A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Huckabee’s False Witnessing

Mike Huckabee made a number of twisted claims about President Obama’s recent reference to the Crusades and the Inquisition at the National Prayer Breakfast.

In an appearance on Fox News on Feb. 9, the former Arkansas governor and 2016 Republican presidential prospect said the president’s statement was “nothing short of shocking,” and added that Obama was against Christians, against Jews in Israel, and that Muslims are the “one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support.”

Huckabee was attacking Obama’s remarks at the annual event on Feb. 5, when the president denounced the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, for committing “unspeakable acts of barbarism” in the name of Islam, and added that centuries earlier “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ” as well.

“How on earth he could go back a thousand years in history and pick up something that Christians did in response to Muslim aggression and somehow blame Christians for the burning of a Jordanian pilot, for the cutting off of the heads of children who are Christians, it’s just absolutely stunning to me,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee wasn’t alone in criticizing the president’s remarks, but his attack distorts the facts. Obama did not “blame Christians” for the burning of the Jordanian pilot or the beheadings. Obama, who focused his speech on humanity’s struggle to reconcile the good and evil that has been done in the name of religion, said religious fanatics “throughout human history” have “distorted their faith.” He said this perversion of religion is “not unique to … one religion.”

Obama, Feb. 5: From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack [religion] for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. 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 [Mahatma] Gandhi the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.

Huckabee also claimed that Obama “never said these people are a perversion of Islam.” Obama didn’t use the word “perversion” but he did say “we … see faith being twisted and distorted” and that ISIS and its supporters “professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.”

And Huckabee was also wrong when he said, “He [Obama] also brought in Jim Crow laws as if was Christians who were responsible for racism in America.” What Obama actually said was, “slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” And Obama was correct.

Duke University, which has an extensive collection of the Ku Klux Klan’s existence from 1916 to 1987, describes the group during this period as a “Twentieth-century secret fraternal group held to confine its membership to American-born white Protestant Christians.” The “Constitution and Laws of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” which was published in 1921, says members must be “white male Gentile person” and “a believer in the tenets of the Christian Religion.”

Furthermore, the Southern Baptist Convention itself adopted a resolution at its 1995 convention regarding slavery that stated: “Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery.” The resolution went on to denounce racism and “apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”

And Huckabee should know that. He’s an ordained Baptist minister.

Huckabee went on to accuse Obama of being anti-Christian, anti-Jew and pro-Muslim: “Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.”

Huckabee is entitled to his opinions, of course. Obama is a professing Christian who has been criticized for not regularly attending church, but it is also a fact that he mentions Jesus in his speeches even more often than his predecessor did.

As for Jews in Israel, most don’t share Huckabee’s view of Obama. The most recent recent Pew Global Attitudes Project survey from last spring found 71 percent of Israelis had either “some” or “a lot” of confidence that Obama would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Furthermore, the same poll showed that most people in several Muslim countries don’t reflect Huckabee’s opinion about support for Obama, either. In Egypt, only 19 percent had any confidence that Obama would do right. In Tunisia it was 27 percent, in Turkey 24 percent, in the Palestinian territories 13 percent, and in Pakistan it was just 7 percent.

Opinions are one thing, even if poorly supported by facts. But bearing false witness about another person’s own words is another. Rev. Huckabee could do better.

— Brooks Jackson, with Eden Everwine