President Barack Obama recently stated at the National Prayer Breakfast that “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” He specifically mentioned the Crusades, Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow.

The Crusades started as a response to the Seljuk Turks coming from Central Asia and capturing much of then-Christian Anatolia (present day Turkey). Byzantine Emporer Alexios I Komnenos appealed to Pope Urban II in 1095 for help in stopping the killing of Christians. During the Crusades, many cruelties were done by Christians and Muslims to each other, and especially to the Jews. The Turks eventually introduced the practice of Devshirme, where one in every five non-Muslim boys was taken from his family as property of the Caliph/Sultan. Devshirme was practiced in the Ottoman Empire and finally died out around 1850.

The Inquisition by the Roman Catholic Church persecuted numerous breakoff groups, e.g. Waldensians, Hussites and most of all Protestants (as well as non-Christian groups like Jews and Muslims). One important point is that Christendom stopped this practice centuries ago. Today, in many Muslim-majority countries, thousands of people are tortured and killed because they are accused of not properly following Islam. At least as many people die yearly in those lands as died in all the years of the European Inquisition.

American slavery was an oppressive institution. However, neither Americans (nor Europeans) started the enslavement of Africans. The Arab Muslims, 500 years before the first Europeans, had a network of slave trading into the heartland of Africa. Unfortunately, the Europeans simply went along with an unjust system. However, Christians (like William Wilberforce) fervently worked to put an end to the slave trade in England; sadly, the slave trade of Africans is still tolerated and practiced in parts of the Middle East today.

Jim Crow was an ugly part of American history. I am not at all proud of what was done and said by a number of white Christians to African-Americans for almost a hundred years after the Civil War. However, Christians, believing that all humans are made in God’s image, also played a significant role in reversing Jim Crow. (Who remembers the Armenians?)

I do not hate Muslims or advocate violence against them. I like the acronym ISLAM: I Sincerely Love All Muslims. I do not want to downplay the pain caused by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. In my own life, I have not lived up to the calling of Christ and hurt those I love. Yet, are the terrible deeds in the name of Christ really on par with what we are seeing on almost a daily basis from some of the followers of Islam (like the beheadings of Coptic Christians)?

Walter Hackney

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Baton Rouge