3 Problems With Obama's National Prayer Breakfast Speech, According to Liberals

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2015. | (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Criticisms of President Barack Obama's National Prayer Breakfast speech did not fall neatly along ideological lines. Some liberals criticized the speech while some conservatives defended it.

Here are three of the criticisms heard from liberals.

1. Comparing ISIS to the Crusades and Inquisition was outdated.

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On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, conservative columnist David Brooks defended the speech while liberal MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell disagreed, arguing Obama made a mistake to talk about the Crusades.

"You don't use 'crusade,' number one, in any context right now. It's too fraught. And the week after a pilot is burned alive in a video shown, you don't lean over backwards to be philosophical about the sins of the fathers, you have to deal with the issue that is in front of you or don't deal with it at all when you talk about faith," she said. Later she added, "you can't really go back to 1095."

Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson made a similar point in a Monday op-ed.

"It should be noted, however, that the Spanish Inquisition took place 500 years ago and the First Crusade nearly 1,000 years ago. The world has changed a bit since then, as has the state of human knowledge. We understand, for example, that deadly epidemics are caused by germs — not by the failure to burn enough witches or slay enough infidels," he wrote.

2. His history lesson was incomplete.

Robinson also criticized Obama for not telling the full story when he noted that slavery and Jim Crow were defended by Christians who claimed that their faith supported their views. While that was true, Robinson reminded that those who opposed slavery and Jim Crow were also often Christians inspired by their faith, such as William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr.

"But it is also true that the abolitionist movement grew out of Christian belief and the Christian church," he wrote. "... Long before the Civil War, the religious and moral argument had been won by the anti-slavery side. Perpetuating the horror was, for slave owners, essentially an economic imperative."

And, "... the civil rights movement never could have triumphed without the Christian churches, both in the South and the North, which served as organizational nodes."

3. He was patronizing and inartful.

Even though "historically accurate," overall, Robinson found Obama's remarks to be "glib, facile and patronizing."

The part of the speech where Obama called for humility and said that Christians should not "get on our high horse," "rings hollow," he wrote, "coming from a leader who routinely sends missile-firing drones to blow suspected militants to bits."

And comparing the current atrocities committed by ISIS to the Crusades and Inquisition was "patronizing in the extreme."

Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House and ran the faith outreach effort for Obama's 2012 campaign, was gentler in his criticism than Robinson, but argued that Obama's remarks were "inartful."

In a Monday appearance on MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," Wear said Obama should have delivered a more hopeful speech similar to his Cairo speech.

Obama should have said, "we have a reason to be hopeful even in the midst of this religious violence, because we have a history of Christians perverting their religion to justify slavery but then we also had Christians who stood up to take back the mantle of their religion to speak up for a God who crushes oppressors and frees slaves," Wear remarked.

You can read CP's coverage of Obama's speech here, read or watch the video of the speech here, or read about some of the criticisms from conservatives here, here and here.

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