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02.28.12

The GOP Sounds Un-Christian in Condemning Obama’s Quran-Burning Apology

The president’s apology over the Quran burning is notable because Obama did apologize, something you don’t often see him do, Kirsten Powers writes.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

In fact, for many conservatives, it seems to be an expletive. Lately, they are huffing about President Obama’s letter to Hamid Karzai apologizing for U.S. soldiers accidentally burning the Quran in Afghanistan.

Sen. Rick Santorum complained that "this was a mistake and there was no deliberate act," and "there was no act that needed an apology." So, if you accidentally drop your spouse’s Bible in the toilet, don’t worry: it was an accident; no need to apologize. It’s so freeing to discover that you never apologize unless you did something intentionally.

Never one to miss an opportunity for some nonsensical name calling, Newt Gingrich called Obama—who killed Osama bin Laden, assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki, and escalated U.S. involvement in Pakistan and Afghanistan—an “appeaser.” Newt declared, “It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around." Romney and Santorum recited the same silly talking point in their interviews.

If this line of reasoning sounds familiar, you may have a teenager living in your home. Yes, multiple presidential candidates are arguing that you don’t need to apologize for doing bad things if there are people doing worse things to you. Of course, Hamid Karzai owes America an apology. Actually, he owes us a book of apologies. So what? Thankfully, our standards are not set to what Hamid Karzai does or doesn’t do. They are set by our own values.

This complaint about Obama is nothing new. Conservatives continually deride Obama as the “Apologizer in Chief” for his alleged propensity to take responsibility for American mistakes. Silly me, I thought humility was a good thing. Not so, apparently.

‘If there were Muslims burning Bibles, we would want an apology.’

But its not just Obama’s apology that’s the problem, conservatives protest, it’s the “repeated apologies.” Speaking of repeated apologies, remember when conservatives went nuts because the Bush administration offered “a string of statements by U.S. officials trying to soothe anger [in Iraq] over the shooting [the Quran] incident.” You don’t remember it, because it never happened. There was no outcry, even though Bush himself also apologized to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

What’s curious about the latest installment of “Apology-gate” is that all these men who are criticizing Obama call themselves Christian. How are they representing the views of the Bible, that humility and repentance are virtuous and that pride goes before a fall?

I asked Florida megachurch pastor Rev. Joel Hunter what the Bible says about the proper way for a leader to handle an issue when their country makes a mistake. He told me, “[Apologizing] is the proper response. Scripture is real clear in Proverbs 15:1, ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ Just from consideration in how many people could be hurt, it’s the right thing to do to protect our troops [over the long term].”

What about the argument that Karzai should apologize to us, or that we shouldn’t apologize to him because he doesn’t deserve it? Hunter says, “Our decisions on right behavior can never be based upon others decisions of wrong behavior. Jesus talked about ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ and ‘I am humble and lowly of heart.’ C.S. Lewis once said humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. Humility is part of general respect. President Obama, like Bush, made it clear we were not at war with Islam. If there were Muslims burning Bibles, we would want an apology.”

Rev. James Merritt of Georgia’s Christ Point Church and the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, agrees … to a point. He told me, “I think the greatest danger we face as the most powerful nation in the world is pride. The Bible says, ‘Humble yourself and he will exalt you.’ I have no problem with that premise at all. The scriptures teach the greatest place of strength is a position of humility.”

However, Merritt shares the view of many on the right that Obama apologizes too much but doesn’t defend American interests with the same fervor. However, if you look at the list of so-called Obama apologies compiled by the right, what stands out is how little you see him actually saying he is sorry.

Let’s review. In France in 2009, President Obama told an audience that the United States “shares the blame” for the financial crisis. The next time your spouse tells you they “share the blame” with you for their shopping spree that maxed out your credit card, remember:  that’s an “apology.”

Obama also said, “There have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive.” So, stating a fact is now an apology. In the same breath, Obama also said that, “Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad.” We don’t hear a lot about that part.

At a 2009 press conference in London, Obama was asked what country was responsible for the financial crisis. His answer?  “The U.S. has some accounting to do …”  That’s pretty weak tea as far as mea culpas go.

In Turkey in 2009 he told the Parliament, “Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans. Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. [E]very country must work through its past.” Again, stating historical facts is somehow groveling in the eyes of Obama critics.

I could go on through all examples of the alleged “Obama Apology Tour,” but you get the point. In fact, the apology to Karzai over the Quran burning is notable precisely because Obama apologizes, which is something you don’t see often.

Says Hunter, “We have to realize we have a long way to go and we have done things wrong. There is a place for public leadership to acknowledge we need to correct our wrongs. In the book of Chronicles, it says, ‘Your people shall humble themselves and pray.’ There is a legitimate place for a leader to help our nation to see that we must always be improving our response to other people.”