Glenn Terrell, a Florida Supreme Court justice for 41 years, kept a thick file with such titles as “God, the Original Segregationist,” “The Bible Answers the Race Question,” and “God Gave the Law of Segregation (as well as the 10 Commandments) to Moses on Mount Sinai.”
Upon voting to keep a black man out of the University of Florida law school, in explicit defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court, Terrell wrote this:
“… (W)hen God created man, he allotted each race to his own continent according to color, Europe to the white man, Asia to the yellow man, Africa to the black man, and America to the red man, but we are now advised that God’s plan was in error and must be reversed.”
Terrell neglected to acknowledge that the Europeans disrespected “God’s plan” when they colonized, subjugated, enslaved and decimated the populations of Africa, Asia and the Americas, habitually claiming God’s blessing for all of it. But then he was neither the first nor the last bigot who was blind to hypocrisy and inconsistency.
Terrell’s example is pertinent to the spurious controversy over President Barack Obama’s thoughtful and moving speech to the National Prayer Breakfast last week.
Rush Limbaugh, Megyn Kelly of Fox News and other obsessive Obama haters have grossly – and deliberately – misrepresented the important points the president was making in his discourse on the horrors perpetrated by ISIS.
Here is the core of what Obama said:
“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India – an incredible, beautiful country full of magnificent diversity – but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs – acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”
Every word of that was justified. There was a lot more that could have been said, as in comparing today’s murderous conflicts between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam to the mass slaughter of Germans during the Thirty Years War between Protestant and Catholic armies.
“So this is not unique to one group or religion,” Obama said. “There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try…
“…(W)e should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt – not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth…
“We have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number…”
And he added:
“(I)f, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults…and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.” The audience applauded that.
Is Christianity to blame for Terrell? For the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses as a symbol of terror? No. They twisted Christianity to serve bigotry.
Is Pope Francis to blame for the Inquisition, the Crusades, and his long-ago predecessors who sanctioned the enslavement of Native Americans and other non-Christians? No. That’s the past, not the present.
Are the millions of Muslims living peaceably in the United States, Indonesia, France and the Middle East to blame for the minority of their co-religionists who worship death more than God? No. Someday that too will be in the past, no longer in the present.
Religions are institutionally defenseless, for the most part, not only against evildoers who distort or misrepresent their teachings to justify Godless acts, but against bigoted people who would blame the innocent many for the guilty few.
What the world needs now, as the president tried to say, is the intelligence, good will and courage of people who recognize the distinctions and reject the bigotry of those who would confuse them.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.