Sunday, November 13, 2005

96 Blind Bishops

Veteran's Day brought this bracing headline: "96 bishops decry 'unjust and immoral' situation in Iraq".


This time the United Methodist Bishops have signed "A Call to Repentance and Peace with Justice." Like their English episcopal brethren, the UMC bishops are in mea culpa mode:
As followers of Jesus Christ, who named peacemakers as blessed children of God, we call upon The United Methodist Church to join us in repentance and renewed commitment to Christ's reign of compassion, justice, reconciliation, and peace.

As elected and consecrated bishops of the church, we repent of our complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the face of the United States Administration's rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent. We confess our preoccupation with institutional enhancement and limited agendas while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die, while poverty increases and preventable diseases go untreated. Although we value the sacrifices of the men and women who serve in the military, we confess our betrayal of the scriptural and prophetic authority to warn the nations that true security lies not in weapons of war, but in enabling the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized to flourish as beloved daughters and sons of God. We confess our failure to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to be a people who welcome and love all those for whom Christ died.
Let me count the assumptions:
  1. unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq
  2. rush toward military action based on misleading information
  3. thousands of American and Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die
  4. poverty increases and preventable diseases go untreated
The first point is, arguably, a matter of opinion. What the bishops would consider justifiable or moral grounds is left to the reader's imagination. The language of the Catholic Church's just-war doctrine is informative, even if Pope John Paul II counseled against going to war, wishing more time for diplomatic efforts. Also see "Iraq and Just War: A Symposium," conducted on Sept. 30, 2002, for a discussion of the pros and cons.

The second point conveniently forgets the decade-long diplomatic dance between the UN and Saddam Hussein, with numerous Security Council resolutions drawing ever fainter lines in the sand while Oil-for-Food kickbacks enriched the shameless. That's hardly rushing into things. And that "misleading information" is short-hand for "Bush lied about the WMD threat", a canard that the President vigorously refuted in his Veteran's Day speech.

The third point revolves around the assumption that the war and its aftermath created "needless" harm in Iraq, that if the US and its allies hadn't intervened to bring down the Hussein government, all would be swell — a "what-if" that is knowable only to God. That Saddam and his cronies had brazenly butchered Iraqis (especially the Kurds and Marsh Arabs) and repressed the population seems to be irrelevant to the bishops.

The fourth point is all about guns versus butter, and ignores the improvements in the general Iraqi economy and standard of living as the infrastructure that rotted under Saddam's tender care is restored and improved. If the good bishops are concerned that the US government has cut back on welfare or health care funding domestically, they should review the 2005 budget historical tables. Defense outlays rose 47% from $305.500 billion in 2001 (the last Clinton budget) to an estimated $450.586 billion in 2005 (down from $453.684 billion in 2004). Meanwhile, expenditures for Medicaid rose 41% from $129.4 billion in 2001 to an estimated $182.1 billion in 2005. Likewise, outlays for "income security" line items rose 29% from $269.615 billion in 2001 to an estimated $348.149 billion in 2005. To give a historical perspective, the raises projected in FY2001 for these categories by 2005 were 14%, 43%, and 25% respectively. Yes, the poverty rate in 2004 rose slightly over the previous year to 12.7%, but it's still 9.7% better than it was in 1959 when the first estimates were made.

As you might expect, the "action plan" for the bishops and their flocks includes lots of prayer. While prayer is a powerful tool, it's more effective if the remedies prayed for have some bearing on the problem at hand. Here's the rest of the bishops' text:
Aware that we are to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, we personally and as bishops commit ourselves to:
  • Pray daily for the end of war in general and the Iraq war specifically; for those who suffer as the result of war, including the soldiers and their families; the Iraqi people in their struggle to find a workable form of government; and for the leaders of the United States that they will turn to truth, humility, and policies of peace through justice.
  • Reclaim the prophetic authority that calls nations, individuals, and communities to live faithfully in the light of God's new creation where all people know their identity as beloved children of God; where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream; and where barriers are removed and all creation is healed, reconciled, and renewed.
  • Commit ourselves to peacemaking as an integral component of our own Christian discipleship, which means advocating and actively working for the things that make for peace: personal, institutional, and governmental priorities that protect the poor and most vulnerable; modeling an end to prejudice toward people of other faiths and cultures; confronting differences and conflicts with grace, humility, dialogue, and respect without being so cautious in confronting evil that we lose our moral authority.
We call upon all United Methodists to join in the pursuit of peace through justice as revealed in Holy Scripture and incarnate in Jesus Christ.
  • Let us move beyond caution rooted in self protection and recover moral authority anchored in commitment to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
  • Let us object with boldness when governing powers offer solutions of war that conflict with the gospel message of self-emptying love.
  • Let us with compassion share the pain of God's children who suffer from the devastation of war and those who live in poverty resulting from misplaced priorities and misguided public policies.
  • Let us work toward unity in a world of diversity, that all peoples will come to know that we belong to one another, and that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself … and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us"(2 Corinthians 5:19).
I love those lines "Reclaim the prophetic authority" and "without being so cautious in confronting evil that we lose our moral authority". Yet as I read their statement, I have to wonder what "evil" they think they're fighting. They seem to be more concerned with the policies of the governments trying to eliminate the bad guys than with the evil perpetrated by Al-Zarqawi and his minions, most recently in Jordan. The bishops need to recalibrate their approach: wimpy pacifist multiculturalism ("unity in a world of diversity") is no match for zealous jihadis who have no desire to share the planet with Christians at all. Whatever became of the Church Militant, anyway?

I'm not alone in my dismay. Last week, Joseph Loconte, editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm", wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal, "Peace Now," examining the statements made by a number of church bodies:

Peacemaking has always been a major theme in Christianity, and pacifists a strong voice within the Christian tradition. The founder of the faith, after all, is hailed by believers as the Prince of Peace. Yet modern pacifists, for all their citations of Scripture, seem miles away from the moral insights of biblical religion.

Nowhere is this gulf more striking than in their posture toward terrorism. Despite the record of gruesome violence since 9/11, many Christian leaders still refuse to confront the radical evil of militant Islam. [...]

It's important to be aware of our own temptations to hubris, even in wartime. But moral equivalence has nothing to do with the ethics of the Bible. In the political arena it becomes a substitute for responsible action. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, writing in early 1941, when most of Europe was under Nazi control, assailed such thinking as a kind of perfectionism derived from secular culture. "This utopianism," he warned, "contributed to the tardiness of the democracies in defending themselves against the perils of a new barbarism."

Another form of barbarism now threatens the civilized world, what some have called "fascism with an Islamic face." The danger of the pacifist illusion is its campaign to persuade democracies to ignore the true nature of this barbarism--and to throw down their defenses in the name of peace. [...]

Christians have never viewed peace as the highest good. There are other goods: protecting human dignity and restraining evil, for example. A just peace can be the final result of these pursuits, God willing. But if peace is made the supreme goal, if it consumes all other virtues, it becomes an idol--and a snare to the statesman as well as the saint. [ed. Emphasis added.]
In his Veteran's Day Speech, President Bush reiterated the nature of the evil we're fighting:
We're facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of killers -- and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder. On the contrary, they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, we will never give in, we will never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)

The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century. Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses. Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims, "what is good for them and what is not." And what this man who grew up in wealth and privilege considers good for poor Muslims is that they become killers and suicide bombers. He assures them that this road -- that this is the road to paradise -- though he never offers to go along for the ride. (Applause.) [...]

With the rise of a deadly enemy and the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history will be remembered for new challenges and unprecedented dangers. And yet this fight we have joined is also the current expression of an ancient struggle -- between those who put their faith in dictators, and those who put their faith in the people. Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision -- and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure -- until those societies collapse in corruption and decay. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent -- until the day that free men and women defeat them.

We don't know the course our own struggle will take, or the sacrifices that might lie ahead. We do know, however, that the defense of freedom is worth our sacrifice, we do know the love of freedom is the mightiest force of history, and we do know the cause of freedom will once again prevail. (Applause.)
Thus endeth the lesson.

[Updated 11/14] Also see my previous post about the Anglican bishops, Stuck on Stupid, as well as Overcoming Evil with Good, and Why I didn't go to Church today with the infamous "Litany for Liberal Christians". In a similar vein, Don Surber writes Edwards Is Wrong About Being Wrong.

[Update 2, 11/14] Warren Bell at NRO Corner spots "The misguided church", an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post about the Anglican bishops' report I discussed in Stuck on Stupid. Sample graf:
Beyond the obvious betrayal of British troops in the field, the report symbolizes two more substantial, disturbing tendencies among liberal Christian intellectuals: profound ignorance of Islam and a virulent pacifism that embraces appeasement.