Just days after avoiding any religious references in the slaughter of Christians by Islamist terrorists in Kenya, President Obama chose the setting of an Easter prayer breakfast Tuesday to criticize “less-than-loving” Christians.
Addressing an ecumenical gathering at the White House of cardinals, ministers, pastors and the lay faithful, Mr. Obama was talking about the Apostle John’s call to love “with actions and in truth” rather than with words. The president then briefly gave in to temptation, and deviated from his prepared remarks.
“On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love,” Mr. Obama said. “And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less-than-loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that’s a topic for another day.”
The audience in the East Room murmured, some with apparent disapproval, as others laughed. The president did not elaborate on what he meant, and returned to his address.
“I was about to veer off,” Mr. Obama told the crowd. “I’m pulling it back.”
The president’s zinging of Christians came four days after he sanitized any reference to religion in the terrorist attacks at a college in Kenya that left 147 dead and scores wounded. Witnesses said the extremists, reportedly belonging to the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabbab, targeted Christians for death by asking hostages if they were familiar with passages from the Koran.
Mr. Obama’s official statement on the attacks described “terrorist atrocities” and “innocent men and women,” but never mentioned religion. His spokesman did say that Christians “reportedly” were targeted.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, called Mr. Obama’s comments at the prayer breakfast “very disturbing.”
“This comes right on the heels of Muslim madmen singling out Christians, calling them out by name, knowing which ones they wanted to execute, in Kenya,” Mr. Donohue said in an interview. “We have a president who never mentions the word ‘Christians’ except when he wants to denigrate them.”
It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Obama was referring to “expressions” directed at him personally, or other examples in the public arena. In the past week, the White House has been highly critical of efforts in Indiana and Arkansas to enact religious freedom laws, saying the measures discriminate against gays.
When a reporter asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest if he knew what Mr. Obama was referring to as “less-than-loving expressions,” Mr. Earnest replied simply, “I don’t.”
It’s the second prayer breakfast this year in which the president has offended some Christians. At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in February, Mr. Obama was discussing violent extremism when he urged Christians not to get on a “high horse” about violence motivated by religious beliefs.
“Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Mr. Obama said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”
Mr. Donohue said it’s part of a “pattern” by the president, who has said he doesn’t want to boost terrorist-recruiting efforts by engaging in anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“He doesn’t want to offend Muslims,” Mr. Donohue said. “But he obviously doesn’t mind offending Christians. Somehow it’s okay to speak about Christians disappointing him, because they don’t always act with love. Well, that’s true. But what a grand opportunity to make a statement about what happened last week in Kenya. And once again, he’s silent with Christians when it comes to us being the victims of genocide. But when it comes to a cheap remark like this, he doesn’t pass up an opportunity.”
Mr. Obama also was criticized in February for saying in an interview that the Jewish victims of a terrorist attack in Paris were killed “randomly.” Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, said Mr. Obama was denying “the vicious anti-Semitic motivation” of the attack on a kosher deli.
But the president did refer to anti-Semitism in other comments he made about the attacks in France.