... at last, Bush, amongst your evangelicals! I was reading through the first year of The Bush Diaries yesterday, to check for errors and typos prior to submitting the text for publication, and came upon a piece I wrote on this very topic. At the time I wrote it, I had been hearing many good people asking where the moderate Muslim voices were, to condemn the extremism of those fanatics who were preaching terror and violence. I had been wondering much the same myself. Neither the calls to violence nor the acts of violence were surely the true expression of the Muslim faith. So why were we not hearing strong voices of protest from the compassionate and peaceful community of Islam?
My purpose, if you remember, Bush, was to ask the same question of our Christian evangelicals. With so many loudly preaching their bellicose, extremist--and often profoundly unchristian--views and touting their literalist interpretations of the Bible, where were the voices of reason, compassion, moderation? Where was the evangelical who would stand up and be counted amongst the real followers of Jesus? Who would join him in turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple, rather than chasing after the televangelist buck and the influence in Congress? Where were the Christian voices questioning your fiscal policies, Bush, preaching the practice of compassion for the poor and the sick, rather than demanding that they pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Where were the Christian voices that were not content to simply act as cheerleaders for your rash military action against Iraq, but rather demanded all possible patience and restraint? Where were the voices for peace--surely, the ultimate Christian value?
So I was pleased to finally read this piece by Charles Marsh, a thinking man's evangelical, on the op-ed page of today's New York Times. An author and a University of Virginia Professor of religion, Marsh had taken the time to reread some of the sermons of evangelical leaders from the time immediately prior to your military action. He was evidently dismayed by what he found: such widely-heard and respected voices as Franklin Graham, Billy's son; Marvin Olasky, one of your own former advisors, Bush, on faith-based policy; Tim LaHaye (of the wildly popular "Left Behind" series); and the (not so very) reverend Jerry Falwell were united in their enthusiasm for your war. Preached Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and former President of the Southern Baptist Convention: "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible. God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers."
The common theme, writes Marsh, was that "our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply." Marsh concludes: "An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war."
But Marsh is surprised how little attention was paid, in the sermons he studied, to "actual Christian moral doctrine." He does note that some--including notably John Stott, "the revered Anglican evangelical priest and writer"--had serious reservations about the rush to war. But where were their voices when we needed them? Did they remain silent in the face of popular opinion? Or did they speak so quietly that it was easy to ignore them? Or did they speak loud and their protests were simply not promulgated by the inattentive media?
Hard to tell, Bush. But it's certainly good to hear this one Christian evangelical crying in the wilderness. Sixty-eight percent of white evangelicals--good Christians all--are apparently content to overlook the prevarications and deceptions that took us to Iraq? Sixty-eight percent are prepared to accept the killing and maiming, the blood shed by the innocent along with those we hire to do our killing for us? That shocks me, Bush. How do these fundamentalist, Ten Commandment-toting people square it all in their conscience with the simplest of the Ten: Thou shalt not kill?
Ah, well. If Tim LaHaye is to be believed, Iraq is "'a focal point of end-time events,' whose special role in the earth's final days," according to Marsh's paraphrase, "will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction." Of course. And as Marsh notes from the title of an essay Jerry Falwell wrote in 2004, that reverend apparently believes that "God is pro-war."
Those Christians, Bush! Doesn't it worry you sometimes to so piously claim your place among them?