Not long ago I received and forwarded to a select
group of friends an e-mail entitled “Sobering Thoughts.” I read it
hastily and believed that it made good sense about the state of President Obama’s
multicultural approach toward the Christian faith in this country. I noted as
well that the document (hereafter referred to as ST) came from a scholarly
friend who provides me, and many others, with important and amusing information
almost daily. I should have looked for the name of the document’s author, but
in the crush of other correspondence I neglected to do so. I still don’t know
who it was.
One of my recipients forwarded a statement by Snopes
declaring that documents like ST contained false information. And so I decided
to dissect ST and test its veracity. There are seven points to examine briefly.
1. In 1952 President Truman “established”
one day a year as a National Day of Prayer. That’s true, although it should have
been noted that Truman was signing a bill passed by Congress rather than making
a unilateral declaration. Every Chief Executive since that time, in conformity
with the law, has issued a statement endorsing a National Day of Prayer.
2. In 1988 President Reagan designated the first Thursday
in May of each year to be “the National Day of Prayer.” True.
3. In June, 2007 candidate Obama declared publicly
that the United States was not a Christian nation. True. He has repeated this
as President. (See factcheck.org.)
4. In 2009 President Obama “cancelled the 21st
annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House.” True. But it
might have been well to observe that only recent Republicans–Reagan and both
Bushes–had held White House events marking the day. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton
5. On September 25, 2009, a National Day of Prayer was
held on Capitol Hill “Beside the White House,” and 50,000 Muslims
attended. This is highly misleading, for ST wants readers to believe that the
Obama Administration officially endorsed this privately organized venture. It
did not. Linking the physical proximity of Capitol Hill and the White House is crude
and silly. The Muslim rally had about 5,000 attendees; they said their prayers,
there were no disturbances, and the press largely ignored the event. The
principal organizer said that he was inspired by Obama’s inaugural address and
a speech at Cairo University that called for close relations between the United
States and the Muslim world.
6. A photo in ST shows President Obama taking off his
shoes as if to begin Muslim worship. “He prays with the Muslims.” As
Snopes points out, the photo was taken at the national mosque in Turkey during
an official state visit, and the gesture was required of all.
7. ST concludes, “The direction the country is
headed should strike fear in the heart of every Christian, especially knowing
that the Muslim religion believes that if Christians cannot be converted, they
should be annihilated.” That’s an interpretation of Islam that remains
highly controversial. It was not held by President George W. Bush, and it is
flatly rejected, of course, by his successor. Had ST been a bit more
sophisticated, it might have observed that in September, 2009 President Obama
held a formal White House dinner to celebrate the Islamic holy month of
Ramadan. The Chief Executive called Islam, “a great religion.” It is
obvious that Obama respects the faith of his youth. This is not a crime. Nor,
perhaps, is it unwise.
It seems then that “Sobering Thoughts” is
one of a series of such Internet messages, no doubt stemming from conservative
evangelicals in this country, designed to persuade Americans that the President
is a closet Muslim and is close to backing the wrong side in what used to be
called the “War on Terror”. There is perhaps a case to be made in
this direction, but it must contain far more evidence and historical accuracy
than the document under examination to be taken seriously. And it must include
recent statements by the President on the urgency of defeating terrorists in
Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In a 2009 address to the National Prayer Breakfast (a
tradition in Washington since 1953), Obama declared, “But no matter what
we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central
tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent
human being.” To the West Point Class of 2010, Obama condemned al Qaeda’s “gross
distortion of Islam”. Let us hope that our President is correct, and that
this nation can rely on Islamic nations to help us defend freedom (especially
religious freedom) and prosperity throughout the globe. We can doubt Obama’s
reading of history and reject his optimism, but it seems unjust to cast
suspicion on his loyalty and integrity in this critical matter.
Thomas C. Reeves writes from Wisconsin.
Among his dozen books are Twentieth Century America: A Brief History, and
biographies of John F. Kennedy, Joseph R. McCarthy, Fulton Sheen, Walter J.
Kohler, Jr and Chester A. Arthur.