When Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, made incendiary remarks about Islam, he said that Christians had done some terrible things, too, but that those things had really been exaggerated.
“What Christians have done over the years, the horrible atrocities, has been somewhat overblown,” said Jeffress. “For example, we hear about the Inquisition and how terrible the Inquisition was, and it was terrible. But did you know that over the 450 years of the Inquisition an average of five people a year were killed…That means about 2,200 people. Less people died during the Inquisition than died on September 11th, in one day.”
I e-mailed him: “Will you share with me the source of your statement about the number of people killed during the Inquisition?”
He replied from his iPhone: “IF GOD IS GOOD p.123. By Randy Alcorn. Multnomah Books 2009.”
I answered from my iPhone: “Thanks.”
Who is Randy Alcorn?
Alcorn is founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries. On his website, he provides answers to questions such as, “Can Demons Read Our Thoughts?”
In “If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil,” Alcorn wrote that the Inquisition was “responsible for an average of five deaths a year in its four-hundred-fifty year history.”
He noted his source with a footnote: “My thanks to Dinesh D’Souza for making this point while speaking at our church in October 2008.”
Who is Dinesh D’Souza?
A Reagan White House employee, D’Souza is the fellow who claimed in Forbes magazine that President Obama had adopted “the cause of anti-colonialism” from his Kenyan father, who abandoned Obama when he was 2 years old.
D’Souza is also the author of “What’s So Great about Christianity,” a 2007 book published by a right-wing publishing house.
“Contemporary historians have now established that the horrific images of the Inquisition are largely a myth concocted first by the political enemies of Spain – mainly English writers who shaped our American understanding of that event – and later by the political enemies of religion,” claimed D’Souza.
He added, “The idea that the Inquisition targeted Jews is a fantasy.”
Crediting historian Henry Kamen, author of “The Spanish Inquisition” (1999), D’Souza wrote, “How many people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition? Kamen estimates that it was around 2,000. Other contemporary historians make estimates of between 1,500 and 4,000. These deaths are all tragic, but we must remember that they occurred over a period of 350 years.”
D’Souza offered different numbers in a November 2006 column in The Christian Science Monitor under the title “Atheism, Not Religion, Is the Real Force Behind the Mass Murders of History.”
He then cited 10,000, not 2,000.
In a criticism of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” D’Souza said that crimes attributed to religion are exaggerated compared to the “crimes of secular fanaticism.”
“It is strange to witness the passion with which some secular figures rail against the misdeeds of the Crusaders and Inquisitors more than 500 years ago. The number sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition appears to be about 10,000. Some historians contend that an additional 100,000 died in jail due to malnutrition or illness,” claimed D’Souza.
So, what’s the real body count for the Spanish Inquisition that ran from 1478 to 1834, a period of 356, not 450 years as cited by Alcorn and Jeffress?
Was it 2,000, 10,000 or 100,000?
D’Souza doesn’t know.
More important, what’s the purpose of stacking up bodies, whether it’s Richard Dawkins versus D’Souza, atheist versus Christian, or Jeffress versus Muslim?
The purpose for Jeffress is to claim that Christianity is better than Islam; the purpose for D’Souza is to claim that Christianity is better than both Islam and atheism.
Is that really how we want to argue for Christianity? How compelling is the argument that our faith may be bad, but it is not as bad as your faith?
What Jeffress is arguing is that you people (Muslims) are more fanatical and violent than our fanatical and violent people (Christians). Your faith (Islam) is more brutal than our brutal faith (Christianity). Therefore, our faith (Christianity) is better than your faith (Islam).
Jeffress justified his anti-Muslim rant to his church members: “I believe, as Christians and conservatives, it’s time to take off the gloves and stand up and tell the truth about this evil, evil religion.”
Jeffress’ approach to punching it out with Muslims is a far cry from Jesus who said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Are Christian apologists so feeble that they have to stack up bodies to defend their faith against others?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.