Friday, April 29, 2005


bushg1You don't have to belive the way someone else does in order to find common cause with them. As the theocratic right seeks to intensify its hold on our government, those of us on the left, of all faiths and no faiths, can see the sense in this essay called "Dangerous Religion"written back in September 2003 by Jim Wallis, founder of the liberal evangelical group Sojourners. The excerpt is from a Christmas post I put up last year:
"The Bush theology deserves to be examined on biblical grounds. Is it really Christian, or merely American? Does it take a global view of God's world or just assert American nationalism in the latest update of "manifest destiny"? How does the rest of the world—and, more important, the rest of the church worldwide—view America's imperial ambitions?"
The answer, he feels, is no:
"President Bush uses religious language more than any president in U.S. history, and some of his key speechwriters come right out of the evangelical community. Sometimes he draws on biblical language, other times old gospel hymns that cause deep resonance among the faithful in his own electoral base. The problem is that the quotes from the Bible and hymnals are too often either taken out of context or, worse yet, employed in ways quite different from their original meaning...

"Bush seems to make this mistake over and over again—confusing nation, church, and God. The resulting theology is more American civil religion than Christian faith...
"...Bush is convinced that we are engaged in a moral battle between good and evil, and that those who are not with us are on the wrong side in that divine confrontation.

But who is "we," and does no evil reside with "us"? The problem of evil is a classic one in Christian theology. Indeed, anyone who cannot see the real face of evil in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is suffering from a bad case of postmodern relativism. To fail to speak of evil in the world today is to engage in bad theology. But to speak of "they" being evil and "we" being good, to say that evil is all out there and that in the warfare between good and evil others are either with us or against us—that is also bad theology. Unfortunately, it has become the Bush theology.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House carefully scripted the religious service in which the president declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral. The president declared to the nation, "Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." With most every member of the Cabinet and the Congress present, along with the nation's religious leaders, it became a televised national liturgy affirming the divine character of the nation's new war against terrorism, ending triumphantly with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." War against evil would confer moral legitimacy on the nation's foreign policy and even on a contested presidency.

In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil—they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests.

To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.

It's easy to demonize the enemy and claim that we are on the side of God and good. But repentance is better. As the Christian Science Monitor put it, paraphrasing Alexander Solzhenitzyn. "The gospel, some evangelicals are quick to point out, teaches that the line separating good and evil runs not between nations, but inside every human heart.

"The much-touted Religious Right is now a declining political factor in American life. The New York Times' Bill Keller recently observed, "Bombastic evangelical power brokers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have aged into irrelevance, and now exist mainly as ludicrous foils." The real theological problem in America today is no longer the Religious Right but the nationalist religion of the Bush administration—one that confuses the identity of the nation with the church, and God's purposes with the mission of American empire.

America's foreign policy is more than pre-emptive, it is theologically presumptuous; not only unilateral, but dangerously messianic; not just arrogant, but bordering on the idolatrous and blasphemous. George Bush's personal faith has prompted a profound self-confidence in his "mission" to fight the "axis of evil," his "call" to be commander-in-chief in the war against terrorism, and his definition of America's "responsibility" to "defend the…hopes of all mankind." This is a dangerous mix of bad foreign policy and bad theology.

But the answer to bad theology is not secularism; it is, rather, good theology. It is not always wrong to invoke the name of God and the claims of religion in the public life of a nation, as some secularists say. Where would we be without the prophetic moral leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Oscar Romero?
Wallis ends with a call to reflection:
"In the meantime, American Christians will have to make some difficult choices. Will we stand in solidarity with the worldwide church, the international body of Christ—or with our own American government? It's not a surprise to note that the global church does not generally support the foreign policy goals of the Bush administration—whether in Iraq, the Middle East, or the wider "war on terrorism." Only from inside some of our U.S. churches does one find religious voices consonant with the visions of American empire.

Once there was Rome; now there is a new Rome. Once there were barbarians; now there are many barbarians who are the Saddams of this world. And then there were the Christians who were loyal not to Rome, but to the kingdom of God. To whom will the Christians be loyal today?"
Wallis is challenging those who may be getting behind the Dobsons and Falwells of the world to re-think their values. This is a strong voice, if still heard too little, and it heartens me to think it will grow in power.

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