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Despite fervid efforts by mainly old leftist United Methodist clergy and faculty, the George W. Bush Library now is under construction at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. In March, the George W. Bush Presidential Center hosted a conference on campus to spotlight the plight, and advance, of women in Afghanistan. More recently, an SMU student wrote an open letter to the president in the SMU online newspaper, declaring: “Mr. President, SMU loves you!” He cited many SMU students who had waited 6 hours in line at a local bookstore for a signing of Bush’s recent book.
The leftist voices who wanted to prevent SMU from enjoying the research benefits of a presidential library primarily pointed at Bush’s War on Terror and the Iraqi War as chief reasons why faithful Methodists must distastefully reject any association with the former president. What Religious Leftists usually fail openly to admit is that they are usually pacifists who reject any military defense for America. Earlier this year, SMU’s United Methodist seminary hosted a conference on Christian Just War teaching that mostly espoused pacifism. Somewhat ironically, almost the only strong Just War voice was former Bill Clinton pastor and counselor J. Philip Wogaman, who reminded a seemingly reluctant audience that some evils must be violently repressed.
Like many of America’s churches, Methodism embraced pacifism after World War I, briefly if reluctantly acknowledged the justice of World War II, and then during the Cold War slowly slid back into pacifism. The exception, of course, was during the 1970s and 1980s, when many church leftists tacitly supported the violence of Marxist revolution under the aegis of Liberation Theology. Creating a Marxist police state merited force, they surmised. But more recently, they have insisted that defending Americans, or anybody else, even from Islamist terror violates the teachings of Jesus, despite nearly 2 millennia of continuous Christian Just War teaching.
Methodist philosophy professor Nicole Johnson of the University of Mount Union in Ohio fretted that the denomination’s mixed record over war had frustrated many consciences over the decades. (See my assistant Eric LeMasters’ onsite report.) She complained that the church officially affirms both persons who “oppose all war” and persons who “conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces,” while asserting that “neither the way of military action, nor the way of inaction is always righteous before God.”
Johnson preferred a more absolute pacifist approach, explaining: “I’m not convinced we necessarily need to use military action to pursue justice.” She complained that clergy could not be defrocked for advocating war in the same way they can be defrocked for sexual misdeeds. “And I don’t recall an outcry in winter of 2003 calling for President Bush, a Methodist, to have his membership revoked because he initiated the war in Iraq,” she exclaimed.
Another Methodist pacifist ethicist, Stephen Long from Marquette University in Wisconsin, complained that support for national loyalty and war was disloyal to the “transnational church.” He insisted: “The real problem in the Christian churches today, is quite frankly, we subordinate ourselves to the nation. I think it’s a tremendous problem on the Left and the Right. We simply don’t have that conviction that our first loyalty is precisely to this transnational community.”
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