This is the fourth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.
Below is my response.
Dear Mr. ——,
Thanks for passing along this email on America’s relationship with prayer. Some of it is true, but not all of it.
President Obama did not encourage schools to teach the Quran for extra credit, for example, and the so-called “Muslim Prayer Day” was not an official event hosted by either Congress or the President, but rather an unaffiliated group of Muslims exercising their right to peaceful assembly.
Actually, I would expect most Americans to be thrilled at the news of Muslims gathering peacefully, since that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting them to do, rather than turning toward violent extremism. “We need to change the face of Islam,” said one of the event organizers, “because we love America.” That sounds to me like something a Republican politician would say.
Similarly, there’s only a grain of truth in the claim that President Obama dismissed the National Day of Prayer ceremony. He never said anything about “not wanting to offend anyone.” George W. Bush is the only president who consistently held a ceremony at the White House. George H. W. Bush only did it once in four years, and Ronald Reagan only did it once in eight years. So they “dismissed” it too.
I have to say, I’m continually shocked at how Christian Americans can accuse President Obama of being anti-Christian, when he has spoken more eloquently about his Christian faith than any president since Lincoln.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read either of his memoirs, but he writes about his conversion to Christianity in great depth and vulnerability. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me,” he says. “I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”
Contrary to accusations that he’s against public prayer, he talks about his desire for it when he first joined a church, “I thought being part of a community and affirming my faith in a public fashion was important.”
He openly admits that his Christian beliefs shape his political decisions, “It’s hard for me to imagine being true to my faith — and not thinking beyond myself, and not thinking about what’s good for other people, and not acting in a moral and ethical way.”
He quotes Saint Augustine and the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, showing a rich understanding of the religion that few politicians can equal.
In fact, arguably the most memorable speech of the Obama presidency was his eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, where he wove together the American experience and the Christian experience, tracing our Christian values from the Declaration of Independence through Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to today.
If you haven’t seen it, you really owe it to yourself. Not only is his oratory masterful, but he sings “Amazing Grace,” a testament to his Christian beliefs more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen from an American politician.
But the thing that Republicans should love about this speech, especially in this heated time of racial debate and protests, is how he argues that Christianity teaches us to forgive the white murderer who killed the innocent black Americans whom he’s eulogizing. “The essence of what is right about Christianity is embedded here,” he told his staff before the funeral. “They welcomed the stranger. They forgave the worst violence.”
Those words came from the heart. His speechwriter drafted different words for much of that speech, but the president scratched them out and wrote his own. He explained to the young speechwriter that he knew what he wanted to say because he’d been “thinking about this stuff for 30 years.” This is a man who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of faith with impressive study and contemplation.
It’s not difficult to understand why so many myths have been promulgated about Barack Obama’s faith. He doesn’t look like what many Americans think a Christian looks like, and he takes the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution seriously.
But it is difficult to watch him be persecuted for his heritage and his tolerance. At least we can say that, in these experiences, he is following in the steps of many great Christians who have come before him, paving the way toward a kinder, more peaceful future against all the odds.