WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – President Barack Obama continued his outreach to Muslim Americans during the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, calling for greater national unity.
Mr. Obama praised “the peaceful spirit of Islam” and shared the story of Rami Nashashibi, a Chicago man of the Muslim faith who defied fear of ostracism one day after the San Bernardino attacks and prayed with his daughters in a public park.
The president’s message that Muslims “are Americans and welcome here” drew praise from some pastors and pundits, who see an opportunity to build alliances with a new generation of Islam.
Others vehemently disagreed with the president’s olive-branch strategy, suggesting it’s weak and willfully blind to reality.
Fox Radio host Todd Starnes criticized the president for “lecturing” America’s faith leaders, again, at the annual breakfast.
This longstanding criticism of Mr. Obama’s draws on his refusal to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” and a 2015 Prayer Breakfast address, in which he warned Christians against getting on a religious “high horse” while discussing atrocities committed by extremists in other religions.
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.
Mr. Obama’s 2014 assertion that ISIS was a “JV team” further convinced conservatives that the president’s worldview kept him from seeing the growing threat posed by Islamic radicals.
Andrea Tantaros, co-host of Fox’s Outnumbered, reacted to Mr. Obama’s visit to a Baltimore mosque on Wednesday with a tweet accusing the president of systematically excluding Christians from his message of ecumenical inclusion.
A closer inspection of the White House’s National Prayer Breakfast transcript shows that Mr. Obama did, just the following day, include the Christian faith in his calls for peace and understanding.
The president told pastors and congressional leaders assembled at the Washington Hilton, in part:
We pray for God’s protection for all around the world who are not free to practice their faith, including Christians who are persecuted, or who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence. (Applause.) And just as we call on other countries to respect the rights of religious minorities, we, too, respect the right of every single American to practice their faith freely.
A total of 2.75 million Muslims live in America, according to Pew Research.
Sensing the dangers of widening internal divisions, with 56% of Americans saying Islam is “at odds” with American values, Mr. Obama used his final State of the Union address to warn against “turning against each other as a people” during “the changes of our time.”
As he wraps up his final year in office, sources close to Mr. Obama say he is doggedly focused on degrading ISIS abroad and halting religious dissension at home.
And on his way out the Oval Office door, the president appears set to do it on his terms, whether critics like it or not.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales