The blogosphere is burning red, consumed with fury over President Obama’s announcement—made at the end of the news cycle, with talk-radio on weekend break—that he supports the construction of a mosque near the downed World Trade Center buildings. While much is being said, there’s one thing that really struck me about Obama’s announcement: In a 1,200-word statement, which named the Constitution once, Thomas Jefferson twice, and the Founders three times—odd for Obama, who invokes the Founders far less than previous presidents—Obama began with backing from George W. Bush and ended with backing from Jesus Christ. At the same time, he didn’t name Bush or Christ.
First, consider the Bush reference. It came in Obama’s opening:
Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and Seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.
The line about “we are all children of God” is hardly unique—to Obama or Bush; numerous Americans and presidents have used it. That said, more than any president in history, Bush applied that line specifically to Muslims. He did so to insist that Americans not only respect Muslims but understand that Muslims, too, are born with fundamental, unalienable rights and dignity, and, moreover, are capable of establishing democratic governments in places like the Middle East.
Yet, where Obama directly, uniquely invoked Bush was in the very first line of his statement: “Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years.”
Americans might wonder when that “tradition” began. Well, not long ago—too recent, in fact, to be called a tradition. As President Obama himself said, this so-called tradition is only “several years” old. The hosting of iftars, consistently, goes back to President Bush.
Ironically, Obama and the angry left blasted Bush (with Obama, the digs have been more subtle) for his alleged callousness and insensitivity to Muslims. Nothing could be further from the truth. In researching a book on the faith of George W. Bush, I encountered innumerable glowing appraisals of Islam, so flattering and exaggerated—to the point of error—that Bush could have been mistaken for a Muslim.
Really, it was fundamentalist Christians who were most perplexed by Bush, especially as Bush repeatedly, over two terms as president, told multiple interviewers that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Obviously, that’s a problematic assessment, given that Christians worship Jesus Christ as God. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was God.
The point here is that Obama’s supporters hammered Bush relentlessly for his supposed intolerance of Muslims. And now, alas, we have the spectacle of Obama, in an extremely controversial statement calling for toleration—more than that, endorsement—of a mosque near the 9/11 site, launching his case by referencing the iftar dinners begun by Bush.
Will Obama’s angrily secular supporters know that the dreaded Bush was behind this “tradition?” Of course, not.
For that matter, will they recognize the source of Obama’s concluding thought? Obama finished his case for the mosque with this wrap up:
And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam—that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
I’m happy to argue that this is a universal principle. As St. Augustine said, there’s a God-shaped vacuum in all human hearts that God alone can fill. We know, in heart and soul, as products of God, designed by God, made in God’s image, through faith and reason, that such abiding principles are true. In other words, being merely a creature—a creation of God, whether you know it or not—you nod in assent when you hear this statement. To borrow from Jefferson, such are the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.
That said, any Christian immediately recognizes that Obama’s final words are Christ’s words: the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).
Here, too, though, Obama didn’t cite his source. Why not? Is it because the principle is so universal that no source is needed? Or could it be that Obama, ironically, is bending over backwards not to offend Muslims in a statement calling upon Christians (and other non-Muslims) not to be offended by the mosque?
As often with President Obama, when it comes to matters of faith, he has left us with more questions than answers.