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Mainstream Religious Leaders in Bushtime

Guardians of the Status Quo

by Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS

Many mainstream religious leaders appear to be guardians of the status quo more than agents of peace and justice. Instead of fulfilling their prophetic calling of speaking truth to power, they tend to mutter truth to power- equate truth with power, or defer truth to power. They often serve as echoes of, not ethicists for, American political policy–or they become its silent partners. They use code words–expressions of prayerful and democratic caring–to rationalize and hide the contradiction between profession and practice. Their real priorities are especially seen when the political is in obvious violation of the prophetic: their response is often prudent, prayerful, measured, muted, safe. Their leadership is a far cry from 19th century minister/reformer Theodore Parker’s call for "the coming church" to "lead public opinion, not follow it." Their bottom line: not rocking the boat for fear their own ship won’t come in- or that members of their denomination will abandon ship. Faith-based initiatives call for faith-based accommodation.

Mainstream religious leaders of the status quo betray a double standard, which is seen in their differing levels of moral outrage in response to injustice and terrorism. Their double standard, which protects them from risk, makes it easier for the Bush administration to continue "staying the course" of treasonous imperialistic policies that betray our country’s democracy, waste its resources and threaten our security and that of our allies. The tragic bombings of London on 7/7 offer an important example of their double standard at work, and how it unwittingly helps to undermine our nation’s security and bring the so-called "war on terrorism" closer to our shores.

The suicide bombings of London, which killed 52 persons and wounded over 700, elicited from prominent religious leaders swift and strong condemnation and great sympathy for the victims. An Associated Press story in The Washington Post was headlined, "Pope Deplores ‘Barbaric’ London Attacks," and began, "Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday he deplored the ‘terrorist attacks’ in London, calling them ‘barbaric acts against humanity,’ and said he was praying for the families of the victims." (July 7, 2005)

Chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries Rev. R. Randy Day "wrote a letter of sympathy and concern to the Rev. David Deaks, top staff executive of the Methodist Church of Britain." Rev. Day also pronounced loud and clear judgment: "Terrorists are cowards in that they attack the most vulnerable- in the London case, men and women, young and old, on the way to work on a Thursday morning. Such action is senseless and cannot foster any cause." (United Methodist News Service Report, by Tim Tanton, managing editor, July 7, 2005)

A "horrified" and "grieved" Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, was quoted as saying, "The appalling events in London this morning have shocked us all." He just happened to be spending "this morning with Muslim Colleagues and friends in West Yorkshire, and we were all as one in our condemnation of this evil, and in our shared sense of care and compassion for those affected in whatever way." ("Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders condemn attacks," by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, www.timesonline.co.uk, July 7, 2005)

The BBC News reported mainstream religious leaders’ quick and firm denunciation of the London bombers with the caption, "UK religious leaders have issued a rare joint statement condemning Thursday’s ‘evil terrorist’ attacks on London." Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders each read part of a statement that called the bombings "an evil that cannot be justified and that we utterly condemn and reject." The story seemed toned down when it came to Iraq, possibly inadvertently suggesting a double standard at work: "It is the third time the religious leaders have shown such a united front. They condemned the 11 September 2001 attacks, and in 2003 they expressed their shared concerns [italics added] over the war in Iraq." ("UK faith leaders condemn attacks, " UK Edition, July 10, 2005)

The forceful condemnation of the London attackers by the National Council of Churches offers another way by which to measure the double standard of mainstream religious leaders. The NCC’s statement, released by General Secretary Bob Edgar, includes these words: "The National Council of Churches joins in prayer for those who were injured and offers sympathy to those who lost loved ones in the mass transit bombings in London today. Such violence reminds us not only of our need to be ever vigilant and to bring the perpetrators to justice [italics added]; it also reminds us of our need to strenuously pursue peace with justice." ("News from the National Council of Churches," July 7, 2005, New York).

The double standard of various mainstream religious leaders is seen in comparing their strong public condemnation of the "barbaric," "evil," "cowardly" bombings in London with their "shared concern over the war in Iraq." It is seen in who especially they decide are "the perpetrators" that they "need to bring to justice." Religious leaders could have included the same exact language- with far greater moral outrage–to publicly condemn President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for their pre-emptive war against Iraq. But did they? While not exhaustive, the following comparison of the differing levels of moral outrage of religious leaders in response to Baghdad and London is believed to be revealing and instructive.

The strongest public, i.e., mainstream media-covered, religious opposition to the Bush administration’s looming pre-emptive war came from Pope John Paul II, the world’s most prominent Christian leader. Two weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Pope

John Paul sent an emissary to meet with President Bush in a final effort to avert the war. The emissary, Cardinal Pio Laghi, was described as "a friend of the president’s father and the Vatican’s first ambassador to Washington," and "brought to the White House the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church." Laghi and Bush met privately for 40 minutes on Ash Wednesday; while back in Rome the Pope "called on Roman Catholics worldwide to fast and pray for peace" ("Pope’s Emissary Meets with Bush, Calls War ‘Unjust,’" by Johanna Neuman, the Los Angeles Times, Mar 6, 2003; "Bush meets with Vatican envoy," Associated Press, cnn.com, Mar. 5, 2003).

Before the meeting, Cardinal Laghi was quoted as saying "that the two most important things to the Vatican were ‘avoiding a war and finding a peaceful solution to the problem of Iraq’s disarmament.’" ("Bush meets with Vatican envoy," Ibid) After the meeting, Laghi said "that a war would be ‘illegal and unjust,’ but stopped short of calling it immoral." He said that "a decision regarding the use of military force can only be taken within the framework of the United Nations," adding "but always taking into account the grave consequences of such an armed conflict: the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military operations, a further instability in the region and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity." And Laghi "also called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to show more good faith in dismantling his weapons of mass destruction." ("Pope’s Emissary meets with Bush," by Johanna Neuman, the Los Angeles Times, Mar. 6, 2003)

The closed-door meeting itself was reported- and thus what was said controlled- by senior White House officials. President Bush evidently disagreed with Pope John Paul II’s belief that "a war would be a ‘defeat for humanity’ and would be neither morally nor legally justified." ("Bush meets with Vatican envoy," Associated Press, cnn.com, Mar. 5, 2003). "A White House spokeswoman" reported that "Bush explained to Laghi, as he has in recent speeches, that he feels a special obligation to protect the American people and that he believes the world will be safer if Hussein is disarmed." Furthermore, "he disputed the idea of a gulf between religions, citing success in rebuilding Afghanistan." (Pope’s Emissary Meets with Bush, Calls War ‘Unjust,’" by Johanna Neuman, the Los Angeles Times, Mar. 6, 2003)

The administration-reported meeting included Cardinal Laghi "deliver[ing] a letter in which the pope urged Bush to listen carefully to the Vatican envoy. Neither the letter nor the envoy specifically urged Bush to avoid war, the U.S. official said." ("Bush meets with Vatican envoy," Associated Press, cnn.com, Mar. 5, 2003) The Los Angeles Times provided a complementary diplomatic touch: "Laghi delivered a personal letter, but neither he nor the White House would disclose its contents." The story continued, "The cardinal said the president told him he appreciated the pope’s effort to find a peaceful way out of the conflict," which evidently pleased Laghi. "We are not at the end yet," Laghi added. "I’m going away with hope." ("Pope’s Emissary Meets With Bush, Calls War ‘Unjust,’" by Johanna Neuman, Mar. 6, 2003)

The "end" came 15 days later. President Bush gave the order for 21,000-pound "mother of all bombs" and hundreds of cruise missiles to reign "shock and awe" on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Briefed on the planned first strike, a Pentagon official had told CBS News two months earlier, "There will not be a safe place in Baghdad." ("Iraq Faces Massive U.S. Missile Barrage," CBS Evening News, Jan. 24, 2003).

The following year President Bush visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican and presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (America’s highest civilian award) During the White House-initiated occasion, the pope reportedly "firmly reminded the president of the Vatican’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq last year," and said the country’s "sovereignty" needs to be restored and its "situation normalized" quickly , with active U.N. involvement, "in conditions of security for all its people." ("Pope Expresses Concern about Continuing Unrest in Iraq," by John Thavis, Catholic News Service, www.catholicherald.com, 6/3/04)

At this time, the pope made a general statement about recent "deplorable events [which] have come to light [and] have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all." ("Bush Meets with Pope at Vatican," Associate Press, FOX News.com, June 4, 2004) He did not elaborate. And no one seemed able or willing to say exactly whether he meant the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American troops at Abu Ghraib prison or the kidnapping and beheading of foreign civilians by Islamic militants. (Ibid)

Another most "deplorable event" may well become Pope John Paul II’s acceptance of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush. The accommodating media coverage of the seemingly scripted event appears to reveal that both the pope and the president were more concerned about appearances than reality. The Associated Press reported, "Seated next to the pope, Bush promised his nation would work for ‘human liberty and human dignity,’ without making any references to Iraq." (Ibid) A Catholic News Service story stated, "At the end of his talk, the pope assured the president of his prayers and invoked upon him God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace." ("Pope Expresses Concern about Continuing Unrest in Iraq," by John Thavis, 6/3/2004)

The Vatican visit, the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, and the pope’s blessing apparently contributed considerably to President Bush’s gaining "prized swing votes" of Catholics and retaining his "sovereignty" as president in the election five months later. ("Bush, Pope to Meet Today at the Vatican," by Dan Balz and Alan Cooperman, The Washington Post, June 4, 2004) But the US-occupied Iraq people regaining their "sovereignty" and "security" as quickly as possible seems more remote than ever.

History may not be kind to Pope John Paul II. To whom much moral authority is given, much moral authority is expected. A timely papal-called global Christian peace pilgrimage to Iraq might have led President Bush to pray twice as hard about starting his war. Morally powerful also might have been a papal edict denying Communion to any Catholic supporting or participating in the life-aborting war against Iraq. Nor will history be kind to mainstream American Christian leaders who serve as custodians of the status quo more than as its conscience.

Not that other prominent Christian leaders did not try to meet with President Bush before he began his war of choice. Unlike Pope John Paul II, certain other Christian leaders could not get their foot in the White House door. A United Methodist, the president would not even meet with the bishops of his own denomination. The Los

Angeles Times reported that "Methodist bishops, who say they have met with every president since George Washington, are upset that Bush has declined to see them." The story quotes Jim Winkler, General Secretary of United Methodism’s Board of Church and Society: "There is disappointment because he’s one of us. . . . We don’t want to berate him or give him a hard time," Winkler added, "We want to pray with him, and we are bewildered that he has not been willing." ("Pope’s Emissary Meets with Bush, Calls War ‘Unjust,’" by Johanna Neuman, Mar 6, 2003)

Perhaps well-insulated President Bush already knew what his denominational leaders wanted to pray with him about. Six months earlier an Observer/UK story entitled "Iraq War ‘Unjustifiable,’ says Bush’s Church Head," began, "President Bush’s own Methodist Church has launched a scathing attack on his preparations for war against Iraq, saying they are ‘without any justification according to the teaching of Christ.’" The story continued, "Jim Winkler, head of special policy for United Methodists, added that all attempts at a ‘dialogue’ between the President and his own church over the war had fallen

on deaf ears at the White House." The story ends with Winkler saying "his church was ‘keenly aware’ that it counted the President and his deputy among its members, and that he was therefore ‘frequently encouraged by others to be very careful about how I say things.’" (Guardian Newspapers United, Oct. 20, 2002)

Those "deaf ears" at the White House can definitely read–or be read to. Rev. Winkler also had been quoted as saying, "Methodist scriptural doctrine . . . specifies war as a last resort, primarily a defensive thing. And as far as I know," he pointed out,

"Saddam Hussein has not mobilized military forces along the borders of the United States, nor along his own border to invade a neighboring country, nor have any of those countries pleaded for our assistance, nor does he have weapons of mass destruction targeted at the United States." (Ibid)

Rev. Winkler and other United Methodist leaders apparently were not "very careful" about how "they voiced their opposition to the president’s pre-emptive war preparations." They had "launched a scathing attack."

In an October 4, 2002 letter to the entire 10 million United Methodists, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, then Council President Sharon A Brown Christopher wrote, "A pre-emptive war by the United States against a nation like Iraq goes against the very grain of our understanding of the Gospel, our church’s teachings, and our consciences." She also wrote that "a pre-emptive strike . . . does not allow for the adequate pursuit of peaceful means for resolving conflict." ("Council of Bishops’ president joins call for restraint on Iraq" News Desk @ UMCOM.ORG, 7 Oct. 2002)

Rev. Winkler himself issued a strong statement: "United Methodists have a particular duty [italics added] to speak out against an unprovoked attack. President Bush and Vice President Cheney are members of our denomination. Our silence now could be interpreted as tacit approval of war." Nor was he "very careful" in also saying, "It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack." ("Bush Urged to Turn Back From War," Mark Harrison, contact person, General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church, Aug. 30, 2002).

Bishop Peter Weaver, current President of United Methodism’s Council of Bishops, had also prophetically warned, "’War will not end terror. It will simply seed terror. It will come back on the United States like a boomerang,’ he said, ‘and make U.S. personnel into recruiters for al Qaeda’" ("Eight United Methodist bishops, other leaders, speak against war with Iraq," www.umc.org.) The July 7 London bombing attacks against the US’s principal coalition partner seem to indicate that the "boomerang" may be coming full circle. And citizens of some neighboring Muslim and Arab countries help to swell a strong and resourceful Iraqi insurgency.

Numerous religious leaders joined Pope John Paul II and United Methodist officials with similarly strong public declarations, challenging the justification for a pre-emptive war against Iraq and warning of its disastrous consequences. And like Pope John Paul II and United Methodists officials, the statements of these faith-based leaders reveal the extent to which they also believed the Bush administration’s repeated argument for a first strike war: American-hating Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and his links to the 9/11 attack against America and "harboring of terrorists." Their anti-war declarations would also seem to set the stage for, and fuel, far greater public moral outrage than that triggered by the July 7 suicide bombing attacks against London.

The run-up to the war was filled with prophetic concerns and warnings. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote a penetrating letter to President Bush, asking "troubling questions," including, "Is there clear and adequate evidence of a direct connection between Iraq and the attacks of September 11th or clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature?" Gregory’s letter ended by calling on "the Iraqi government to live up to its international obligations," and "urge[d}" Bush "to pursue actively alternatives to war," including "diplomatic efforts aimed, in part, at resuming rigorous, meaningful inspections." ("Letter to President Bush on Iraq," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sept. 13, 2002)

Another letter to President Bush from 50 prominent Christian religious leaders contained a similar prophetic warning: that a pre-emptive war would result in the widespread deaths and suffering of Iraqi civilians, and that it would incite greater hatred of America and its allies throughout the Arab world. The letter also repeated a key concern of Bishop Gregory's: "It is detrimental to U.S. interests to take unilateral military action where there continues to be strong multilateral support for a new weapons inspection regime and when most governments in Europe and the Middle East resist supporting military action. It is important for the U.S. to cooperate with international efforts to control Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." ("Letter to President Bush on Iraq," Churches for Middle East Peace," Sept. 12, 2002)

The United Church of Christ leaders presented a powerful statement "opposing U.S. war in Iraq." These leaders repeated the commonly expressed prophetic predictions that "the human cost of a war would be enormous, both to the United States and to Iraq."

They also said "The case for a pre-emptive attack against Iraq has not been made," and called "on our leaders to step back from the brink of war [and] engage in honest and open consultation with parties around the world and especially in the Middle East to seek a non-military solution to the threat that Iraq may pose." They also joined the World Council of Churches in "calling for the Government of Iraq to respect the resolutions of the UN Security Council . . . to cooperate fully with UN inspections deployed to oversee compliance." ("Statement of United Church of Christ leaders opposing U.S. war against Iraq," Justice and Peace, not dated)

The Anglican Journal reported that Christian leaders have criticized the impetus towards a U.S.-led war against Iraq. It then stated the principal argument constantly used to justify a pre-emptive war against Iraq: "In recent weeks, the United States, noting that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had expelled United Nations weapons inspectors and is building biological and nuclear weapons, has urged the U.N. to lead an attack aimed at deposing Saddam." The story continued, "U.S. President George Bush has said he will act alone, if necessary. British Prime Minister Tony Blair supports him." ("Church leaders condemn rush to war with Iraq." (Staff News Service, Anglican Journal, The Anglican Church of Canada, Nov. 2002)

Other mainstream religious leaders and groups who went on record as opposing unilateral military action against Iraq included: the Presbyterian Church (USA), American Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, and the executive committee of the Union for Reformed Judaism. Presbyterian leaders reflect the widespread pre-war belief of mainstream religious leaders in urging Presbyterians to contact the President: "Remind President Bush that only the United Nations Security Council as a whole is capable of determining what qualifies as a breach of Security Council Resolution 1441 that provides for the return of weapons inspector to Iraq." ("What to Do about the Possibility of Military Action against Iraq." [PC-USA]- Presbyterian Peacemaking Program Iraq-Resources, Dec. 1, 2002)

It is time for mainstream religious leaders to remind themselves of the treasonous lies President Bush used to deceive and mislead them and other Americans into a criminal war. Lies resulting in the senseless deaths and disablement of tens of thousands of America’s sons and daughters and hundred of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Lies that have made Bush administration-favored corporations like Halliburton richer, while squandering our country’s resources and making Americans poorer. Lies that are undermining America’s security while pretending to protect it. Lies that should fuel intense moral outrage. Lies that should lead religious leaders to shout their moral outrage from their steeple tops! There is a long trail of reminders!

The Bush administration constantly declared that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and, if not stopped, planned use them against America and her allies, or give them to his 9/11 al Qaeda "terrorist" connections to inflict grave harm. President Bush repeatedly warned, "Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass deaths and destruction. . . . Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof-and the smoking gun-that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." ("President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat," Cincinnati, Ohio, The White House, Oct. 7, 2002)

In his 2003 State of the Union Address, President Bush warned again, "The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors . . . If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge," Bush continued, "all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. And for good measure, he added, "The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages-leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured." ("President Delivers ‘State of the Union,’" The White House, Jan. 28, 2003)

More reminders! Three days before President Bush launched his pre-emptive war against Iraq, he met on an American air base in the Azores with his two key "coalition of the willing" partners, British and Spanish Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar. He again warned, "The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations. He is a danger to his neighbors . . . a sponsor of terrorism . . . possesses the weapons of mass murder." ("President Bush: Monday ‘Moment of Truth’ for World on Iraq," The White House, Mar. 17, 2003) Bush preceded this warning with words that should come back to haunt him: "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world," he declared in trying unsuccessfully "to extract a resolution from the U.N. Security Council that would give Iraq an ultimatum to disarm immediately or be disarmed by force" (Ibid.); "Bush: Monday is a ‘moment of truth’ on Iraq," (cnn.com/world, Mar. 17, 2003)

George W. Bush’s "moment of truth for the world" was propelled by a lie, which should become the defining moment of his treasonous behavior as president of the United States. He lied repeatedly in sending America’s sons and daughters to kill and die in an immoral war with, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. . . . This regime . . . has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda."

President Bush poured it on. "The danger is clear," he warned, "Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambition and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other." ("President Bush Presents 48 Hour Ultimatum," Address to the Nation, The White House, Mar. 17, 2003)

Morally enraging reminders! President Bush’s "moment of truth for the world" came. The final report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, prepared by Charles A. Duelfer, America’s chief weapons inspector for Iraq, stated, "Iraq had destroyed its illicit weapons stockpile within months after the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and its ability to produce such weapons has significantly eroded by the time of the

American invasion in 2003." (The New York Times, Oct. 7, 2004) Similarly, the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission found "no credible evidence" of a "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. ("No Evidence Connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda, 9/11 Panel Says," by Dan Eggen, washingtonpost.com, June 16, 2004)

President Clinton was impeached for lying about sexual misconduct with an individual. President Bush remains at large after "fixing" intelligence to justify the rape of a country. ("The secret Downing Street memo," by David Manning, from: Matthew Rycroft, The Sunday Times-Britain, May 1, 2005)

Reminder of deception after deception! A morally illusive President Bush has continued to repackage his "moment of truth" to the world. The less the evidence for weapons of mass destruction, the more he wrapped himself in the lofty motive of removing a brutal dictator from power and bringing "freedom" to the oppressed Iraqi people.

History hides a contradictory truth. The United States aided and abetted Saddam Hussein during his brutal regime. At the very time he was killing his own people with poisonous gas, Bush’s own father’s administration reportedly sold him American farm products that could be used to produce chemical and biological weapons. And those weapons were used, with the help of satellite photographs provided by US intelligence agencies, to target Iranian troops during the decisive battles of the 1981-88 Iraqi-Iranian war. The US believed it was "imperative" to prevent Iran from overrunning "the important oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf." Reported also is that, during the

Reagan administration the decision was made "to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein-who was known in those days as the ‘Butcher of Baghdad’-from the list of sponsors of terror!" ("What the U.S. President wants us to forget," by Robert Fisk, The Independent, Oct. 9, 2002; The New York Times, Aug. 18, 2002; "Justice in Iraq" by Kevin McKiernan, The Boston Globe, Feb 9, 2005). The trial of Saddam Hussein, if it is fair, may hold a "moment of truth" for American foreign policy, which has planted many seeds of hatred toward America.

When one lie does not take hold enough to justify the sacrifice of American lives, President Bush wraps himself in another. "Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to fight them here at home." ("State of the Union Address," The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2005) Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no connection to al Qaeda or 9/11. The country was greatly weakened by 12 years of US-enforced UN economic sanctions, and defenseless against the world’s greatest super power and its coalition allies. The so-called "terrorists" in Iraq are Iraqis whose patriotism is every bit as strong as America’s. Bush created a hornet’s nest of resistance to America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now he is saying that Iraq is "filled with foreign fighters who have come from places like Saudi Arabia and Syria and Iran and Egypt and Sudan and Yemen and Libya." ("President Addresses Military Families, Discusses War on Terror," The White House, Nampa Idaho, Aug. 25, 2005)

The only really "foreign fighters" in Iraq are Americans and their coalition partners-just as the only weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq were unleashed by the American military. A Syrian stated that he was fighting Americans in Iraq so that he would not have to fight them in Syria. How many other Arab and Muslim people from neighboring countries are saying the same thing with their presence in Iraq?

One thing seems sure: We may be fighting so-called "terrorists" in America precisely because President Bush chose to invade Iraq. He also tries to justify his war of choice by saying, "See, they’re coming into Iraq because they fear the march of freedom," (Ibid) It is not about a "march" but about an invasion, not about "freedom" but about occupation and global domination. It is about oil and empire.

A final reminder! President Bush reveals much about himself when he talks about Saddam Hussein. His projections seem obvious: "The dictator of Iraq is not disarming," Bush said. "To the contrary, he is deceiving." ("Text: Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address, The Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2005) That was his constant theme in the run-up to the war, in an attempt to depreciate the work of the UN weapons inspectors.

Most telling was the President’s reaction to the UN inspectors’ pre-war search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His resistance to the inspectors led him to repeatedly say, "I’m sick and tired of games and deceptions." (The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2003) "How much time do we need to see clearly that he is not disarming." (The New York Times, Jan. 22, 2003) "No doubt he will play a last-minute game of deception. The game is over." (The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2003)

Saddam Hussein had stated, "As I told you and have said on many occasions before, that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq whatsoever." ("60 Minutes II," CBS, Feb. 5, 2003) And the very day President Bush declared his "moment of truth for the world," Hussein "also repeated his denial of U.S. and British allegations that his country has weapons of mass destruction, dubbing the accusation ‘a great lie’" ("Bush: Monday is ‘a moment of truth’ in Iraq," cnn.com./world, Mar. 17, 2003).

Whom is one to believe? "The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction?" Or, the God-fearing, freedom-loving President of the United States? Bush repeatedly accused Hussein of the very deception he was practicing against the American people-and continues to practice.

The pre-war statements of mainstream religious leaders indicated they believed the Bush administration’s pre-emptive, war-justifying falsehoods about Saddam Hussein’s threatening weapons of mass destruction and ties to 9/11 and to "terrorists." The growing body of evidence, revealing that President Bush had deceived them and the American people, and had brought to pass with his war the very destructive consequences they had warned about, would seem to elicit from these religious leaders intense and sustained condemnation. One would expect to hear shouts of moral outrage against Bush and his administration, similar to, but far louder than, the spontaneous eruption of religious leaders in reaction to the bombings of London. Prophetic denunciations, such as: "Liars!" "Deceivers!" "Fear-mongerers!" "War-mongerers!" "State-organized terrorists!" "Killers!" "Barbaric!" "Imperialist conspirators!" "Treasonous!"

Leaders of the National Council of Churches and member denominations have presented a delayed, but relatively clear prophetic reaction. A brief Associated Press-written Washington Post story reported that they chose last July 4th to issue "a petition stating vehement opposition to United States policy in Iraq." Sending their statement to President Bush, they "charged, it has become clear that the rationale for invasion was at best a tragic mistake, at worst, a clever deception." They "denounced the national leaders who sent Americans ‘to fight a dishonorable war’ and ‘the abuse of prisoners that has shamed our nation.’" They "advocated ‘an early fixed timetable for the withdrawal of United States troops,’" and stated that "the nation must restore ‘truth telling’ and abolish ‘first strikes’ justifications for warfare." ("Religion News in Brief," The Associated Press, July 7, 2005)

Those Christian leaders joining the National Council of Churches-sponsored statement included "executives of the United Methodist Church, to which Bush belongs," The Washington Post-printed story stated. These executives’ support for such a comparatively forceful statement is a positive sign.

Last May five United Methodist bishops paid President Bush a "pastoral visit," during which they presented him "with a Bible signed by the Council of Bishops, . . . shared a moment of prayer with him," and told him that "they are praying for him," and "that they share his commitment to building a better world." Their leader, Council of Bishops President Peter Weaver, also reported that Bush told them he was "proud to be a Methodist." ("United Methodist bishops meet with president, ‘open door to future,’ by Tom Tanton, Managing Editor, The United Methodist News Service, May 3, 2005)

Rather than paying him a "pastoral visit" in the White House, moral outrage should seem to lead them to join Cindy Sheehan in prayer and protest vigils outside the White House-and wherever Bush "stays the course."

The short Washington Post-carried story, on the National Council of Churches-sponsored strong anti-war statement, seemed to strive for "balance." It quoted a critic of the church leaders’ statement: "Alan Wisdom of the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy, responded that the statement shows the National Council is divorced ‘from the church members it claims to represent’ and seeks Christian unity through narrow ’1960s era protest politics’ on which Christians may disagree rather than pursuing matters of faith." It is as if "matters of faith" can be separated from works that matter.

Many evangelical Christians appear to be "divorced" from the reality of President Bush’s lies, and from the tragic human toll in Iraqi and American lives caused by his continuing deceit. The Pew Research Center for the People surveyed the religious views of a potential war, and found that "80% of evangelical white Protestants support the war, the highest tally of any group measured." ("Pope’s Emissary Meets with Bush, Calls war ‘Unjust,’" by Johanna Neuman, the Los Angeles Times, Mar. 6, 2003) This finding may explain why the "matters of faith" of many evangelical Christians have not yet caught up with the moral outrage on the ground.

One such staunch white Christian evangelical supporter of President Bush, Rev. Pat Robertson, has recently called for the assassination of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Chavez is Latin America’s strongest critic of Bush’s war of terrorism in Iraq, and Venezuela has the largest oil reserves after the Middle East. Robertson said, on his Christian television program, The 700 Club, viewed by around one million people,

"If he thinks we’re [italics added] trying to assassinate him, I think we [italics added] really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war," Robertson continued. "And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop."

The Christian evangelist accused President Chavez of turning Venezuela "into ‘a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.’" An empowered Robertson said, "We [italics added] have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we [italics added] exercise that ability." ("Robertson Suggests U.S. Kill Venezuela’s Leader," by Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, Aug. 24, 2005)

The strong negative reaction in certain religious and government circles first led Pat Robertson to deny that he called for the assassination of President Chavez. "I didn’t say ‘assassination,’ I said our special forces should ‘take him out,’ . . . ‘Take him out’ could be a number of things, including kidnapping." He later admitted using the word "assassination," said it was wrong and apologized, explaining, "I spoke in frustration that we [italics added] should accommodate the man who thinks the US is out to kill him." ("Robertson apologizes for Chavez assassination remarks," Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Aug. 25, 2005)

Pat Robertson’s criminal suggestion would seem to be an easy target for the moral outrage of mainstream religious leaders and for certain influential evangelical Christian leaders. President Bush’s reaction to Robertson’s suggestion, and that of other evangelical leaders, may be a different story. The strongest criticism from the State Department thus far has been to call Robertson’s comments "inappropriate." (Ibid) Robertson represents the violent extreme of true believers, which violence drives the Bush administration’s goal of US global domination-wrapped, of course, in palatable slogans of "freedom" and "democracy." Such true believers may be called "Christian extremists."

Pat Robertson is not different from President Bush. More obvious? Yes! Less powerful? Of course! But Robertson probably received the inspiration and emboldenment for his verbal terrorist violence from Bush. All Robertson suggested was what Bush has done repeatedly.

The President’s "moment of truth for the world" was about "taking out" Saddam Hussein. And in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush flashed a look of triumphant pleasure in saying, "All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met with a different fate." And then he paused, gloating-like, and said, "Let’s put it this way-they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies." These words elicited "applause."

Power breeds arrogance. And arrogance breeds the abuse of power. It is easy to direct moral outrage at an obvious Pat Robertson. But President Bush is the one to whom mainstream religious leaders need to speak truth to power.

Pat Robertson represents the violent extreme to which "the one true Christian belief" can lead persons to inflict their will on other human beings. President Bush’s behavior is so outrageous, and obviously far more dangerous than Robertson’s. Bush’s use of religion to mask his administration’s pursuit of political/corporate world domination would seem to lead America’s religious leaders to scream with moral outrage.

President Bush repeatedly told Americans he was praying for peace while hell-bent for war. At his March 6, 2003 news conference, two weeks before invading Iraq, Bush said, "I pray daily. I pray for wisdom and guidance and strength. . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace." (The New York Time, Mar. 7, 2003) Two weeks later American military began bombing and invading Iraq.

One might wonder to whom President Bush was praying daily "for guidance and wisdom . . . [and] peace." His prayers evidently were not informed by intelligence showing no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no Iraqi ties to the 9/11 attacks against America-his administration’s two key arguments to justify invading Iraq. Charges that were knowingly false. Had he talked with UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, before praying, he would have obtained "guidance and wisdom," as Blix would have told him that his team "found no evidence of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction." But a prayerful Bush apparently did not want to hear that. And his "moment of truth for the world" effectively ended the search for any weapons of mass destruction, which led Blix to respond, "I don’t think it is reasonable to close the door to inspections after 3 _ months." (The Boston Globe, Mar. 19, 2003).

"I pray daily . . . for peace." President Bush’s former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said that removing Saddam Hussein from power "was topic ‘A’ 10 days after the inauguration-eight months before Sept. 11." ("Bush Sought ‘Way’ to Invade Iraq," www.cbsnews.com, Jan. 11, 2004)

"I pray daily . . . for peace." Richard Clarke, President Bush’s former chief advisor on terrorism, reported that Bush seemed determined to use the 9/11 attack against America as a pretext to invade Iraq. According to Clarke, Bush told him "to find whether Iraq did this." And when he replied, "We looked at it . . . [and] there’s no connection," Bush insisted that he "come back with a report that said Iraq did this." ("Clarke’s Take on Terror," www.cbsnews.com, Mar. 21, 2004)

When no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and no connection to 9/11, President Bush’s "moment of truth for the world" began catching up with him. These realities must have led him again to prayer, where he evidently found another justification for military aggression against Iraq: "Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world." ("Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates," The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) The only difference between the Christianity of Pat Robertson and George Bush is that Bush is president and has the power to kill those who resist his understanding of "the ways of Providence." (The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2003).

Cloaking military violence, conquest, occupation, and exploitation in the name of "God" and "freedom" and "democracy" and "protecting America" should have mainstream Christian religious leaders proclaiming biblically-inspired moral outrage from their church-tops: "Hypocrites!" "Whitewashed tombs!" "False prophets!" "Defilers!" "Desecrators!" "Evildoers!" "Mercenaries!" "Murderers of the innocent!" "Devourers of the poor!" "Oppressors of the helpless!"

President Bush’s hypocrisy is readily seen in his prostitution of freedom and democracy as well as of God to disguise and serve his administration’s imperialistic crusade. Here again he does not practice what he preaches.

The president constantly preaches about spreading "freedom" and "democracy" throughout the world-especially after no war-justifying weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, and no links to 9/11 or al Qaeda. However, he continues to remind his audiences of 9/11, and to repeat, "I understand freedom is not America’s gift to the world; freedom is Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world." ("President Addresses Military Families, Discusses War on Terror," Nampa, Idaho, The White House, Aug. 25, 2005)

President Bush gives a predictably "democratic" spin to the U.S.-installed puppet Iraqi leaders’ struggle to create a "democratic constitution," one acceptable to his administration: "Iraqis are now at the beginning of a long process; and like our founders, they’re grappling with difficult issues . . . They’re arguing about the proper place of religion in the life of their nation. . . . minority rights . . . the rights of women . . . But what’s important is that the Iraqis are resolving these issues through debate and discussion [italics added], not at the barrel of a gun." (Ibid) The Bush administration has provided the barrel of the gun!

A freedom-loving, evangelistic President Bush declares, "The road to Providence is uneven and unpredictable. Yet we know where it leads. It leads to freedom. . . freedom’s power to change the world. We are part of a great venture . . . to spread the peace that freedom brings." (Transcript of State of the Union Address and cleared by the White House, The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2005)

President Bush continually tells his audiences, "Our enemies murder because they despise our freedom and our way of life . . . We believe in human rights. . . They’ll kill women and children. . ." (President Addresses Military Families, Discusses War on Terror," Ibid.) It is as if America did not violate Iraq’s national sovereignty, nor that merciless "shock and awe" bombs did not blow Iraqi women and children to bits-never mind the 12 years of US-controlled UN sanctions that contributed to the deaths of some 500,000 Iraqi children under 5 years of age.

President Bush preaches "freedom" and "democracy" all over the country and the world, but seems unable to practice it with anyone. "See, you can’t talk sense to the terrorists. You can’t negotiate with them. You cannot hope for the best. You must bring them to justice," he tells his screened audiences. He himself is protected from the very "debate and discussion" for which he is now lauding American-chosen Iraqi constitution-makers.

Tragically, it is not just "the terrorists" President Bush "can’t talk sense to." It is also Hans Blix, who would have told him that "recent inspections proved far-ranging and more effective than any previously in Iraq," and that "while inspectors followed up leads from US intelligence, I must regret we have not found . . . any smoking guns." (The Boston Globe, Mar. 19, 2003) Nor could Bush evidently "talk sense to" his former anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke about "Iraq! Saddam!" when Clarke told him "there’s no connection" between Iraq and the 9/11 attack on America.

Nor could President Bush "talk sense to" the United Nations Security Council. The deity to whom he prays "for guidance and wisdom and strength" evidently has a unilateral bent, that led Bush not into the United Nations, but delivered him from the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese and the leaders of other countries. And he would not even open the White House door nor pray with any of his own religious leaders-or any other Christian "peacemakers"-until after his war was safely launched, so that he could use "support the troops" to drum up support for his war and drown out opposition.

Perhaps, most revealing of all is that President Bush cannot "talk sense" with Cindy Sheehan, the grief-stricken mother whose 24-year old son Casey died in Iraq in 2004 for Bush’s "noble cause." A more informed Mrs. Sheehan continued to hold a vigil near Bush’s ranch during his recent five-week vacation, asking him to meet on the road-side with her and explain the "noble cause" for which he said her son died. Having lost her son forever "through the barrel of a gun," she understandably felt entitled to resolve

"issues through debate and discussion" with the "freedom"-espousing president-as the admirable Iraqi constitution-creators are doing. Bush’s response to her request and presence near his ranch reveals the disconnect between what he says and what he does: "I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan," he said. "She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America." [italics added] ("Bush says he hears families’ cries but pull out is wrong," by Deb Riechmann, Associated Press writer, Williamsport Sun-Gazette, Aug. 12, 2005) Bush will meet with grieving families of dead American troops. They just have to be screened first.

President Bush’s treasonous behavior is especially seen in his response to Mrs. Sheehan’s demand to know from him the "noble cause" that took her son’s life. "We mourn the loss of every life," Bush said. "We pray for their loved ones. These brave men and women," he continued, "gave their lives for a cause that is just and necessary for the security of our country and now we will honor their sacrifice by completing their mission." (Ibid) His punch line also: "We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for. We will honor their sacrifice by staying in the offensive against the terrorists." ("President Honors Veterans of Foreign Wars at National Convention," Salt Lake City, Utah, The White House, Aug. 23, 2005)

First, President Bush’s "noble cause" was removing Iraq’s threatening weapons of mass destruction and connection to al Qaeda, which "cause" proved to be neither just nor necessary for the security of our country. Then the "noble cause" became spreading "freedom" and "democracy" to "the darkest corners of the world"-for America’s own protection and security as well. Now, with the growing cost in American lives and limbs, Bush’s "noble cause" has become honoring the sacrifice of those who died in a dishonorable war by continuing "the fight" for which they died. America’s sons and daughters are honorable. The war in which they were manipulated into fighting and killing and dying is not! How cruelly cynical to justify the lies for which Americans have died by saying that "honoring their sacrifice" requires other Americans to continue to die.

Today President Bush’s "noble cause" even includes protecting Iraq’s oil fields from "fall[ing] under the control of terrorist extremists," who would use them to fund their "terrorist attacks" ("Bush: U.S. Must Protect Iraq From Terror," by Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press, Aug 30, 2005) Never mind that the so-called "terrorists" are mostly Iraqis and the oil is theirs. The ‘noble cause" is to be found in America not Iraq. Rather than being sent to "protect" Iraq’s oil from Iraqis, those National Guard troops and resources are desperately needed to protect Americans from water. But since most of these Americans are black and/or poor, it probably was easier for Bush to remain oblivious to the water of Hurricane Katrina-until it began swamping the White House with a public relations disaster.

An editorial in the Sun Herald of Biloxi, Mississippi criticized Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, stating, "Our reporters have yet to find evidence of a coordinated approach to relieve pain and hunger or to secure property and maintain order." The editorial then asked, "Where is the National Guard, [italics added] why hasn’t every able-bodied member of the armed forces in south Mississippi been pressed into service?" ("Biloxi Newspaper Raps Relief Effort, Begs for Help," by Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher, Sept. 1, 2005) Evidently the deity to whom President Bush prays "daily . . . for guidance and wisdom and strength" forgot to warn him about natural disasters that would demand the immediate and massive response of the National Guard’s presence and resources.

Predictably, President Bush could not "talk sense to" very many victims of Hurricane Katrina. The New York Times reported that his first trip "to Louisiana and Mississippi . . .left Republicans cringing, in part because the president had little contact with residents left homeless." (Sept. 5, 2005). He avoided large crowds of stranded pleading, angry, desperate people in the Superdome and the New Orleans convention center and elsewhere– probably because they could not be screened. He and his choreographers– and television cameras– found controllable settings and individuals easier to hug and console with words. (The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2005 and Sept. 6, 2005)

President Bush uses religion to demonize other human beings and dismiss their grievances against US foreign policy, by calling them "terrorists" and enemies in a "war of good vs. evil." And the way he says, "See, you can’t talk sense to the terrorists" indicates he has no intention of trying to resolve hostilities by talking with America’s enemies. It should be obvious by now that you can’t talk sense to President Bush.

A greatly needed response to the President’s tragic intransigence is found in a Boston Globe guest column by Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, who raises a critical question: "Time to talk to Al Qaeda?" He asks, "How can the war be brought to an end,?" and answers, "Though dismissed widely, the best strategy may well be to acknowledge and address the collective reasons in which Al Qaeda anchors its acts of force." Those reasons: "The United States must end its military presence in the Middle East, its uncritical political support and military aid of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, and its support of corrupt and coercive regimes in the Arab and Muslim world." Mohamedou believes that "talking sense" with Al Qaeda could "bring an end to the war it declared in 1996 and in 1998, in return for some degree of satisfaction regarding its grievances." He offers his own concluding reminder: "In 2002, bin Laden declared: "Whether America escalates or deescalates this conflict, we will reply in kind.’" (Sept. 14, 2005)

What "we owe" those honorable Americans who were sacrificed for lies, and those continuing to be sent to be sacrificed, is to stop the dishonorable war now-and to put President Bush and certain members of his administration on trial for treason. Would that those honorable National Guard and Army troops, whose lives have been wrongfully sacrificed, were here to continue living their lives–and to join in the truly honorable work of rescuing and protecting the desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina.

What a horrible hoax and crime to commit against America’s sons and daughters and their families and friends. What a horrible transgression to commit against another country: killing and wounding and occupying its people, controlling and exploiting its land and resources and provoking civil war-all in the name of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." What a tragic abdication of moral authority and responsibility by those mainstream religious leaders, and mainstream editors and columnists, and political officials who continue to call this international crime a "mistake."

President Bush’s remaining at large is believed to have serious moral implications for mainstream religious leaders and mainstream media and political officials. His repeated treasonous lies and disastrous policies, which threaten America with far greater harm than the attack of 9/11, have yet to elicit effective moral, editorial and political outrage and accountability. History will try America’s "freedom of religion" and "free press" and may find both morally wanting. We will cast a stigma of shame on future generations of citizens if we continue to be "good Americans."

More forceful prophetic outrage by religious leaders may have been made than appears in this brief study. If so, their voices and writings may not have been loud and visible enough to be newsworthy-though part of their problem could be a complicit mainstream media, which also often serve as guardians of the status quo. One also wonders what price Rev. Winkler, Rev. Edgar, and certain other religious leaders are now paying for not being "very careful about how" they have been speaking truth to power.

The Prophet Muhammed said, "The pinnacle of faith is to speak the truth in the face of the tyrant." (Bukhari) When Jesus was taken prisoner and faced the tyrant Pilate, he said his mission was "to testify to the truth," and "Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’" (John 18:36-38) Jesus had already said it from the pinnacle of a mountaintop, which is why he was taken prisoner: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. . . . Love your enemies. . . " (Matthew 5:9, 43) There is Jewish prophecy as well: "When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted-does the Lord not see it?" (Lamentations 3:34-36). It is time for more mainstream religious leaders and their peoples of faith to see it clearly, and to demand that President Bush be held accountable for his treasonous behavior and crimes against humanity.

Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at william.alberts@bmc.org.






















CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005