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February 10, 2015

The Teaching President: Obama got it right at the prayer breakfast. He was pitch perfect.

Last week when President Obama pointed out that "slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ”, lots of people blew tubes. To be fair, however, his observation is not only true, it's an understatement. If you are not convinced, for whatever reasons, do see Joshua Rothman's President Obama, the National Prayer Breakfast, and Slavery at We're History, an interesting and much-needed site which in large part focuses on history behind the news. Rothman, a professor of Southern History at the University of Alabama, obviously has the chops to write this article. Some Rothman excerpts:

It is hardly unusual for President Obama to elicit criticism, of course, but the criticisms in this instance are particularly odd because, as a matter of history, the contention he put forth at the National Prayer Breakfast is so obviously true. With regard to the defense of slavery especially, Christian justifications for the institution were so ubiquitous in the American South before the Civil War that the only real challenge is in listing their variations. Slavery’s defenders routinely turned to the Old Testament and observed that the Hebrew patriarchs were all slaveholders and that the laws of the ancient Israelites were rife with rules about slaveholding.

Looking to the New Testament, they pointed out that Christ himself never condemned slavery, took comfort from the Epistle to Philemon in which Paul urged the enslaved fugitive Onesimus to return to his master, and regularly cited verses commanding that slaves be obedient and submissive. Some defenders made a case for the notion that people of African descent were the lineage of Noah’s son Ham condemned by God to be eternal servants and thus a divinely sanctioned enslaved race, and others argued that slaveholding was part of white southerners’ religious duty to bring Christianity to African heathens.

So vital was Christianity to the southern defense of slavery that some historians have estimated that ministers penned roughly half of all proslavery literature in the decades after 1830, though it was hardly only ministers like Baptist leader Richard Furman who one might have heard state that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures.”

I'm not a rah-rah true believer Obama person--but I think he's one of the most interesting public figures in history. I voted for Obama only the second time around and even then reluctantly. (Part of it is when I look at Romney's eyes while he's talking I always get the strange feeling that someone or something else is driving...) But Obama's comments at the breakfast were historically accurate and pitch perfect, even if you view them as superfluous.

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Posted by JD Hull at February 10, 2015 09:10 AM

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