the President subsequently canceled the National Day of Prayer are false.
- April 2009 – In a deliberate act of disrespect, Obama nominated three pro-abortion ambassadors to the Vatican; of course, the pro-life Vatican rejected all three. The fact is that David Barton himself would not be an acceptable nominee because he stands against Roman Catholic Church dogma on even more points than the Obama nominees. That the President proposed some individuals to Vatican who were not acceptable on some count doesn’t make him hostile to people of faith. Christians have legitimate differences.
- October 19, 2010 – Obama begins deliberately omitting the phrase about “the Creator” when quoting the Declaration of Independence – an omission he has made on no less than seven occasions. But, then, who’s counting? And who is in a position to attribute a motive to the omission? On other occasions he did include “Creator.” Much ado about nothing.
- November 2010 – Obama misquotes the National Motto, saying it is “E pluribus Unum” rather than “In God We Trust” as established by federal law. The fact is that E pluribus Unum was long used as the de facto national motto, even though never officially recognized. It first appeared in the great seal of the United States in 1782. It is a long-standing motto of the United States but not the official motto. There is certainly no anti-religious hostility in the President using it.
- February 2011 – Although he filled posts in the State Department, for more than two years Obama did not fill the post of religious freedom ambassador, an official that works against religious persecution across the world; he filled it only after heavy pressure from the public and from Congress. If it were not for being held up in the Senate, the post would have been filled considerably earlier. In fact the President had selected Suzan Jackson Cook but the nomination expired and he had to re-nominate her nearly a year later.
- November 2011 – Unlike previous presidents, Obama studiously avoids any religious references in his Thanksgiving speech. Again evidence that President Obama “studiously avoids religious references” is nonexistent, regardless of whether he chose to use religious language on this particular occasion. In fact he has used religious language so often that one well respected Christian historian has labeled Obama “the most explicitly Christian President in American history.”
- December 2011 – The Obama administration denigrates other countries’ religious beliefs as an obstacle to radical homosexual rights. The real radical on this matter is David Barton. This issue is not whether religious groups have a right to condemn homosexual behavior as a sin, but the destructive consequences of criminalizing homosexuality and offering religious sanction for using the death penalty against homosexuals, as is still being done in several nations.
2. Acts of hostility from the Obama-led military toward people of Biblical faith:
- August 2011 – The Air Force stops teaching the Just War theory to officers in California because the course is taught by chaplains and is based on a philosophy introduced by St. Augustine in the third century AD – a theory long taught by civilized nations across the world (except America). It was not the Obama administration that stopped the Air Force from teaching an explicitly Militaristic Christian slant on the just war tradition but a lower level decision made in response to objections by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The class cited had misappropriated scripture and offered a distorted version of the just war tradition, one that justified nuclear warfare. This led some of the officers who took the required class to derisively call it the “Jesus loves nukes” course. Many Christian leaders – me included – applaud the MRFF for helping to bring this class to a halt.
- September 2011 – Air Force Chief of Staff prohibits commanders from notifying airmen of programs and services available to them from chaplains. In fact he instructed officers to have chaplains notify the airmen of the services available “to avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or extend preferential treatment for any religion.” The real problem is that Barton wants preferential treatment to be extended to his brand of Christianity, contrary to the U.S. Constitution and official Armed Services policy.
- September 2011 – The Army issues guidelines for Walter Reed Medical Center stipulating that “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading materials and/or facts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” According to Navy Times, this poorly worded section of the guidelines was “designed to protect patients from proselytizer.” According to hospital spokesperson Sandy Dean, “If family, if friends, wanted to bring things in, it was fine….We want to make sure that visitors are respecting our patients religious practices and culture.” Again we find no Obama-led hostility toward religion.
- February 2012 – The U. S. Military Academy at West Point disinvites three star Army general and decorated war hero Lieutenant General William G. (“Jerry”) Boykin (retired) from speaking at an event because he is an outspoken Christian. Actually, Gen. Boykin was disinvited, not because he is a Christian, but because he is a radical Islamophobe who has said such things as that “there should be no mosques in America.” And it wasn’t President Obama who caused the invitation to be withdrawn. Both the military and many Christians have been embarrassed by Boykin’s depictions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a battle against God and Satan.
- February 2012 – The Air Force removes “God” from the patch of Rapid Capabilities Office (the word on the patch was in Latin: Dei). I can’t understand why any clear thinking Christian wouldn’t strongly support the removal of “God” – in whatever language – from a military patch that says in translation, “Doing God’s Work With Other People’s Money.”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/categories-c-a/2012/02/08/gIQAQjNYzQ_story.html Some have taken the motto to be a bit of humor. I think it is poor humor. But if it is serious, then it strikes me as blasphemy. The Air Force is not doing “God’s Work” and the inclusion of “God” on the logo of an Air Force acquisitions office gives God no honor. The outcry from the religious right is misguided.
- June 2012 – Bibles for the American military have been printed in every conflict since the American Revolution, but the Obama Administration revokes the long-standing U. S. policy of allowing military service emblems to be placed on those military Bibles. In fact this is not a longstanding policy but a marketing ploy used by LifeWay Christian Resources associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I strongly oppose putting emblems on the Bible, believing this distorts the purpose and message of the Bible by associating it with the Armed Forces. I am inclined to see it more anti-Christian to have the emblems on the Bibles than to have them removed. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) claimed responsibility for instigating the removal, not the Obama Administration. Contrary to the claims of some on the religious right, the MRFF is not an “atheist organization,” rather over 95% of their clients are Christians.
3. Acts of hostility toward Biblical values:
In his list of seventeen items Barton focuses predominantly on matters related to either homosexuality or abortion. While many of the specific items he names involve factual errors and misrepresentation, the underlying issues are deeper and can’t be resolved with a brief response. Consequently, I’ll only offer a few general remarks.
Plenty of religious people – Christians, Jews and others – differ with Barton’s view of these matters. What Barton calls President Obama’s “acts of hostility toward Biblical values” usually come down to recognizing equality for homosexuals, not giving preferential treatment to abstinence-only sex education programs and funding family planning organizations that may include abortion as an option – not that they promote abortion. There certainly are some legitimate differences among Christians and others in these matters and no shortage of misunderstanding and distortion. However, I find it interesting that Barton has such a narrow view of what counts as “Biblical values.” Care for the poor, the stewardship of the earth, the pursuit of peace and numerous other important concerns don’t rate a mention.
4. Acts of preferentialism for Islam:
- May 2009 – While Obama does not host any National Day of Prayer event at the White House, he does host White House Iftar dinners in honor of Ramadan. In this Obama stands within the normal tradition for a President. Again, only his immediate predecessor had any National Day of Prayer event in the White House. Hosting Iftar dinners was started with President Bill Clinton. No anti-biblical religious bias on the part of President Obama is found in this action.
- April 2010 – Christian leader Franklin Graham is disinvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer Event because of complaints from the Muslim community. Actually, at the forefront of the opposition to Graham was an organization headed by a Jew whose clients are predominately Christians, the previously mentioned Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Graham has had opposition from Christian groups for the “kinds of comments [that] could have enormous negative effects for America and are especially harmful to the Christian witness.” Again, this episode has nothing to do with any supposed “preferentialism for Islam” on the part of President Obama.
- August 2010 – Obama speaks with great praise of Islam and condescendingly of Christianity. This claim is not based on anything actually said by President Obama praising Islam or diminishing Christianity but rather the source is a hatch-job article written by right-wing actor Chuck Norris.
- August 2010 – Obama went to great lengths to speak out on multiple occasions on behalf of building an Islamic mosque at Ground Zero, while at the same time he was silent about a Christian church being denied permission to rebuild at that location. President Obama did support the structure, as did Republican New York City Mayor Bloomberg. The demonstrations related to the large Muslim building project garnered international attention. On the other hand, the dispute with the city over the rebuilding of the small St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was local and had to do with money, not religious freedom. The church wanted more than the $20 million dollars – plus other inducements – offered by the city. Surely there were other issues. Nothing in this dispute warranted the President’s involvement. No evidence of “preferentialism for Islam” here.
- 2010 – While every White House traditionally issues hundreds of official proclamations and statements on numerous occasions, this White
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House avoids traditional Biblical holidays and events but regularly recognizes major Muslim holidays, as evidenced by its 2010 statements on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha. This is a case of grasping at straws to criticize President Obama. In fact neither Bush and Reagan or any modern President offered Easter proclamations, either. Activities related to Christmas in the Obama Whitehouse are not different from earlier administrations. This is a phony issue fabricated for propaganda purposes.
- October 2011 – Obama’s Muslim advisers block Middle Eastern Christians’ access to the White House. This incident was never reported by any credible news outlet, though it circulated on a large number of far-right websites. There is no confirmation that this claim is at all true.
- February 2012 – The Obama administration makes effulgent apologies for Korans being burned by the U. S. military, but when Bibles were burned by the military, numerous reasons were offered why it was the right thing to do. Comparing apples and nail clippers. The issues are totally different between burning Korans and burning Bibles. There is no prohibition in Christianity against burning Bibles. The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said. Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright said. There was concern that Afghans would believe that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims. This would undermine their mission. On the other hand, when the President apologized for the Koran burnings, he was trying to save lives. Two soldiers had already been killed before the apology because Muslims see the burning of Korans to be deeply offensive.
David Barton concludes his deceptive document with the outlandish claim, “The hostility of President Obama toward Biblical faith and values is without equal from any previous American President.” In fact it seems that Barton is working very hard to show himself to be the American religious leader whose deceitfulness is without equal.