In the prestigious organization that is "The United States Presidents Club," President Barack Obama is an outlier when one compares him to the 42 other members. The difference stems from obvious reasons. If you are unfamiliar with that difference, I recommend a quick Google search. Unlike his fellow members, Obama has been forced to address issues others in the club wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole or a pen when writing the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution. (Yes, I took a dig at our founding fathers. As it relates to race, they were cowards).
Due to tackling hot-button issues such as race, drug sentencing and sexual orientation throughout his presidency, Obama has seemingly developed the immunity of not giving a damn. Based on historic precedent, this mentality is unusual for a sitting president. Convention tells us that the "not giving a damn" mentality is generally used during one's post-presidency initiatives. That's why the president's comments pertaining to religious extremism made during his National Prayer Breakfast speech surprised so many.
In his speech, Obama attempted to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims when he rightfully stated that extremists who commit evil acts in the name of God or Allah is nothing new to either religious entity. He proceeded to highlight past atrocities that Christians committed during the Crusades and the Inquisition. He confidently declared that even our country, which he apparently doesn't love according to a washed-up and irrelevant former New York City mayor, is no stranger to past deplorable actions. "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ," the president said correctly.
Critics of President Obama's proclamations have adopted the counterpoint that the actions of one form of extremism have nothing to do with the other, arguing that ancient Christians who committed atrocities comparable to present-day Islamic extremists is in the distant past and should not have even been mentioned. Detractors accuse Obama of attempting to incorrectly justify the current evils of Islamic extremism by referring to past Christian actions, which are also, according to modern academia, classified as extreme.
Political adversaries, not surprisingly, have managed to grossly, if not purposely, misinterpret President Obama's message of religious extremism. Obama's message asserts one of unity, peace and historical precedent. The assertion of unity and peace stems from a commonly shared belief that faith, regardless of the religion one may or may not practice, holds the same common values of morality and love. However, when zealous, power-hungry groups like ISIS maliciously interpret or take outdated texts literally, the message of faith transforms into a weapon used to obtain territory and influence through violence and savagery.
Extremist acts have been committed in the name of a single deity or multiple deities for as long as mankind has been able to conceptualize religion itself. Most religious entities and sects can point to a caliginous period.
Hell, we see the impact of the interpretation of paramount religious texts in past and present-day examples. A Christian religious zealot can interpret an outdated Bible verse in order to justify the bombing of an abortion clinic, or a homophobic Alabama State Supreme Court Justice can interpret the state or U.S. Constitution as an affirmation of state's rights or constitutional originalism in order to uphold and legitimize a ban on same-sex marriage based on his beliefs.
Those who profited from slavery sought a way to justify such acts in order to not only maintain obedience over their slaves, but to also satisfy their own moral conflictions. Slave owners solved this conundrum, as Obama alluded to, by interpreting biblical verses that promoted master/servant loyalty and obedience.
Subjective interpretation based on personal motives has always been a recipe for extremism. Extremists can manipulate or cite many texts in the Bible or Koran that are open-ended or obsolete, according to modern-day religious scholars, and feature them as a platform to justify nefarious activities. These holy writings, along with many others, continuously fall victim to malevolent interpretations and outdated texts in order to carry out acts of genocide, prejudice and tyranny.
Leslie McLemore II is a Jackson native, now in Washington, D.C. He is a proud graduate of Jackson State University, North Carolina Central University School of Law (J.D.) and American University Washington College of Law.